[Marxism] Guardian: "Former Labour allies round on Blair"
jcparks5550 at hotmail.com
Sun Aug 8 23:10:48 MDT 2004
With the editors of one of Labour's erstwhile pro-reformist journals now
attacking him from the left, could things get any worse for Blair? I've
reproduced the editorial from Renewals along with an article about it from
tomorrow's Guardian. Quite a withering critique, I must say, even coming
from some of the folks who originally wanted Labour to move toward the
center. The following lines from the article pretty well sum it up the
bankrupcy of the Third Way: "Social democracy and capitalism cannot be
triangulated - more of one means less of the other...Social democracy cannot
take root in the shadow cast by neo-liberalism." The Schroeder wing of the
SPD, Lula's PTB, the "New" Democrats and all other partisans of
neoliberalism with a human face would do well to take heed.
Former Labour allies round on Blair
Patrick Wintour, chief political correspondent
Monday August 9, 2004
Some of Tony Blair's oldest and closest ideological allies in the Labour
party abandon their support for his leadership today, saying he is
endangering the viability of the party, eroding trust in politics and
embracing a market ideology largely indistinguishable from the
The vehement assessment is made by Renewal, an influential quarterly Labour
journal which has long advocated the modernisers' cause and for which
ministers and Labour MPs regularly write.
Mr Blair attended a Downing Street seminar last year celebrating its first
decade and is listed on its editorial advisory board, along with five other
serving ministers: Patricia Hewitt, David Miliband, Ruth Kelly, Margaret
Hodge and Alan Johnson.
There are three former cabinet ministers on the board: Alan Milburn, Robin
Cook and Clare Short.
The editorial, marking a new disillusionment with Mr Blair on the part of
hitherto sympathetic party intellectuals, is bound to cause concern in
Downing Street, if only because of its impact on party morale.
There is no serious threat to Mr Blair's leadership and the bulk of the
unions have, at least for now, buried the hatchet.
But the authors reject the recent optimism from No 10, saying: "The party
hierarchy just does not realise what a large hole it resides in. The
European results demonstrate the dealignment of political loyalties that has
been accelerating under New Labour."
They say: "The dominant feeling in the electorate is not so much that there
are no differences between the parties. Rather it is that two terms of
office with massive majorities has not made enough of a difference and that
the parties don't behave any differently when in power.
"Worse, our democracy has been eroded, there is no new politics and trust in
politicians is at an all time low."
In a dramatic portrayal of the mood in the party, Renewal says: "What is at
stake is not just the radical intent of a third term and therefore the
prospects for victory at a fourth election, but the viability of the party.
"Recent results and events disturbingly echo the fall of the Tories. First
you lose your active members (on current projections we will have no members
by 2018), then your councillor base, finally after a moment of epiphany
(like Black Wednesday) the fall amongst the wider public is frighteningly
far and fast.
"In the party, members simply walk away in silence, leaving behind them an
increasingly empty shell - frustrated and disillusioned but, curiously, not
The editorial's authors say that "very large numbers of members and
representatives" share their analysis, including their belief that Mr Blair
is a leader more intent on marginalising the Tories than transforming
Reminding its readers that the journal was set up in 1993 in the wake of the
fourth election defeat, the editorial states: "We did genuinely think that
Blair would open up spaces to reshape and renew social democracy.
"We were wrong. Gradually that early promise of a new politics has receded
and it is blatantly obvious that there is no point waiting for or wanting a
They say the stakes are too high for the party to leave Mr Blair
unchallenged, and urge the chancellor, Gordon Brown, to say more about how
he would govern.
Admitting doubts about the chancellor, they nevertheless say: "It is
undoubtedly the case that the social democratic successes of this government
belong primarily to Gordon. If he becomes leader then the party will be more
at ease with itself, the pace of redistribution could increase and the
public sector will be safer from creeping privatisation."
The authors acknowledge that Mr Blair has divided and weakened the
opposition in a way that a decade ago looked impossible.
"At every turn the strategy is to keep the Tories out of the ring. But the
cost to social democrats is debilitating. Sure we have power, but are denied
the means to do anything purposeful with it. This is the Blair Catch 22."
They also give a withering picture of the damage inflicted on the party by
Mr Blair's decisions on Iraq. They write that New Labour has burnt so much
political capital that it looks as if the second term will be remembered
primarily for Iraq.
They say: "As it stands, none of the major rationales for the war stand up.
There are no weapons of mass destruction, the country, the region and the
world are not safer places, the lives of the Iraqi people are not safer and
it remains an open question whether they are or will be much better.
"And the debris has inevitably fallen primarily on Blair, given that he took
an unwilling and unenthusiastic party and people into the conflict.
"Tragically, Blair still appears to believe that if he can only explain it
one more time, we will get it. But Tony, we get the message - we just don't
"Iraq is Blair's poll tax, a fundamental breach of trust, demonstration of
arrogance and strategic blunder for which the party as a whole is paying the
The stakes are too high
We thought Tony Blair would renew social democracy. We were wrong
Neal Lawson and Paul Thompson
Monday August 9, 2004
The prospects for a modern social democracy look bleak. Downing Street and
its outriders are setting out an agenda for a third term - individualised
consumer choice in health and education - which is hard to distinguish from
Tory policy and for which there is little enthusiasm among public or party.
