Friday, May 02, 2008

The party's over ...

However you look at them, the local election results are bad for Labour. It is by no means certain that they signal a general election defeat, but, if such a defeat is to be avoided, they should mark the end of New Labour's electoral strategy. Mired in pessimism and cynicism, its view of the electorate is that it is broadly conservative on social issues and extremely conservative on fiscal ones, seeing income tax as almost the sole determinant of voting behaviour. Philip Gould's lamentable book on the making of New Labour contains the revealing line that, a mere one week before the 1997 landslide, Labour strategists felt they could still lose if the Tories announced another cut in income tax. The election victory had been a foregone conclusion since Britain was forced out of the ERM in September 1992.

Labour has played the Clintonite game of triangulation and has sought to occupy Tory territory, thereby pushing the Conservatives to the unelectable right. For many years the Tories suicidally obliged. All Cameron, the archetypal establishment Tory, has done is to refuse to play the game and strike poses that seem to be to the left of Labour. It is now New Labour's turn to exhibit suicidal tendencies. Bewildered strategists are urging more of the same - an intensification of a losing approach without reconsidering whether the electorate is actually as right wing as they thought.

I can give one concrete example. The public sector, Labour's natural support base, has been alienated by 'reform' - a permanent revolution of part-privatisations, pseudo-marketisation, micro-management through targets and bloody performance indicators, resulting in rising bureaucratic workloads. Labour initiated none of this; it was all Thatcherite in origin. In 1997 I expected that the damage would stop, instead it has intensified. My current concern with the changes to funding for adult eduction, which has been a constant theme here lately, has attracted an intelligent response from both the main opposition parties and they have been anxious to link up with and support those protesting against the policy. I am deeply suspicious of such opportunism, but the role reversal could not be clearer. Labour is pressing ahead with a policy broadly in line with those followed by successive Conservative governments from 1979-97; it is being opposed by a Conservative Party supporting the line that would have been taken by the Labour Party until recently. I have no doubt that this invasion of Labour territory took the Tories to 44% of the vote.

I have never thought the Labour Party should agree with me, but I have always been Old Labour in the sense that I felt that the party had to be a social democratic party, though in social policy I tend towards a libertarian leftism. New Labour's embrace of social authoritarianism and a neo-liberal political economy could not have suited me worse and sat uneasily with the best of Labour's traditions. Combine this with the vapid, verbless vacuity of much of what passed for political discourse and I became seriously alienated. However, I am most certainly not a Tory and the prospect of a Conservative government fills me with horror. My hope is that the party somehow recovers a renewed faith in an intelligent social democracy and a commitment to social justice. If it does, it can still win.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

this sums up perfectly my feelings on todays events! Satisfaction in seeing NL get a pasting but a mounting horror that it benefits the Conservatives.

Will said...

Too optimistic.

Tory bastards are government in waiting. New Labour 'project' is incapable of ideological reform from within. The Labour Party has been dismantled by the Blairites - the base of the party is utterly fucked, local party structures non-existent and membership is predominantly made up of middle class tossers and careerist arseholes.

We are entering into gloomy times. A new dark ages.

Stock up on canned food, get a gun and lock yer doors Peter!

The Plump said...

Too pessimistic - about the Tories anyway. They are also in a mess, the average age of their membership is about 90, the government in waiting is the biggest bunch of deadlegs imaginable - if you can remember who they are. Their support is fragile.

On Labour - too realistic. Oh shit. We are doomed aren't we.

Dr Hiding Pup said...

Go on, admit it - you voted for our present government didn't you? I find it strange how voters never take responsibility for the shortcomings of the governments they supported on election night...

Harry Barnes said...

I have given up politicking in the Labour Party. Increasingly I see my membership card as being one of convenience to pursue avenues of the Party's greatest need - political education, political education, political education. Which is, of course, something that is very different from propoganda, propoganda, propoganda.

May Day Greetings - I am off the Chesterfield to a Rally of what is left of the left.

Larkers said...

If you are old enough (and I am) one can see in this Labour decline echoes of Macmillan, Callaghan, and Thatcher in the current situation which is engulfing Brown.

Boredom.

The electorate is not listening. The credit boom (based on the fantasy economics of estate agents) is ending, as all sensible people predicted it must, and saving up and economising are not messages the electorate, not this one, wishes to hear.

Labour have been in power for a long time. This has had the effect of atrophying their political gene pool. Thatcher had the same effect on the Tories. Like her and Macmillan before him Brown now stands with a lot of people sitting behind him who are not so much frustrated as thwarted. These thwarted have one last act they can perform before quitting: ditching the Leader. This they will do.

Labour will lose; but the Tories may not win, in the sense that they have measurably different approaches to the economy, foreign policy, immigration and education (q.v. Thatcher and Blair) – at least not at present. A situation where the Labour Party is not elbowed out of office by something obviously more appealing or pertinent may well allow Labour to bask in retirement as an Opposition. It would allow all the current front bench to disappear and the Party to re-make itself. It will be interesting to see in this case, if such happens, if Labour will disown the Blair Legacy as swiftly as the Tories ditched Thatcher's.

Shuggy said...

If you are old enough (and I am) one can see in this Labour decline echoes of Macmillan, Callaghan, and Thatcher in the current situation which is engulfing Brown.

Boredom.


Good point. Boredom is a significant agent of social change but with one or two exceptions, hardly any writer takes it on. Reason obvious: write a book about boredom and some smart-arsed reviewer will, of course, declare the thesis to be, well, boring.

will said...

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