…so say most of Labour’s leadership candidates. From Miliband to Miliband and from Balls to Burnham it’s the same old scenery. “I admit we got a few things wrong” and “We needed to listen more” and “Look at what we did while were in office” are layered upon vapid platitudes like “We need to get in touch with our core support” and “We must reach out to traditional labour voters”. Andy Burnham came out with a classic the other week. He said he believed in “aspirational socialism”. To me, that just sounds like another meaningless slogan. To him, it’s probably nonsense too…but it is good sounding nonsense: he managed to squeeze in the word ‘socialism’. What an achievement!
This Labour Party is a strange beast: full of Blair idolizers and wannabes; dull careerists and the sort of free-marketeers that would have made David Owen blush, there are only a handful of Labour MPs who can be regarded as sort of left-wing. I’ve talked about how the Lib Dems are in danger of losing their identity but Labour have the same problem too; it has lost its own identity by mimicking the behaviour of its oldest rival – it was a case of ‘Monkey see, monkey do. We can be good capitalists too’!
I have never managed to scrub clean the image of Thatcher walking into 10 Downing Street only days after Blair’s victory from my memory. Many people who voted for Labour thought they were getting real change and when Thatcher walked through that door, the game was up. Prior to the election, Prescott had said that a Labour government would take the railways back into public ownership. Instead we got higher fares, poor service, overcrowding and companies making profits at the expense of the taxpayer.We were told that public transport in rural areas would improve. I challenge anyone to find me a rural location where there is a good, reliable service that links to other forms of transport (like rail). Labour refused to allow local authorities to spend their capital receipts from the sale of council homes on building new housing stock. Instead shared ownership schemes were rolled out across the country. So rather than build properties for social rent, housing associations were encouraged to build these types of ‘affordable housing’; everyone could be a homeowner.
On the face of it, the Decent Homes scheme sounded brilliant but, unlike local authorities, HA’s were told that they were not going to receive any funding to upgrade bathrooms and kitchens – which they were, by now, legally obliged to do. The Peabody Trust (now simply called Peabody in a rather subtle but telling renaming of the charity) now sells any property that becomes void at auction – ostensibly in order to fund the scheme. My sources tell me that they continue to sell properties regardless of the fact that the Decent Homes scheme has been all but completed on Peabody’s estates. Peabody also devotes a great deal of its energies to building and managing a large market rent and shared ownership portfolios….and there’s me thinking that the HA’s are there to rent properties to social tenants. How silly of me! Is this what they mean by postmodernism?
Targets, benchmarks and pointless number crunching weren’t started by Labour but they subjected nearly every aspect of life to some form of measurement. So much in love were they with meeting targets and creating the right kind of figures, that Blair and co went around he country to hold their ‘Big Conversations’. It was a big flop; most people could see that this was an empty gesture and wanted nothing to do with it.
With the Blairites in the driving seat it is hard to see how Labour can make themselves appear different to the Tories or even the Lib Dems when most of the leadership candidates have been tainted by association. All of the candidates with the exception of Diane Abbott have been close to the heart of the Nu Labour project and now are trying to distance themselves from it while, ironically, sounding like the very thing they’re trying to escape.
Today, Andy Burnham attacked the Miliband brothers for being “elitist”, a phrase he no doubt picked up from US politics. New Labour he says,
It took you all this time to recognize this, Andy?
How about this from Blair’s 2005 speech to the party conference.
This autumn, we will publish our Education White Paper. It will open up the system to new providers and new partners, allow greater parental choice, expand Foundation, Academy and extended schools. Again reform, again some of it difficult. But all with one purpose: to let nothing block the way to higher standards, and greater achievement for our children. The greatest injustice I know is when good education is the preserve of the privileged. We are changing that injustice.
This sounds little different to the coalition’s plans for education. The only real difference here is in the absence of ‘free schools’ from the speech.
I don’t normally indulge in conspiracy theories but there have been times when I thought that Blair was some kind of right wing entryist – a sort of Thatcherite agent – who joined the party as a sort of Trojan horse to destroy the party from within by taking it to the right. This is what Thatcher said in a speech to the Carlton Club in 1979
Our aim is not just to remove our uniquely incompetent Government from office—it is to destroy the socialist fallacies—indeed the whole fallacy of socialism—that the Labour Party exists to spread
Thatcher claimed on more than one occasion that it was her desire to ‘destroy’ socialism. The rest of the speech follows a similar tone.
We have to fight Socialism wherever we find it: at Westminster in County Halls, in Borough and District Council Chambers.
In his blog, Iain McWhirter of the Sunday Herald says,
She wanted to “abolish socialism” at home and defeat communism abroad. Incredibly, she arguably did both, and at the same time gave her name to a new “ism”: Thatcherism – a political phiosophy founded on deregulated financial markets, privatisation of state assets, sales of council homes and dismantling of the welfare state. Thatcherism wasn’t just an economic policy, however, it was a social psychology based on possessive individualism. It was about getting as much as possible for yourself and your family and then letting the rest of the world go hang.
Socialism was destroyed within the Labour Party perhaps but it, like many other ideas, continues to exist and is no more dead than Nazism. Blair created a party in his own image. It was a party of bland shoe-salesmen and former local councillors who more than happy to improve their career prospects by signing up to the Blair Stitch Project. Even the new intake of women Labour MPs was subjected to old-style sexism: Blair’s Babes they were called. Unlike Labour women of the past, this lot were happy to be labelled ‘babes’ and to pose and smile for the cameras. None of them could be described as heavyweight intellectual talents. There were no Barbara Castles among their number and the party was worse off for it. I mean, Caroline Flint hardly compares to such a figure. If she wasn’t posing for the cameras, she was spouting nonsense in the media.
So what were Nu Labour’s achievements? I can’t think of any to be perfectly honest. If they want to talk about figures, then anyone can churn out rafts of statistics to justify their argument. It cuts no ice with me. The simple truth is that the divide between rich and poor deepened; social mobility decreased while homelessness increased and wages for those on meagre incomes remained low in spite of the tax credit regime which, in actual fact, made many people poorer because of the way it was administered.
Whoever wins the leadership contest will no doubt continue to plough the same furrow left to them by Blair and Brown. David Miliband is Blair Lite; his brother, Ed seems slightly more reasonable. Balls is finished and Burnham is a non-starter. As for Abbott, she stands no chance and once the election is over, she will return to the backbenches and possibly be reunited with Portillo.
The name of Keir Hardie is like kryptonite to the Blairites. Flint probably doesn’t know who he was or what he did! For people like Flint, history doesn’t matter and nor does substance. It’s the surface that counts.