Given the volatility of contemporary politics, it is by no means impossible
that Labour will lose in a reverse landslide. But the most likely outcome is
that we will stumble across the line first, and, as with the Tories after
1992, the electorate may soon resent us and our fall in the next crisis
could be sweeping. Unlike the Thatcherites, we won't have transformed the
political, economic and social landscape - despite the benefit of huge
majorities, a pathetically weak opposition and a strong economy.
The European results are another indication that the party hierarchy does
not realise what a hole it is in. They demonstrated the dealignment of
political loyalties that has been accelerating under New Labour. We know of
many members (not diehard leftists) who did not vote or voted for the Greens
or other parties. The government is puzzled, citing the strength of the
"economic fundamentals", low unemployment and record investment in public
In its script, disaffection is framed in the traditional narrative of
mid-term blues. If it really believes this, it is making a big mistake. The
dominant feeling in the electorate is not so much that there are no
differences between the parties, but rather that two terms of office with
huge majorities haven't made a difference and parties don't behave any
differently in power. On the crest of a political wave unrivalled since
1945, New Labour has been unable or unwilling to change the political
weather. Worse, our democracy has been eroded, there is no new politics and
trust in politicians is at an all-time low.
New Labour has burnt so much political capital, but for what end? Most of
the progressive policies, such as devolution and minimum wage, are first
term and can be considered as much old Labour as New. It looks as if the
second term will be remembered for Iraq. None of the rationales for the war
stands up: there are no weapons of mass destruction; and the country, the
region and the world are not safer places. Tragically, Tony Blair still
appears to believe that if he can only explain it one more time, we will get
it. But we get the message - we just don't accept it. Iraq is Blair's poll
tax, a fundamental breach of trust, demonstration of arrogance and strategic
blunder for which the party as a whole is paying the price.
New Labour's timidity has always been framed by certain assumptions: that
Britain is a conservative country and elections can only be won from the
centre ground; that the forces of global capitalism are ideologically and
practically given; that markets and choice enable us to compete efficiently
in the global economy, and must flourish in public and private sectors; and
that the role of the modern state is to equip workers to thrive on the
opportunities of globalisation. The Conservatives, who see no active role
for the state, are thus an obstacle to Britain's ability to compete in the
global economy and must be kept out of office at all cost.
The strategy defines Tony Blair as the best leader in Labour's history for
marginalising the opposition. But the cost to social democrats is
debilitating. Sure we have power, but are denied the means to do anything
purposeful with it. This is the Blair Catch 22. We are saddled with a
historically low level of taxation to spend on public services and to
redistribute, we are privatising the public services, if more humanely than
the Tories, and we are denying the possibility of a social democratic
Europe, the only talk being about where we draw our "red lines" and
sustaining a world order defined by Bush.
We have supported Blair's leadership. We were never uncritical Blairites,
but we did think that Blair would open up spaces to renew social democracy.
We were wrong. That promise of a new politics has receded and it is obvious
there is no point waiting for a better Blair.
The stakes are simply too high to accept that there is no alternative for
Labour supporters. What is at stake is not just the radical intent of a
third term, and therefore victory at a fourth election, but the viability of
the party. Recent events echo the collapse of the Tories: first you lose
your members, then your councillor base; and finally after an epiphany (such
as Black Wednesday) the fall among the wider public is frighteningly fast.
Frustrated by years of neglect, clearer threats of disengagement are being
made from within the unions. When sensible left-of-centre figures such as
Kevin Curran of the GMB prophesy a break, we have to take notice.
The party and its supporters must ask themselves: Is this as good as it
gets? The leadership's answer is "Yes - what is not on offer is the Labour
government of your dreams". But it's not a dream we want: just a better
The future may or not be bright, but will it be Brown? The social democratic
successes of this government belong primarily to Gordon. If he becomes
leader, then the party will be more at ease with itself, the pace of
redistribution could increase and the public sector will be safer from
privatisation. But questions remain. Much of the caution, particularly over
Europe, is down to him. There have been few signs that Brown will embrace a
new politics. If he simply takes us on a path of more coherent Blairism,
then the motive for change is greatly diminished. But Gordon does have the
potential to be more radical. Britain is not necessarily a conservative
country - rather its people, like those of every country, have the potential
to be either conservative or radical, progressive or regressive. What
matters is the political leadership and the ambition to shift the centre of
gravity to the left.
Labour needs a new direction, not just a new leader. Social democracy and
capitalism cannot be triangulated - more of one means less of the other. The
job of social democratic governments is to draw and redraw the lines between
democracy and the market, the individual and the collective, the public and
the private. If we give in to the principle of market supremacy then we
won't know where or how to draw those lines. Worse still, we end up not
knowing that lines have to be drawn at all.
Social democracy cannot take root in the shadow cast by neo-liberalism.
Ultimately we have to define our own agenda for a realisable radical
transfor mation. If others offer an alternative leadership, then we want to
hear their ideas. If the party is to survive, it must relearn the habits of
Behind the scenes, the next manifesto is being posed by Downing Street as
consolidators (read Brownites) v radical reformers (read Blairites). The
battleground is choice, but the initial one is to be made by the party and
movement. Are we prepared to risk defeat with the bogus radicalism and
burned-out legitimacy of the New Labour project, or can we remarshall our
forces around a genuine social democratic programme?
·Neal Lawson and Paul Thompson are editors of the Labour journal Renewal;
this is an extract from the next editorial and was written with the
collaboration of fellow editor Sue Goss
neal at renewal.org.uk
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