Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rip it up and start again

The recession has had some good effects after all. This may be of little comfort if you've lost your job or home, or are being harried by bailiffs, but the economic calamity has finally opened up some real difference between New Labour and the Conservatives. By Ceri.

OK, not much to cheer about, but at least it points to the beginning of a way forward for the left that moves away from the desperate New labour 'project'.
Last year I considered writing about the difference in policy between New Labour and Cameron's Conservatives. I didn't, because there wasn't any. Striking though this was in its own way, it really didn't stretch beyond a couple of sentences.

Over the last few years, the already similar polices of New Labour and Tory had evolved into almost identical manifestoes. A slight difference in tone, a Tory commitment to apprenticeships, rather than training (apprentice playing on Tory nostalgia, rather like the perpetual calls to 'bring back matron') and a rather vague commitment to limit immigration by a points system (which made no mention of the EU or asylum, the two great evils of tabloid immigration scare-mongering), but there really was very little substantial difference.

But now the issue of public spending cuts a deep channel of clear water between Labour and Conservative. The Tories have played on the issue of government debt; highly successfully, as it is now orthodoxy amongst most of the media that cuts are necessary and inevitable. Labour itself agrees, but only when the economic growth is restored, seeing public spending as the only thing keeping the economy vaguely afloat.

This may seem little more than a tactical disagreement, but it reflects deeper differences. While hardly a return to some social democratic heyday, Labour's approach, in opposing the Tories and the media's view, does represent a break with New Labour; first, by moving from New Labour's neo-liberal tinted economic approach; and second, by publicly forcing Labour to defend this move, something it refused to do in other circumstances. For example, it refused to make the case for public ownership of RailTrack and Northern Rock, when both offered the opportunity to demonstrate the private sector as something less than the paragon of efficiency that it occupied in New Labour ideology.

The Conservatives show themselves to be fully in agreement with New Labour's scepticism on state intervention in economic matters. Cameron's Tories are, at present, little more than New New Labour, and any move will be to the right. A lot of the government's current inertia and confusion stems from the gradual, dim realisation that New Labour failed, but without any idea of where to go next.This point of divergence offers Labour the chance to drop the New and work out something better.

It may also, if Labour can capitalise on this point, offer the chance, if not to save the next general election, then at least to lessen the Conservative victory. Up to now, the prospect of a Tory government was hardly worrying to the average Labour voter; after all, what exactly was that different? But now, the prospect that the Tories could have a tangible negative effect could start to cast doubt in the minds of ex-Labour voters. Combined with the odd careless remark revealing the real views of many younger Tories, and the Conservatives seem less reassuring than before. For all of the criticism of Labour, Cameron with a large majority could be a lot worse.

1 comment:

Silent Silent Simon said...

The public wants Britain to scrap the Trident nuclear missile system. They want an end to bank bonuses.
They want the govmt to ditch the ID scheme.
Until Labour find the balls to do that, I'll read any superficial difference as purely a matter of rhetoric.