For a political analyst who swears by the idea that only parties on the centre-ground can win elections, Labour may just be about, to coin a phrase, to write the most-signed suicide note in history. Jeremy Corbyn, an opponent of the Blair-Brown ‘modernisation’ project and staunch advocate of socialism, is the front runner to become the party’s new leader, with odds that started as 100/1 becoming so short that Paddy Power has already paid out bets made in his favour over three weeks from the announcement of the result.
those whose believe a right-wing Labour can save the UK from this hyper neo-liberal agenda are badly misreading history
This misreading starts with the belief that the Blair-Brown government was an economically successful force for progressive politics in the UK. Now, this is not to say that legislating for LGBT and other minority rights was not an important step, nor the introduction of the minimum wage nor, what I consider to be Blair’s finest hour, the Good Friday agreement. However, if you look at the broad package of New Labour’s governance of the UK, I believe it is undeniable that they did as much damage as any Conservative government of the last 50 years. A bold claim? Perhaps, but not one that is unfounded.
The significant shift in Labour policy which Blairites credit with their electoral success was their embrace of Thatcher’s free market capitalism: an economic policy which seems orthodox now, but was actually considered dangerous and untested when Thatcher came to power in 1979. It wasn’t a full hearted embrace, however, as there was an emphasis on an investment in public services through modest tax rises and, crucially, increasing borrowing. Brown’s economic plan was complex and academic, but essentially boiled down to further deregulating the banking sector; by then the most productive part of the UK economy and using the economic growth it created to spend vast amounts of money in public services that wasn’t being covered by tax intake. That didn’t necessarily matter though, because the finance sector was booming and the economy was in continual fiscal stimulus thanks to the massive increase in public sector jobs in poverty stricken parts of the country.
Ever growing finance were the foundations of Blair and Brown’s New Britain, but those foundations turned out to be made of sand.
Then, despite Brown’s boasts to have invented an economic cheat code the good times came to an end. First there was a house price bubble which burst, seeing savings and the value of assets plummet, then the worldwide banking system collapsed in 2008, bringing a dramatic end to the credit happy years of the early 2000s. Ever growing finance were the foundations of Blair and Brown’s New Britain, but those foundations turned out to be made of sand. Labour are right to say that they did not cause the 2008 crash, but it was the economic policies of Gordon Brown: namely deregulating the banking sector and relying on its continual growth to fund the future costs of the public sector, that left Britain so vulnerable to it.
Surely the investment in public services is something to be proud of though? Well, no. Notwithstanding the fact that Labour’s failure to properly plan for the future has allowed a mendacious Conservative party to delegitimise the idea of public services and make benefits cuts that have lead to numerous deaths, a good chunk of this public sector investment was a very bad deal. Blair and Brown were terrified of being seen as tax and spend politicians; they had decided that the UK was no socialist country and needed to constantly outmanoeuvre the Conservatives to remain electable. The Private Finance Initiative was an attempt to have their cake and eat it: increase spending in the public sector, whilst having private finance foot the bill. The government essentially contracted out the building of schools and hospitals to private firms, which would then be leased back to the state. These contracts could last up to 30 years and, by the time they are paid off, will have cost the taxpayer over five times the amount that the buildings were initially worth. Conveniently, this was borrowing that didn’t end up on the total government figures, but was an idiotic policy that has done very little, except enrich the private sector with taxpayer’s money.
the theft of taxpayer money to fund socialism for the rich was an invention of Labour.
This kind of ‘public service reform’ is stamped all over New Labour’s time in office. National Health contracts given to private providers, schools being taken out of the control of local authorities by private finance, tens of thousands of pounds given to big business in order to keep them employing people. This is something that has vastly increased in Cameron’s Britain, but the theft of taxpayer money to fund socialism for the rich was an invention of Labour.
Many of the measures mentioned above were betrayals of the working-class. Whilst a Labour government should have come to power and have recreated a highly skilled, technical economy, they instead placed all their emphasis on finance, services and creating as many university graduates as possible. Working class kids who didn’t attend university should have been able to count on learning a trade or working in some technical industrial area, instead they were pacified with pointless public sector jobs or left to work in retail services. This bites even harder now, as those public sector jobs are cut and retail becomes more and more automated. Yet I still believe the working class would have been loyal to Labour (as Blair once said, they had “nowhere else to go”) were it not for the government rhetoric on immigration which, when austerity began, drove them into the arms of UKIP.
the reason they are voting for UKIP is not because they are racists or hate all immigrants, it is because they have not been given rational arguments for immigration or had their concerns heard
Do not misunderstand me. Racism is wrong. It is pernicious, evil, divisive and disgusting. Further, immigration is a good thing: in terms of expanding the gene pool to fight hereditary diseases, stimulating economies and giving people their inherent right to travel. I think most working class UKIP voters also believe this, but the reason they are voting for UKIP is not because they are racists or hate all immigrants, it is because they have not been given rational arguments for immigration or had their concerns heard. Instead they’ve been mocked, sneered at or otherwise invalidated by a government whose primary goal was ‘being modern’.
2015 was too late for Labour to realise that employers were exploiting migrant labour to drive wages down. They should have been listening in the early years of their administration instead of making many working class people feel under attack by a political elite. Freedom of movement across the world is something we should want in a utopian future, but when the world is this unequal it leads to the exploitation of both the global working class in terms of being paid low wages and the working class of this country, in terms of weakening their hand in collective bargaining. The minimum wage legislation does protect people in some ways, but there is a simple fact that New Labour failed to understand: if you are not prepared to plan for the future with good housing, good jobs and strong public services, you cannot have mass immigration.
Mass immigration is a good thing, but it needs to be funded and planned for. Labour did not create the cohesive multi cultural society they boasted, but divided Britain further and created a generation of working class kids with no chance of a good job and, though the exploitation of migrant labour, no chance of a good wage. Labour, the party of the working class who should champion collective bargaining, weakened the power of the communities they were supposed to represent against their employers and drove them into the arms of a hyper-Thatcherite party, as the only ones who would listen to them.
This austerity agenda, the rise of UKIP and the stagnation of our economy did not come out of nowhere. New Labour failed, Blair and Brown failed – the third way failed. Worse than that, it deeply damaged the party and the country at large. This is why nobody but Corbyn in this election campaign has anything of substance to say – returning to Blairism will not work, because Blairism didn’t work.
If Anyone But Corbyn wins this election, then they will have to face this problem head on. The truth is, you can be a capitalist or a socialist: try to be a half-way house and you will repeat the mistakes of centre-left parties across Europe.
It is time for Labour to choose which side they lie on.