Red Pepper MAY 2005 - by Brian Eno


For me, Blair is the problem, not Labour. That is why Reg Keys's challenge is so important. I see Blairism as destructive of democracy. I have become increasingly distressed by the undemocratic goings-on in government, and Blair is at the heart of it all. It takes different forms. There's the way he surrounds himself with unelected advisers and marginalises the Cabinet. And there are the changes to parliamentary procedure, so that MPs are constrained to be on-message and not create difficulties for their party. There was such a huge debate over the war in Iraq, but it was based on false evidence. MPs were whipped into line. Iraq is a classic example of what goes wrong if you replace parliamentary checks and balances with a presidential system.

My attempts to do something about this situation began with the Impeach Blair campaign, with Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price. But this stalled with the parliamentary bureaucracy. The next idea was a single-issue anti-war candidate to challenge Blair in Sedgefield. Martin Bell also got involved. We heard of Reg Keys, who had been planning to stand against defence secretary Geoff Hoon in Ashfield. He was willing to put himself up against Blair. We liked him. Martin Bell summed up our feelings: I count it an honour and a privilege to support Reg Keys. He is not a politician. He is the sort of man a politician ought to be: brave, committed and truthful. He has the potential to change the political landscape.

We've only been campaigning for a week, but already Reg has been very well received in Sedgefield. There is deep disillusion in the constituency with Blair. People feel deceived about the war. They also feel that they do not really have an MP. They were very pissed off at being used as background for an international photo opportunity when Bush and Blair visited Sedgefield's Dun Cow pub. The place was surrounded by troops. People couldn't get around and do their shopping, pick up their kids from school, and all for the sake of a photo. There was no other reason for Bush to visit. The memory has lingered as a symbol of how Blair takes the people of Sedgefield for granted.

The Labour leadership likes to claim that it's only lefties and the chattering classes that are interested in the war. But talking to people in Sedgefield, I've found that it's become a big issue: a moral issue of confidence in Blair. Traditional Labour voters are telling me that they cannot vote Labour this time. Loyalty to the Labour Party is no longer transferring to Blair.

The strangest thing happened to me the first day that I canvassed. I described Reg to a woman in a shopping centre. I told her how his son was killed in Iraq, and she said, so was mine. She was sympathetic to Reg and will support him, but she's trying to stop thinking about what happened to her son.

New Labour is worried by Reg's campaign. We are making it clear that it is not our intention to destroy the Labour Party. The problem is Tony Blair. In effect, it is him that is destroying the Labour Party. What people in Sedgefield want to see is a Labour Party that represents working people. In a way, our campaign is about reclaiming the Labour Party. I think this will find a strong response. Blair's famous charm is not working. In fact, people are fed up with it: it's smarm, they say, not charm.

I think things will really move towards Reg when the campaign becomes visible nationally: in the tabloids, as well as the broadsheets. When people in Sedgefield get a sense that they are pivotal in making history, I think they will grasp the opportunity.