This is a copy of the first article I posted over at http://www.labourhome.org/. I thought I had better keep a record of them here too. Like the post before this, it's me feeling that the New Labour idea has lost any momentum and we just watching it die now.
Is the experiment coming to an end?
In 1994 the biggest experiment in British politics since the Second World War began. 15 years down the line it looks like it’s coming to the end. Back then the Labour Party made a deal with Blair, Brown and those about them like Campbell and Mandelson. The deal was Labour would be electable if it gave total control of the party to these people and dropped its old ideals, traditions and ways of working.
Now before we all berate ourselves it should be remembered that at the previous election Kinnock had led the party to defeat against Major, and prior to that Thatcher had been punishing every Labour attempt to regain power. In hindsight we could say we didn’t really need a Blair to win the next election as the Tory government was in meltdown, much like the present Labour one.
What should be said is that Blair went on to win two more elections, but again it could be argued that the Tories were still in a suicidal frame of mind during this period. Looking back on this deal between the Labour Party and its new leadership we see the latter mostly lived up to their part. One part of the deal that they didn’t though was the promise of more party democracy, which has since been curtailed so much by the leadership. What activist hadn’t reckoned on was how little would be achieved in 13 years of Labour power. Trying to find progressive policies amongst the many conservative ones is quite hard. Compared to the six years of Atlee’s first government they have done next to nothing.
As with any experiment, we are testing a theory to see if it is correct. When the New Labour idea was finally tested it failed miserably. First test was whether it could hand over power to a new leader. From this we ended up with a PLP coronation. Next was its first financial crisis and recession while in power and it had no policies for the situation. The only answer was to dump the free market policies it had been following, shore up the banks and return to Keynesian ideas the party had followed before they came along. The third test was the trust that Labour MPs are basically honest. This was destroyed as the expenses scandals came out and one after another Blair follower was found with their hands in the till.
Let’s look at what New Labour bought us. Of course we should have been suspicious when Blair and Mandelson started their campaign before John Smith was in the ground. It was a pointer to the total lack of principles of this new movement with many more to come. It was to Americanise politics in the UK. To have two main parties with no basic policy differences, just a difference in compassion. To make elections almost presidential with the charisma of the leaders the main vote catcher. (Aren’t Cameron and Clegg just Blair clones?) To have people like Campbell to spin, lie and create the sound-bites instead of sensible discussion. Was it any wonder that the MPs that signed up to this new deal with no principles or ideals ended up stealing from the public through their expenses?
So when the experiment ends what will come next? If the Labour party ends up as some European style Social Democrat party that Roy Jenkins wanted it will fight for the same ground that the Liberals now have, as Jenkins found out. Was the party under the leadership of Kinnock and Smith a better place to be? I suspect so, even with all the infighting, it still had some of that broad church feel. Is there another place we should be heading; is there another ‘new’ experiment to come? Maybe, but we had better be a bit more cautious this time.