The Ongoing Collapse of New Labour

“New Labour won three elections by offering real change, not just in policy but in the way we do politics. We must do so again.”

David Miliband’s ‘vision’ for saving New Labour from impending electoral devastation seems really to be much of the same. Plenty of talk about ‘modernisation’, ‘reform’ of public services and the need for citizens to act ‘responsibly’, along with many a proud boast of the government’s achievements of the past 10 years. The problem is that, throughout the rest of the piece, poor David seems to suffering from a rather delusional attitude with regard to the guiding principles of Labour. Just because the party’s mission is outlined on their membership cards does not give Miliband the right to be quite so self-satisfied in his claim that Labour policy always aims at putting “power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few.” Particularly given the OECD’s suggestion that social mobility is lower in Britain than in any other developed nation.

In fact, Miliband’s condemnation of Westminster’s other Dave-on-the-up for lacking principles or a clear guiding vision comes to seem like pure and simple projection. Also, given the way Labour under Blair ditched many of the principles that had guided the party for nearly a century, his line of attack seems utterly hypocritical. For, despite the occasional progressive policy moment and all the rhetoric that has animated the New Labour project, the actual outcomes have favoured one group – the rich and super-rich – above all others. And now the large sections of the electorate who may traditionally have been strong supporters of Labour have begun to send out the message that they are no longer prepared to go on making excuses for the failure of a Labour government to improve their lot.

In the turmoil that has been set in motion by the impending electoral slaughter suggested by recent polls and performance, one point seems to have been lost on all of the Labour figures having a say on the way forward: that is, for all Tony Blair’s missionary zeal, New Labour’s appeal to the centre was always a pragmatic electoral move designed to make the party electable after many years in the wilderness. The degree of success the party achieved in 1997 and 2001 was due far more to an intense dislike of the Tories than the radical pretensions of the New Labour project. But there is only so long you can go on saying ‘vote for us – at least we’re better than the other lot’, without tempting people to call your bluff and give the other lot another try.

So, sorry Stephen Byers, but there’s no way for you to “re-establish the coalition of support that has won Labour three elections”, as there is no way for a party that has been in power for eleven years to seem fresh, or to be able to blame the other lot for the problems faced within society, the economy, etc.

The situation at present is coming increasingly to resemble the last days of the Conservative government under Major, when those loyal to the previous leader consistently undermined the figure at the helm of their party – a character transformed into a figure of ridicule for much of the country – all the while harking back to a supposed magic formula that had led them to previous successes. Which goes to suggest that over a decade after the new dawn that broke (did it not) in 1997, we are now watching the sunset for New Labour.


~ by Steve on August 3, 2008.

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