16 June 2010

Confronting New Labour's authoritarianism

In the Labour Party, now in opposition, there is talk about moving on but one aspect of their term in office needs careful examination. It is easy to explain how New Labour presided over the highest levels of social inequality in Britain since 1945: Labour sought political power, but in reality existing capitalist power found Labour. Blair et al were the ideal instruments.

Harder to explain, though, was New Labour’s assault on civic and personal freedoms. People incarcerated without trial or public evidence. Wide scale intimidatory use of stop and search powers against people on the street, especially photographers. People threatened with prosecution for criticising religion. Mass registration of people on the pretext of combating paedophilia… and so on. By 2009 it was possible to talk about the lights going out on liberal democracy in Britain.

Many of these measures were due to a cynical populism (detention of supposed would-be terrorists) or a desire to outflank the Tories and the Daily Mail. The security industry is a strong lobby (ID cards and E-Borders); yet there is something else, something more fundamentally rotten.

When the Tories managed Thatcherism 1979-97, they defeated the trade unions and local councils and imposed market fundamentalism. What happened to the victims did not worry them too much; they had scraps of welfare thrown at them and lived in junk estates. New Labour, using the language of ‘responsibility’ and for Blair ‘communitarianism’ attempted to weld everyone into their place in Britain's class-divided capitalist society. This, I believe is the true origin of New Labour’s would-be totalitarianism, and is a foul ideology which needs to be exposed and trashed.

My point is this: the left has the task not just of confronting capitalist power in the economic domain to secure a greater share of the social product for ordinary working people, but it needs to assert universalism (as opposed to cultural relativism) and political liberalism, both of which have been so stained by New Labour.

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