Tag Archives: Andy Burnham

Let’s Talk About: Those New Labour Achievements

If you’re a Corbyn supporter, you’re probably more than familiar with the rebuttals (such as they are) deployed by Blairites and Nu Labour sympathizers to the discourse that insists their prescription for governing the country is the wrong one at this time. As you may already know, such minds are closed to all reason. For them, facing backward is always preferable to facing forward. Nostalgia is just so, so much better than real life.

Perhaps you’ve heard the oft-uttered defence: “When we were in power, we achieved” to which the speaker will go on to produce a list of the Holy achievements. This line of defence recently appeared as a Twitter rebuttal to the critiques of Ken Loach and Paul Mason, and has been reproduced on the otherwise interesting Political Scrapbook. As arguments go, it’s pretty weak.  Why?  Because the repetition of the “our achievements” line is little better than a curmudgeon opening their front door and shouting at some little kids playing football in the street , while at the same time leaving their back door open to all and sundry. “I fought several wars for the likes of you”, shouts the old duffer as bigger kids ransack his house and steal his valuables behind his back.

As I mentioned in earlier blogs, Blair swerved around the structural problems that had been accumulated by nearly two decades of neoliberal economic and social policies. The notion that only the market can provide solutions was accepted as fait accompli by the Nu Labour policy makers and apparatchiks. Blair and his acolytes internalized the Tories’ economic arguments and accepted them as Truths. For them, the economic orthodoxy formulated in the Thatcher years, which has been responsible for untold miseries, can and could never be challenged. It has become holy writ. Set in stone – so to speak.

So why do Blairites insist on listing Nu Labour’s achievements as words of power to ward off all and any criticism of the party and, particularly, Tony Blair? Well, it reveals their lack of a relevant vision for the future and in failing to offer a real alternative, they have become prisoners of their past. Moreover, their constant reproduction of nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ betrays their lack of a big narrative and policies that will transform peoples’ lives for the better. Nostalgia is and always has been a very poor substitute for history as it was really lived. Slogans and headline-grabbing gimmicks have become a replacement for ideas for the PR-driven Parliamentary Labour Party, itself the true offspring of Nu Labour. Today’s crop of right-wing and flaccid Left Labour MPs, who were produced by the machine created by Nu Labour, are not only devoid of imagination and ideas, they are incapable of learning from history and can see nothing beyond the status quo.

The paucity of meaningful ideas was brought into sharp relief during the last two leadership elections: in contrast to Corbyn, the Blairites and their allies could only offer more window-dressing and empty soundbites. Hope as both a concept and a word was noticeably absent from the vocabularies of Burnham, Kendall and Cooper; while Smith, who was/is emptiness personified, thought he could steal Corbyn’s policies in the hope (sic) that no one would notice. But they did and he lost. Badly. It is only Corbyn who has offered an alternative discourse to the prevailing socio-economic orthodoxy and it is only Corbyn who has articulated anything resembling a vision. The others offered nothing and in this, they are little better than the managers of expectations and the destroyers of dreams. There is no hope and there is no future. Only more misery. But hey, what about our achievements when we were in power?  What about them? What about the future? We’re not asking you to be scryers.

Those who follow the Nu Labourites, Progressites, Blairites or whatever, never bother to ask the questions about what kind of country they would like to see. Instead, like those they worship, they are at once fixated on the past and are insistent their leaders and they alone should be in power. The Bitterites haven’t cottoned on to the fact that if they can’t articulate a vision for the country that is original and distinct from the Tories’ empty promises and Newspeak policies (National Living Wage), they will be consigned to the dustbin of history. These people are nothing if not romantics. They are also megalomaniacal; inured in the Westminster system that cossets them and provides them with a handsome pension – even the failed MP and right-wing troll, Louise Mensch, gets a parliamentary pension.

Voters need hope and they need to see something that at least resembles a vision from a political party that purports to be on the side of the weak. What voters don’t need is someone in an expensive suit telling them “we have to deal with the world as it is, not how we’d like it to be”. The economic crisis depression that began in 2008 needed radical, bold action. Instead, what we got was inertia, weakness and a craven mentality that allowed the Tories and UKIP to control social, political and economic discourses in the public sphere. This is what happens when political parties become complacent and that complacency continues to dominate the discourses of Smith, Kendall, Reeves, Austin et al. Hands up! Who wants more misery and an extra helping of pain? Not me.

If you want a better future for yourself, your family or for society, you will not get that from a reanimated Nu Labour Party. The Blairites and their pals will simply hand you another shit sandwich on artisan bread and tell you that’s all you’re getting. Society deserves better than that.

 

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Ed Miliband becomes Labour leader. So what?

So Ed Miliband has won the Labour Leadership election. Please forgive me if I don’t get excited but this is all something of an anti-climax. Given the number of Blairites in the party, I do not expect Labour to suddenly lurch to the left. It will not happen.  In fact, I don’t expect Labour to come up with any truly socialist policies. Ed and David Miliband’s father may have been a Marxist theorist but that doesn’t mean that the brothers  share Ralph’s politics…even if Ed was pictured during the campaign wearing a pair of work boots.

