1 December 2016

Blair's New Labour: Ending Labour as a progressive movement

The following comment, penned in October 2006 during the Blair New Labour years, remains an accurate description of the period, especially in predicting David Cameron's election in 2010. What I did not foresee was the Financial Crisis of 2008 or the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015.

Blair's New Labour is a reactionary creed and has destroyed the Labour Party as a progressive party

There are some elections which mark a transformation in the body politic, such as 1945 and 1979. There are others which mark its continuation; I see 1951 and 1997 as elections which are mostly about new management teams to administer the status quo. Until Britain's two historic parties of left and right have both had a turn in Number 10, one cannot talk of a new consensus. Mr Blair's role was to consolidate the Thatcherite consensus; he has done so admirably well.

There are two practices of New Labour which stifled left and progressive forces. The first happened inside the Labour Party: the defeat of social democracy and the establishment of a top-down, managerial non-democratic party structure. The second is ongoing: the political practice of triangulation; i.e. moving so far to the right on policies (e.g. civil liberties) that the Conservative opposition can only utter me-tooisms, (like David Cameron) or else take refuge in lonnyland (like John Redwood). Triangulation, though, is only possible because Blair faces no threat to his left flank (Cf. Schroeder with the Greens and the Linkspartei/PDS).

Some people point out that Labour's social and educational policies have improved the lot of the worst-off in the inner cities. I acknowledge the point that vis-à-vis the Tories New Labour has higher social spending because if it did not there would little to sustain New Labour's electoral base. Yet, it should be noted that inequality in the UK continues to grow, and the commercialisation of every aspect of social service provision undermines the collectivist universalistic philosophy on which that social provision was based.

Social democracy sought to modify capitalism so that it functioned at least to some degree in the interests of working people. New Labour has reversed the logic: people need to be modified so that they function for globalised capitalism. While it might often be better to be employed on the minimum wage than to be on the dole, Blairism is a revolting enslaving philosophy that is an anathema to everything the left ever strove for.

Most people in Britain in Blair's decade have experienced rising living standards so there has been a period of political peace and political disengagement. What Iraq did was to thrust the rottenness of New Labour in front of people's faces, and, once the teflon had cracked, mud stuck everywhere. Discontent there is, but sadly it is not channelled constructively, and is it is likely to end up propelling Mr Cameron into government.

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