Monday, September 08, 2008

The End of New Labour?

With Gordon Brown's government in apparently terminal decline, many are declaring the end of New Labour. But an electoral defeat would not necessarily be the end of New Labour.

For many people, New Labour is synonymous with Blair and Brown, when they have gone, so will have New Labour. For others, New Labour was always about the grab for power, or the creation of a 'broad church' which could appeal to both traditional Labour supporters and the middle-English middle classes deemed necessary for a Parliamentary majority. With the end of power, and the collapse of the fragile alliance between Labour and these non-traditional supporters, New Labour is seen to be at an end.
However, this underestimates the degree to which New Labour represents a coherent political approach, and overestimates the ability of opposition within the Labour party to push alternative policies. Broadly speaking, most of the Labour party either agrees with most of New Labour's premises, or hasn't got a coherent response to them upon which to base their own.

Basically, New Labour is convinced that society has irrevocably changed in the last few decades. Society has become more diverse and less class based. People are more individualistic and more sceptical about politicians and the state's ability and right to try to solve society's problems. These changes, combined with globalisation, which for for New Labour is an unstoppable force which seriously limits the options open to governments, mean that radically new policies are required.
New Labour sees itself as the only realistic social democratic response to all this.
It believes that social democratic ideals have been focused too long on out dated approaches such as nationalisation and high taxes. For New Labour, real social democracy must now focus on giving power and autonomy to individuals, if needed by forcing them to become autonomous if for some reason they are unwilling to take this on themselves.

Hence New Labour's emphasis on flexibility, educational attainment and training, and welfare reforms. New Labour is creating the new type of citizen who can thrive in these changed times, without relying further on the state, who will be given equal opportunity to succeed, or fail.
This is what New Labour's new social democratic equality is about, social mobility and meritocracy. Moreover, their polices genuinely reflect this, the only real gap being the lack of any, minimal, redistribution of wealth from the richest to the poorest that their equality of opportunity would imply.
Sure, some, like Tony Blair, appear more enthusiasitic about this than others, who see all this in terms of what they can no longer do. But most Labour MPs would broadly agree with the premises set out above, and as yet no significant opposition within the party sems to be offering any major alternative. The best on offer at the moment seems to be a position that argues for gradual leftward drift based on creating a case for some progressive taxation and fairly populist measures around, for example, affordable housing.

In all honesty, this is probably the best (or least worst) option at the moment, but there is no guarantee that anyone advocating this will get anywhere near power in the Labour party, nevermind have the courage to push this in the face of an offensive from the right-wing newspapers.
Barring a major surprise, New Labour will be around for some time yet.


Socialist Sam said...

"New Labour is creating the new type of citizen who can thrive in these changed times, without relying further on the state, who will be given equal opportunity to succeed, or fail".

An abject failure then. Where's this new type of citizen??? CUz I can't see any around. What I CAN see instead is a country slowly (or rapidly, actually) dying of inequality and with concern for the subject slacking off by the minute.

A boy born in the deprived Calton area in Glasgow's east end is likely to live on average 55 years, that's 28 years less than one born a few miles away in the more affluent village of Lenzie.

These are African levels and it's a total shambles that it's been getting worse after 11 years under something called Labour.

Ceri said...

I'm a lot closer politically to you, Sam, than to New Labour. I'm just pointing out that there is something concrete at the heart of the New Labour project that won't vanish after the next election. A set of beliefs and perceptions shared by many in the party, and assumptions about what this implies policy-wise. The left will have to persuade the party that these assumptions are wrong if we want to move Labour, and everyone else, leftwards.

The Patriot said...

11 years (ELEVEN) of New Labour have opened the country to unprecedented levels of immigration and wrecked the economy. Brown was mad keen on ploughing billions into the NHS only to turn it into more of a wreck than it was already. And that saddo Darling getting into a strop about public services. And you here givin us an earache with talks of leftwards drift.