The question on my mind is whether or not, older brother David, will work with kid brother, Ed in a shadow cabinet or will he fume on the backbenches? What about the other failed leadership candidates? Will Diane Abbott finally get her hands on a portfolio? Unlikely.  She’s got her media career to think about. How about Ed Balls? What’s in store for him? Shadow Chancellor? As for Andy ‘Aspirational Socialism’ Burnham maybe he’ll just become a shadow. Serves him right for being such a tosser.

Nick Robinson is on the telly now saying how the right will try to paint Ed Miliband as a left-winger because of the support he received from the unions. The Tories are supported by a variety of millionaires and private interests, yet this oft-repeated accusation of Labour ‘being in the pay of the trade unions’ does not strike them as hypocritical. Besides, which is the more democratic? Trade unions or unaccountable millionaires?

Kinnock is on BBC News talking about how he supported Ed Miliband. Is that the kiss of death or what?

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“I want to talk about our achievements…”

…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,

“At its worst, it was self indulgent, arrogant, elitist, London-centric and all of that has to change. It looked hollow and rootless at times.”

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.

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Labour: a socialist party?

Not in my mind! It makes me laugh every time I hear some right-winger describe the Labour Party as ‘socialist’ when they are quite clearly a capitalist party.  The Labour Party lost any pretence of being a socialist party in 1987 when Kinnock embarked on his witch hunt at the behest of the Tory press. The migration to the right was completed under the leadership of Tony Blair – who cut the heart out of the party, held it high over his head and drop-kicked it into the bin. Hey presto! No more Clause 4. It was good for the new voter-friendly brand image of the party, thus it became a newer version of the Tory Party – this is/was New Labour; a sort of Tory-lite. The age of postmodern politics had arrived: ostensibly free from any ideological discolouration; new, shiny and clean, Labour under Blair embarked on two disastrous wars – one of which was based on a lie; refused to build new council homes and placed The City at the heart of their economic thinking. So instead of creating more manufacturing jobs (in other words having the capacity and infrastructure to create tangible products to sell on the international market place), more jobs in the City were produced and the financial sector expanded as a consequence. Almost everyone, it seemed, was more interested in taking money for producing nothing. Telly programmes like Homes Under the Hammer encouraged people to buy properties at knock-down prices at auction, fix them up and sell them on to make a profit. Apparently anyone could be a property developer or a speculator; an entrepreneur, though the reality was less romantic than the image portrayed. These are the people whom Marx described as the rentier class: stockbrokers, mortgage brokers, buy-to-let property owners and so on who take their money from rents, shares and dividends.  This is the effect of financial deregulation that was initiated under Thatcher but continued under the last Labour government.  The spivs and the casino capitalists were even more free to do as they wished and dream up any ‘product’ they liked – this is creativity. Remember how Brown spent a lot of time schmoozing the wizards of Ye Olde Cittie of London before the 1997 General Election? Yeah, he was convincing them of the merits of socialism. That’s why they were genuinely pleased with New Labour throughout the 13 years they were in power.

Having lost the election, the Labour Party now has to choose a new leader but the field of candidates as I mentioned in an earlier blog is dominated by Blairites and sub-Blairites. Only the late inclusion of Diane Abbott as a candidate makes the field appear interesting.  Let’s have a look at the leadership candidates:

David Miliband, studied PPE at Oxford. He sounds like Blair and has even adopted some of his mannerisms but, so far, he has resisted the temptation to use Blair’s famous phrase, “Listen to the argument”. He is political careerism personified.

Ed Milband, like his brother, he studied PPE at Oxford. He made a very moving speech about how Labour needed to get back to its core values and derided Blair’s decision to make war in Iraq. He talks a good talk but does he have the will?

Ed Balls, another Oxford PPE graduate, is a slippery character. A friend of Gordon Brown, he sounds like a continuation of the Calvinist One.

Andy Burnham is portrayed as a ‘Merseysider’ (Scouse by implication) and working class but I fail to see his appeal. Another careerist, he is sub-Blairite and offers nothing different – save for the fact that he went to Cambridge and didn’t read PPE.

Finally there’s the late arrival,  Diane Abbott, the first Black woman MP to be elected to the House of Commons and a Cambridge graduate. Her decision to send her son to a private school has attracted a good deal of criticism from the left and has been mocked by the right. Abbott seems to be the Tories preferred leadership candidate which tells us something about the Tories: they see her as a soft target – maybe it’s her relationship with on-screen hubby Michael Portillo on This Week? Remember “Chat Show Charlie”? But chat shows weren’t Charlie’s undoing; it was his fondness for uisge beatha that finished him off…well, that and his back-stabbing chums led by Brutus Clegg. It’s hard to see how Abbott can win, given the numbers of New Labour types in the party and the sheer adoration some members have for Miliband 1.

I can’t see Labour discovering socialism soon, let alone social democracy. But with PR who knows what could happen? We could witness the rise of a party that is more in tune with left-thinking voters. It can only be a good thing for the left as well as democracy: the compulsion to hold one’s nose and vote Labour when they’re working against you would disappear forever. No more contradictory consciousness…yeah, well, we’ll see – eh?

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