Monday, December 01, 2008

New or old?

Anthony Giddens thinks that the response to the financial crisis does not mean that the New Labour project is dead.

This is odd. In his mercifully short book, The Third Way, Giddens wrote earlier that the reason for the need to 'modernise' social democracy was that,
...the left, of course, has always been linked to socialism and, at least as a system of economic management, socialism is no more.
Now, it seems that he is saying that it is the prevailing neo-liberal consensus on political economy which is finished:
The world won't be the same again - the period of deregulation, involving minimal governmental oversight of economic affairs, is over. We are into new territory.
Doesn't this mean that the intellectual foundations of the 'project' have shifted towards a different model of social democracy? To be fair to Giddens, he always did talk of the need to regulate financial markets, however, surely the key to New Labour was the acceptance of, and adaptation to, the Thatcherite settlement.

In one sense though Giddens is right. Those writing New Labour's obituaries are overlooking the continuing trajectory of social policy and an undiminished enthusiasm for the marketisation of public services. For those of us who were never Blairites, the fight is still on. Changing economic policies have yet to produce a serious rethink of the analysis that underpinned 'modernisation'.

Whatever, Giddens has made sure that he will always be on the right side of history. If you define New Labour, as he does, simply as "being prepared to think afresh and innovate", then anything and everything is, and will forever be, New Labour. This vagueness will not do. Politics cannot be simply defined as the practice of novelty. Instead it is rooted in different understandings of both what is and what should be. I think that my innovations may be somewhat different to his and that the next election may not simply depend on the effectivenes or otherwise of the rescue of the banks.


CharlieMcMenamin said...

Giddens is the academic whose writings most reassemble New Labour political practices - I don't mean this to imply he is their 'house boffin', but in the sense that both he and the New Labour project, in their different spheres, are basically technocrats/managerialists, not 'political' animals as we once understood it. It's about identifying the objectively most efficient way of doing something and then carrying out the policy. For them it's not ," ...rooted in different understandings of both what is and what should be". That question was settled for them, at the close of the Cold War. It's just about understanding and adjusting to an inescapable globalised 'modernity'.

Now they've been caught out by the unfortunate tendency of life to be a bit more complicated than that. I'm hopeful,in time, we'll see a return of politics as traditionally understood, though probably not quite in it's traditional forms.

CharlieMcMenamin said...

P.S. Many thanks for adding me to your blog list.

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