Saturday 9 May 2009

The death throes of New Labour

It has been great fun over the past few weeks watching New Labour implode.  A little bit of schadenfreude has been unavoidable given the arrogance of the preceding 12 years.  The cumulative effect of the recent revelations has probably sealed Labour's fate.  The steady drip, drip of details of how MPs and Cabinet Ministers have played the system in order to maximise their income from expenses is now rising to a swell which threatens to stain the whole political process.  As does the way the government continues to use advisers and sundry "spin doctors" to misinform and mislead other MPs and the public in general.  And of course with each revelation of the extent of the financial crisis and its effect on the economy in general, the government's and in particular Gordon Brown's reputation for competence continues to evaporate.

It is very appropriate that it should be Gordon Brown who is presiding over this debacle, as he, more than anyone, is responsible for the creation of New Labour.  Looking back it is surprising to see how the New Labour project could have lasted as long as it has.  Back in the mid 1990s, after Labour's fourth election defeat in a row, there was much debate about how or even if, Labour could ever win power again.   At that time I was a member of the party and participated - in a very small way - in these debates at our local branch meetings.  I don't think that many of us then, ever suspected that Labour would seek to win power by becoming Thatcherism with a human face - for this is essentially what New Labour was all about.

As the record shows, most of New Labour's policies are just a continuation of the neoliberal policies of Thatcher and co.  The voice was less strident - sometimes - but New Labour has still maintained an arrogant hostility to the European Union;  continued, at a faster pace the privatisation and marketisation of our public services;  eroded our civil liberties in the name of this so called war on terror;  and has even more slavishly followed the USA in illegally invading and occupying other countries.  The one area of real achievement was to deliver on devolution.  With our own Parliament in Edinburgh, we in Scotland have had some protection against the worst of the neoliberal excesses emanating from London.

However this schadenfreude at New Labour's expense  comes with a health warning.  In the first place, it looks like Gordon Brown will linger on, clinging to the illusion of power in the hope that something, anything, will turn up that might improve his chances of winning the next election.  This means we have to put up with the current shenanigans for another year or more.  There are only so many times you can laugh at New Labour's demise.  Very soon it will cease to be funny and become just plain tedious.

The other, even more worrying prospect is that David Cameron and the Tories will be running the country in a year's time.  For all that New Labour deserve to lose the next election, I am far from sure that we all deserve to have the Tories in exchange.  I find it very hard to believe that Cameron and co. have the determination or the vision to push through the necessary changes in the financial sector so that we, the public, are never again held to ransom by the immoral elites that run our top financial companies.  Nor have I any confidence that the Tories will do anything other than cut back on public services and cut back on the conditions of pay and pensions for public workers.  All in the name of preserving the wealth of the already wealthy.  For when push comes to shove, the Tory party is at bottom the party of the rich and the traditional establishment.  I fear that we could be in for a lot of schaden and precious little freude.

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