1. Was It Just Blairism Without Blair?
In his Labour Conference Speech today, Gordon Brown seemed to give us a vision for a re-vitalised New Labourism. At least, he labelled himself "New Labour". This would mean that after a palace coup, he has ended up firmly in line with Tony Blair's approach of seeking to reconcile free market practices with certain moves to social justice.
So we were given calls for -
(a) A property-owning democracy plus a renewal of social housing.
(b) A marriage for educational purposes between businesses and trusts on the one hand and schools, colleges and universities on the other.
(c) A world of open, dynamic and flexible markets plus the strengthening of the humanitarian role of the Department of International Development.
(d) Charities to work with public bodies to ensure that no child grew up in poverty.
To ensure the free market will continue to wag the tail of social justice, he promised "no return to the failed approaches of the past". That is really Blairspeak for no moves to either progressive taxation nor to increases in social service provisions.
2. Or Instead Was It Closet Socialism?
When Gordon said that education was the "great liberating force of our generation" was he just repeating Tony's mantra of "education, education, education"? For Tony's formula worked out to be more about "training, training and re-training" to equip people for new roles under the impact of the technological revolution. Yet this is not what the "liberating" of people's minds should be restricted to.
So were Gordon's promises of education or apprenticeships for all up to 18, plus significant new expenditure per pupil indicating a shift? Does he want an open world of education which will enable people to follow in his own footsteps and work on a thesis out of pure intellectual stimulation?
Then what of all those other bits and pieces he dropped out, such as protections for vulnerable workers, devolving power to parliaments and the people, having citizens forums and citizens juries, renewing the NHS, tackling racism and xenophobia, acting to tackle climate change and even the municipal socialists' dream of the communal control of assets?
Can the free market alone produced these? And does Gordon know they can't?
So Where Does Gordon Really Stand?
Is he merely trying to appeal to two audiences? In (1) above we get the arguments that will appeal to the World of New Labour. Whilst in (2) is he looking to residual socialists to give them a nudge and a wink?
If so, which side is he really on? Or is he just trying for an easy life? The problem, of course, with sending out crossed messages is that New Labour might believe he is really a socialist, whilst socialists will be convinced he is New Labour.
At the 1997 election, Labour stood on a platform which included "no income tax increases". Afterwards I asked Tony if he felt it would be possible to move to a progressive income tax agenda at the following General Election, he replied "Harry, we can't go into a general election promising tax increases." Later, Gordon's answer to the same question was that nothing is set in concrete. I wonder if either (1) or (2) above, or neither are set in concrete.
I rather suspect that Gordon's tactic is to keep us guessing about his ideological stance until he finally hands over the Leadership. At least we knew where we stood with Tony.