Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution

Monday: Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution; (BBC2, 9pm)

By Claire Cartmill
Sunday, 3rd October 2021, 5:00 pm

These days, if you mention the words ‘New Labour’, you could find yourself in an argument. Even though they’ve now been out of power for more than a decade, the political phenomenon still stirs up strong feelings not just among Conservative voters, but also with those on the left who felt disillusioned by their decisions.

So, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when it seemed like New Labour had caught a new spirit of national optimism and seemed to have united the country.

To find out how they came to power and why their legacy is now so divisive, this new documentary series from the makers of the critically acclaimed Thatcher: A Very British Revolution will look at how a group of allies seized control of the Labour party and ultimately the country.

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Tony Blair, opposition Labour party leader, and Gordon Brown, shadow chancellor, confer at a 1997 election campaign press conference

As the title Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution suggests, it will also explore the two very different men who were at its heart.

Or as Executive Producer Steve Condie, says: “This is a great opportunity to examine the big characters who led New Labour through a politically seismic era, to understand their dramatic personal experiences, examine what they believed in and reveal how they shaped the country we live in today.”

We’ll also get to hear the story from the main players themselves as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson, Patricia Hewitt, Ed Balls, and Alastair Campbell are among the contributors to the first episode, which begins way back in 1983.

Labour had just suffered a crushing election defeat, but it was also the year when two young Labour MPs, Brown and Blair, entered parliament for the first time. Although they were from very different backgrounds, they shared the same goal – to make the party electable again.

Brown was the senior of the two and the one who caught the eye of Labour’s new leader Neil Kinnock, thanks to his understanding of the economy. Brown took Blair under his wing, but it soon became apparent that his protégé had political talents of his own, especially when it came to presentation, and they began to rise to a position where they could push their modernising agenda.

By 1992, Labour had suffered two more defeats, and Kinnock was forced to step down. John Smith became leader (despite Blair’s concerns that he wasn’t radical enough to get the party back into power) while Brown ascended to his former job as Shadow Chancellor.

When Smith tragically died of a heart attack two years later, Brown assumed he was the successor, but his friend had other ideas. After a series of meetings, Brown promised that he would stand aside and let Blair run for leader, on the understanding that he would get the job next. The documentary explores how this agreement would hang over the one-time political soulmates not just as they headed into the 1994 Labour Party leadership election but throughout their time in government.

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