New Labour, New Danger?

While visiting the UK for the first time in many years I took the oppurtunity to visit Westminster and watch the sitting of Parliament. I also of course took the time to become better acquainted with the current situation of British politics. What else did you expect from someone with an interest in politics on vacation in another country afterall? And no, I didn’t visit the Queen, but I certainly took the time to look up some Marxists, liberterian socialists and socialist republicans.

Anyway, a few major UK political events occurred during my trip.

The first really big one was the ‘loss’ of personal information on the part of HM Revenue and Customs, where the data of 25 million Britons (not far off from half of the population) was lost when it was mailed unregistered and disappeared. Apparently a whole comedy of errors took place to cause this, with the privatising ethos of Blairism New Labour coming out as the primary agent. It was more cost effective to post the information, and too expensive to remove the unneccessary information, and redundancies resulting from prior centralisation and amalgamation factored in as well.

Later, still in the wake of the peerages-for-cash scandal, it was revealed that a number of large donations were made to the Labour Party by questionable and quite possibly illegal means, with the donor hiding behind a number of front men. At first it appeared that the Labour Party itself had simply been duped by a donor seeking to avoid the limelight, but it increasingly appears that high ranking members of the Party were quite aware of the truth of the donations – such as a letter from the cheif Party fundraiser acknowledging Abrahams (the actual donor) as one of the Labour Party’s most important donors.

As can be imagined, things aren’t looking to good for the Labour Party at the moment.

In addition to this, there is growing discontent within the traditional support base of the Labour Party there, the working class, which for the last decade has increasingly had its illusions of New Labour lost and have come to revile it as the true heir to Thatcher. Voter apathy, especially within the traditional labour voter block, is accelerating.

Despite this the Opposition Conservative Party, although benefitting from Labours woes, has not seen a significant enough rise as one might have predicted, and the upcoming election (there should be one next year, with Brown having squandered the chances for a Fall election during his honeymoon period) remains Labours to lose, and not the Conservatives to win (well, except by default).

All this reminded me of some comments made by former Labour Cabinet Minister Clare Short in September 2006, when she announced she would not be running in the next election. Some of the more important comments were:

She was standing down as a Labour MP “…so that she could speak the truth and support the changes that were needed,” something she felt she could no longer do within the Party.

She also thought that “There are many good things that New Labour has done since 1997, mostly things Labour committed itself to before the New Labour coup, but I have reached a stage where I am profoundly ashamed of the government.”

And that “In addition to the arrogance and lack of principle of New Labour, there is an incredible incompetence. Policy is announced from No 10 to grab media attention and nothing is properly thought through.”

In her statements she also stated that she believe the next election would see a hung parliament (which was the same thing really as predicting huge losses for Labour), but rather than seeing this as bad for Labour, she thought it could provide an impetus for change, and even electoral change, such as proportional representation.

I was also reminded of some writings by the Labour Representation Committee. In particular I thought of John McDonnells article in advance of the LRC conference on November 16th, 2007, where he wrote that:

“The Labour Party is increasingly no longer seen as a vehicle for progressive change. From Labour Party conference in September to the Queen’s speech earlier this month, it is clear that Brown’s political trajectory is neoliberal and non-negotiable.

All those hoping for a change under Brown have had their illusions brutally crushed. With party conference shutdown and the anti-left fixing of parliamentary selections, the old strategy is largely over.

In the coming months and years, the left has a choice of whether it opens up to new movements and new ways of working or it continues as before and faces isolation and irrelevance.

In the trade unions, a clear division has emerged between those unions that have embraced inclusive, activist campaigning and those who think that beer and sandwiches at Number 10 are still on the agenda.

I cannot think of a time when there has been such public awareness of the impact of unrestrained capitalism on our public services and our environment. Yet we have not managed to give this bubbling anger a political voice. The challenge in the coming period is to harness this anger to bring new forces into political engagement.”

An earlier article from May 2006 also from Mcdonnell describes the situation for the UK Labour Party particularly well:

“Our voters stay at home, party members resign or give up working for us, and constituency Labour parties have become hollowed-out shells with the result that the party’s local electoral machine is virtually nonexistent in many areas of the country. Party members look on aghast at the antics of the small cliques around Blair and Brown vying for power and position, and find it difficult to come to terms with the staggering variance between the lifestyles of Labour’s leaders and the average member and Labour supporter.

Decision-making is centralised, with policies handed down from on high that bear no relation to the problems of the real world with which our supporters contend. The tradition of Labour parliamentary candidates emerging from the labour movement in their local communities, selected on the basis of their track record of dedication and hard work on behalf of the party, has degenerated into candidates being parachuted into constituencies by the leadership.”

It would appear that since the Labour victory in 1997, and despite some very good reforms made by the Labour government, the negative is outwieghing the good, and that post-1997 Labour has sought to distance itself from the Tory made caricutare of Labour as dyed in the wool socialist and incompetent that the Labour Party has out-Toried the Tories. This was understandable perhaps in the first term, when Labour had to prove that it wouldn’t do anything too radical. But in its second and third term the Party should have focused on advancing a truly progressive and labour agenda. If it had, if it had used its position to realise the progressive labour ideals it stood for (and still stands for despite how much it dishonours this name with New Labour) it is doubtful there would be any concern today of even a reduced majority in the next election.


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