Saturday, 13 July 2013

Come Back New Labour - All Is Forgiven (Well, Not Quite)

Today, at the Miner's Gala in Durham, Unite leader Len McCluskey will warn Ed Miliband to 'distance himself from New Labour'.
I think he is completely off target - but can it be that everybody is mistaken but me?

New Labour and Blairism
Everybody on the left of the Labour Party nowadays is attacking the 'Blairites'. And not just the left - it was Ed Miliband that made the break with 'New Labour'.

Now Tony Blair was my MP for many years, and I heard him talk many times.  And I have to say that what is often attributed to 'Blairism' is not what I understood by 'Blairism'.

It is true that Blair made the Faustian Pact with Capitalism.  That, of course, was his 'Clause Four' moment that everybody is talking about.  The price of that pact was that Labour renounced nationalism - and Labour did.  

But - and this is VERY important - New Labour did NOT renounce socialism.
The back of your Labour Party membership card still begins: 'the Labour Party is a democratic socialist party'.

Tony Blair's political position - can you remember it - was 'the Third Way'.  
This was NOT the cynical electoral 'triangulation' it is often adopted as by those on the Party's right nowadays.  

Blair's political point was that, in between the stand-off between Labour's socialism and Thatcherite capitalism, there was a 'third way' - a way that would benefit from the best of both worlds.  Basically, Blair's stance was that he could help capitalists to make their money, because a New Labour government would then use that money to help the poor and disadvantaged of society.

In some ways, therefore, Blair's 'third way' could be represented as more truly socialist than the traditional Labour Party that he succeeded.  Traditional Labour had introduced social security as a net to stop the poorest of society starving, worked with the unions to improve conditions and wages, and introduced Grammar Schools to help bright working class children escape into the middle class.  Blair's assertion was that this was not good enough - what was needed was social remodeling, which would rather raise the condition of the entire lower classes.  So New Labour introduced a minimum wage for every worker.  Its ambition was that every child would go on to some kind of further education (50% of them to university).  And it introduced SureStart so that every child might have the kind of advantages in life that wealthier children have.  
In such ways, moreover, Blair's Labour was much more 'Big State' than nationalising traditional Labour had ever thought to be.

There was a lot that was wrong with New Labour.  It was in essence dreadfully middle class and patronising.  It fostered a state-dependence culture which curses us today.  And as time went on it lost its way and became mere unbridled neoliberal capitalism -- which, having been unleashed, eventually turned upon its mentors and destroyed them.

But, originally, Blairism was never the right-wing evil it is presented as today.  It was an ethical, middle-class, rejection of Thatcherism which failed because it never quite understood the lower-class culture it was trying to help.  But it was geniunely trying to help.  It was inherently socialist in nature, and it saw in the state a mechanism to solve society's problems.

To be honest, there is still a lot of the old-fashioned Blairite in my position today.

Progress Labour and a Failure of Political Education
How different from old-fashioned Blairism are the people who stand on the right of the Labour Party today.

Think of what Ed Miliband and his Progress-dominated Shadow Cabinet stand for.

  • They are wholly neoliberal supporters of austerity.
  • They believe in the small state.
  • They are cynical triangulators, believing that Labour needs to follow the polls and say what the electorate are thinking - to the point where I have suggested that Labour should change its name to YouGov Labour.
  • They accept many of the Tory policies which are re-impoverishing and disadvantaging the poor.

i.e. Progress Labour is far, far to the right of original Blairism.

There was, yesterday, a blog published by the political writer and former Labour Party supporter Hopi Sen entitled: On being on the Far Right of the Centre Left.
It is worth a read to see what those on the right of the Party are saying nowadays.

But can you see the BIG MISTAKE he makes?
Consider these comments he makes:
  • “I think Social Democracy works – it… [etc.]‘
  • ‘What I love about social democracy though, is… [etc.]‘ 
and many of the readers' comments below the article.

They ALL talk about 'social democracy'. They all assume that Labour is a social democratic party.
But Labour is not a social democratic party. 

If you want a party that is social democrat, join the Lib Dems.

Remember what it still says on the back of your Labour Party membership card, that ‘the Labour Party is a democratic socialist party’ ... which is *very* different.

Having realised this, scan back through Hopi Sen's article and see if you get anywhere a sniff of anything even slightly 'socialist'.

That is where the Labour Party is going wrong - many of even its leading members have not a clue as to what the Labour Party stands for.
The BIGGEST of all the failures of the Labour Party has been, imho, a failure of political education.

I know that bringing back 'old-fashioned' Blairism is not an option, and that 'Blairite' has become shorthand for the extremists on the far right of the Party.
But it is a misnomer, and we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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