Correct Analysis. Mistaken Values
Articles in yesterdays' Observer by Will Hutton and William Keegan seem to me to provide a sound analysis of the nature of New Labour, the strength of its impact and the strong possibility of its continuing development.
Hutton examines the key role of Tony Blair in shifting Labour to this new ground, whilst Keegan's article is centred on Gordon Brown's commitment to a leftish version of the same form of politics.
My point of departure with Hutton and Keegan is that I am not a supporter of the moves they describe and feel that Labour Movement politics has headed in the wrong direction by dismissing its traditional mixture of democratic socialist and labourite values.
In particular, I feel that moves towards social equality and the development of a public service ethos are essential to transcend the unjust, selfish, divisive and competitive values of the market place. One of the keys to developing a society which is responsive to the norms of social equality and to a commitment to the general well-being, is a move to public forms of ownership operated under democratic controls.
An Extract From Will Hutton's Article (Observer page 31)
"...Blair has invented a new strain of British politics - liberal Labour.
In this respect, I think Blair is going to be as important to the Labour Party as Disraeli and Macmillan have been to the Tory Party. They were politicians of the right who set out to appeal to the centre not as a political tactic, but because the values of the centre sat where they wanted to be, and so they invented liberal conservatism. Blair has made the same choice. He wants to associate his party and its values with the values of the British centre....
Blair will leave an indelible mark on the British left. Liberal Labour will become as important a political tradition within it as Methodism, trade unionism or socialism."
Hutton goes on to describe Gordon Brown as "...the now-converted standard-bearer of liberal Labour..."
We can have our quibbles about Hutton's analysis. Liberal labour isn't something new in British politics. It is as old as the Lib-Labism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries which the Labour Party was founded to challenge. Then, Margaret Thatcher did much to dent the Disraeli/Macmillan tradition in the Tory Party. Above all, the "centre" of British politics is not a fixed tradition, it shifts and moves with circumstances, such as those of the second world war.
But I feel that Hutton is correct in stressing the significance of Blair's ideological contribution to the development of labourism. There is certainly a clear danger that (if we don't watch out) liberal Labourism will dominate Labour's future horizons.
I only wish that those who want a liberal centre in British politics would devote their attention to liberal Liberalism, rather than to liberal Conservatism or liberal Labourism. But I realise that no-one is going to give my form of politics an easy ride,
An Extract From William Keegan's Article (Observer, Business Section page 8)
"...I promise you I read the whole of Gordon Brown's Selected Speeches 1997-2006. They contain many clues to the future. After all, these are the speeches he wants you to read, not the ones he wants you to forget.
If there is an underlying theme, it is that our future Prime Minister has travelled a long way from the Red Gordon days. His conversion to 'the market economy' is genuine, as is his admiration for the US entrepreneurial culture. But so is his belief in the limits of markets, especially with regard to healthcare, and his realisation that there is an urgent need to do something about what is undoubtedly a major housing crisis in this country.
...There is scope, on the evidence of this book, for a less-Red Gordon to be a lot less blue than New Labour, his joint creation with Blair, has been in practice."
I grant that the prospect of left-wing New Labourism under Gordon will be an improvement on what we have seen so far and it might even give some scope for democratic socialists and traditional labourites to re-emerge on Labour's stage. But there is also a clear danger that such an approach will help to consolidate what Hutton calls liberal Labour. To re-establish even a rhetorical commitment to democratic socialism and labourism in the Labour Party, we must seek to move beyond Gordon's conversion to the market economy and the entrepreneurial culture.
The paradox is that even right-wing labourism would provide a more hopeful wicket for democratic socialists than will a leftist form of liberal Labourism.