You are here:   Features > Euphoric Labour won’t win power led by a pied piper
Despite the current euphoria in Labour circles and the belief by the likes of Diane Abbott and John McDonnell that they have been “vindicated” and must “prepare for government”, such fantasies need to be batted away. One has to start from the fact that the old industrial working class is now a fraction of what it once was and that the class cleavage has been steadily weakening for 50 years. (A straw in the wind: the Sunday Times breakdown of the election result gave tables by gender, age, and other variables — but not by class.) The SNP’s ascent showed that this was true even in Scotland, where the Labour movement began; and even now the SNP has fallen back, the new cleavage revealed is not class but attitudes to the United Kingdom, with the Tories prospering as the main pro-Union party.

This was the reason why Blair wanted to shift Labour towards embracing “aspirational” values: accepting that most people wanted to own their own homes, upward social mobility and higher education for their children, and also accepting Tony Crosland’s point — made some 40 years before — that nationalisation was only a means to an end and by no means always the most effective. Secondly, Blair laid enormous emphasis on improving education, not only because many of Britain’s schools work poorly (why should one accept that South Korea or Singapore should be so much our superior in this regard?), but because we need a better and better educated populace to remain competitive in a knowledge-driven economy. These central aims met large and repeated public acceptance.

Where New Labour went wrong was that, dazzled by their own success, Blair and other New Labour leaders too much enjoyed their new acceptability to economic and international elites. They liked having rich friends, holidaying on their yachts and being popular with American opinion in a way that no previous Labour leaders had been. Meanwhile a long boom was mainly enriching the already rich while New Labour failed to redistribute economic gains to the majority.

In the end it all ended up very much as it did with the Clintons in America: Clinton and Blair had won power by making promises to poorer people in, say, Pittsburgh or Newcastle. On the completion of the whole experiment, the poor of those cities were as badly off as ever, while the Clintons and Blairs were multi-millionaires. It was as if they had merely surfed off the misfortunes of others and turned that into a way for becoming rich far beyond the dreams of any previous leaders of the Left. It is hardly surprising that this has produced anger and cynicism, although neither Blair nor Hillary seem to understand quite why they are so deeply unpopular.

Yet the fact is that ultimately, if it is to remain competitive, Labour will need to revisit Blair’s strategy, as well as learn from his mistakes. But nothing remotely as constructive as that is likely while Labour remains as badly split as at present. Indeed, the election has, if anything, set back Labour’s longer term hopes by entrenching in power a far-left team at the top of a parliamentary party which strongly disagrees with it. Worse still, the calibre of the Labour front bench is poorer than at any time since Labour became the official Opposition in the 1920s. The disastrous — and quite evident — failure of both Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry to master their briefs is eclipsed by, on the one hand, Abbott’s immediate and laughable attacks on the media for reporting her blunders, and by Thornberry’s almost theatrical impersonation of the Hectoring Labour Woman. Even Bessie Braddock was a lot more practical and focused than that. One only has to look back to the days of the Wilson front benches — Healey, Castle, Crosland, Jenkins, Crossman, Gordon-Walker, Lever, Soskice — to see what a huge falling-off there has been.

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.