Posts Tagged ‘new labour’

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New Labour’s ideological hit man

August 12, 2009

There’s an interesting detail in Decca Aitkenhead’s Monday interview with Peter Mandelson, in which Aitkenhead notes his peculiarity, in their conversation, of returning again and again to the same point in his past:

…it’s striking that Mandelson’s point of reference goes all the way back to 80s, the era he returns to in conversation unprompted, time and time again. “It was like the wild west,” he says nostalgically at one point. “It was tough.” Interestingly, he also says that, excluding his present position, his favourite ever job was as Labour’s campaign director back then.

This must seem, to most readers as well as the baffled interviewer, like “nostalgia” for a piece of ancient personal history: and who, after all, does not look back on some long (and successful) battle with a warm smile? No doubt the entitlement that Mandelson – quite literally – claims grows directly from the struggles of his (relative) youth. Because if Mandelson says he had to be the hit man, and that the battle against the Left in the Labour Party – never, tellingly, referred to as such in this interview – was “tough”, he is being entirely honest. New Labour cut its teeth in those battles. It formed itself out of the comprehensive, shattering defeat of a credible left in British politics – a defeat that Mandelson played a decisive role in.

But the popular image of Mandelson as merely a sinister manipulator, or superficial spin-merchant (tediously reprised here) was never accurate. The man himself identifies his real significance:

“Who was it who wrote the policy review in the late 80s? Me. Who presided over the creation – who was one of the architects of New Labour, and of that change in policy that created a new political force in the 90s? Me. Who enjoyed driving new policy as a minister at the beginning of this government, and is now doing so again? Me. So I’m certainly not a policy blank. My big preoccupation is policy.”

And it is this role he has returned to in government: here calling for “industrial activism” in the new, post-crash economy; there staking out a defence of government intervention. He has, since re-entering the Cabinet, been the only minister even beginning to take seriously the thought that the wheels had come off New Labour’s old, debt-and-property economic model.

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Tony von Hayek and Gordon Friedman

July 15, 2009

Potlatch on New Labour’s sterling defence of inequality:

It’s clear in the political writings of Hayek and Milton Friedman that economic inequality is the guarantor of social and political difference. Far from the state being tasked with reducing it, the state has an obligation to defend and construct the mechanisms which produce it.

It is without any sarcasm that New Labour ought to be recognised for its achievements in this regard. It has defended free markets, competition in education, the valorisation of sporting achievement, the optimisation of London relative to the rest of the UK, and so on. Forget the filthy rich or David Beckham for a moment. New Labour has done an excellent job in defending the legacy of Hayek and Friedman, who at least had the self-awareness and courage to say what they believed in. Either we live in a society where the wheat is distinct from the chaff, or we live in one of potential tyranny; that was the original neo-liberal claim.

It’s interesting to speculate that New Labour was a far more able defender of the neoliberal project than the Tories ever could be. They were able to do something that Thatcher and Major never did: persuade large numbers of people that, even if they did not like free markets, the worship of the rich, and inequality on a spectacular scale, there was little fundamental that could be done about it. This bitter pill could be sweetened a little by making some efforts at reducing poverty – hardly a radical anti-neoliberal claim, given (for example) Milton Friedman’s own support for a minimum income guarrantee.

And New Labour have (or perhaps had) their own little claque of cheerleaders and defenders who convinced themselves that the existence of free markets could be squared with the existence of social justice, conventionally defined.

New Labour’s crisis is so deep precisely because it has now dramatically and visibly failed on both halves of that equation: it can neither defend free markets effectively, nor can it deliver justice.