• British Labour in 2007

    As we enter the new year, the first task for Labour should be to draw a line under an egregious error made in its name – an error that began with an abuse of power and a breathtaking deception of the British people, and then proceeded to devastate a faraway country, undermine the rule of international law, threaten the fragile integrity and cohesion of British society, increase the burden of religious division – in Britain, the Middle East and around the world, advance the claims of terrorism, and engulf the entire ten-year record of the Blair government in disrepute. It is hard to think of a parallel in modern times to such a tragic catalogue of catastrophe brought about by the blind certainties of an inherently good man.

    Tony Blair’s departure will help to draw that line. So will the election of a new leader. That new leader, however, will face a Herculean task if a fresh start is to be made and a renewed mandate obtained.

    If the new leader is Gordon Brown (as I – and most others – assume it will be), his first hurdle will be the need to demonstrate that, without the presentational skills of a Tony Blair and faced with a Tory opponent who is at least electable, he can still engage with the British electorate and enlist their support.

    His best strategy in approaching this task is to be himself – to demonstrate that, when the voters look at him and the Labour Party, what they see is what they get. So, what is needed is an end to spin, to the short-term preoccupation with electoral advantage and news manipulation at every turn, and a return to recognisable Labour values – values updated and adapted to society’s needs of course, cutting-edge values applied to new and as yet unrecognised issues, but values so true to Labour that voters will feel that they know where they are.

    So, let us have an end to hobnobbing with the rich and powerful, to riding shotgun for the Americans however crazy the enterprise, to the indifference with which widening inequalities in our society are tolerated, to the casual assumption that the government is above the law, to the disdain for the Party and the trade unions, to the belief that globalisers like Rupert Murdoch represent the only possible future, to the gut instinct that the private sector will always offer better solutions than the public sector, to the carelessness with which divisions in our already divided society are exacerbated, and to the self-serving belief that what the government wants is, for that reason alone, good and right.

    Let us, in other words, have an end to New Labour (or, rather, Not Labour). Let us have instead Labour tout court, Labour unadorned, Labour true to itself. That would free the new leader to use 2007 to begin to build a new trust with the voters, based on a commitment to restoring the cohesion of our society, across social, economic, ethnic and religious divides. It would mean a return to Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy, so that a relationship of trust is extended to include our international partners. It would mean recognising that the current world order, disfigured as it is by huge and growing imbalances and a dizzying attempt to stop the United States from toppling off the high wire of its unsustainable deficit, must be reformed.

    It would mean a return to that central Labour preoccupation with diffusing power and wealth throughout society, rather than aiding and abetting its concentration in fewer and fewer hands. The new leader could give priority to the real economy in which most people live and work rather than the financial economy which disproportionately rewards the few, reassert the value of public service and the public domain, and return the most important decisions about the economy to the democratic process rather than handing them over to self-serving bankers.

    If any of this is to be attempted, let alone achieved, there is no time to lose. It is essential that the first part of 2007 should not be wasted on the personal rather than collective project of protecting what remains of the Prime Minister’s reputation. The sooner the new leader is in place, the better.

    Bryan Gould
    19 December 2006

    This article will be published in the first 2007 issue of The Parliamentary Monitor.

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