In the wake of their much-deserved hammering in the local elections Labour "thinkers" have been venting their angst in print. Better out than in, guys. As always, a little historical perspective is required before focusing on recent events.
I've always maintained that New Labour was not a phenomenon of Blair, Campbell, Mandelson, et al, in the mid 90s. Instead, its inception can be traced back to the Kinnock reign. It was under the wordsmith & windbag that internal Labour Party democracy was "reformed", for which read terminated. One of Kinnock's loyal lieutenants in this process was Bryan Gould, who has penned his own rueful reflections (to describe them as expressions of mea culpa would stretch things a bit) on the Guardian's Comment is Free pages (http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/bryan_gould/2008/05/games_up_gordon.html ).
For Gould to pronounce on the death of New Labour is richly ironic, yet somehow fitting. Gould excoriates what he recognises as the characteristics of New Labour, even though his role in its inception will be familiar to those of a certain generation:
"The tolerance -even encouragement- of inequality, the blind faith in market provision, the exaggerated respect paid to the rich and powerful, the abandonment of the weak and powerless, the impatience with the public service and the public sector and organised labour, the reliance on spin rather than substance, the belief that the purpose of government is to keep power rather than to use it, all represent themes that have changed little in what may well be seen by future commentators as merely an interregnum between Thatcher and Cameron."
That's some charge sheet, essayed by a loyal Kinnockite as the edifice which facilitated the advent of Blair & Brown starts to crumble. However, Gould saves the best bit till last; he concludes, "All those who framed the New Labour project are implicated in that failure."
You don't say, Bryan!
This outbreak of public self-flagellation has been continued on the same site by Compass (http://www.compassonline.org.uk ) guru, managing editor of Renewal (http://www.renewal.org.uk/ ) & one-time adviser to Gordon Brown (oh, what a cross to bear!), Neal Lawson (http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/neal_lawson/2008/08/05/all_together_now_1.html ).
Lawson maintains that the growth in individuality from the 60s onwards meant that both Soviet Stalinism & social democratic reformism were doomed to lose the intellectual battle with capitalism of the free market variety. So far, so Blairite. Yet he then seems to contradict his very premise:
"But in confining itself to a project [that word again!] that put the needs of the market before those of society, New Labour sowed the seeds of a limited and deeply frustrating life span. The contradictions of a largely neoliberal project performed within the body of a party of labour were always going to cause an implosion. It required a permanent shuffle of two steps forward and one step back. The two steps were towards the market with just one in favour of society in order to placate Labour members and the unions.
"But by unleashing more market forces New Labour was undoing its capacity to create a more equal society......The fact that society is more unequal now than the one New Labour inherited from Thatcher is testament to this fact."
Both Gould & Lawson seem unable to acknowledge the corollary of their observations. OK, I'll spell it out for them: New Labour always was an intellectual & economic con, perpetrated by marketing whizzkids & snake oil salesmen at the behest of a ruling class fearful of what the end of the Tory years might mean. Democratically decided policies were ditched, not just ignored; the Murdochs of this world were eagerly fellated & the rich were the ones who mattered, everyone else could wait or, even better, f*** off. Proud of your roles, guys?