Tuesday, 28 September 2010
Back to 1980s? Hopefully.
So it was the big day at the Labour Conference, so what did we get?
Well no big surprises, there was the usual biographical stuff you expect from a new leader, although at least with the Miliband family they don't have to try too hard to make it interesting, and the predictable mea culpa from a Party that has just been given a kick up the pants by the electorate.
What we also got, in fairly lightweight form admittedly, was also a bit of the old The Crisis of the Left. How did the Party of Keir Hardy and Clement Attlee end up mired in Iraq and taken for a ride by the wide boys in the City? How did Labour become the party of Liberal Interventionism and Neoliberal Economics?
The current Crisis of the Left goes back to the 1980s. By then virtually everything the social democrats wanted had been achieved. True, Britain lagged a bit behind the rest of Europe, but basically we were there. The workers had power, the people had rights and the NHS, schools and social services had money. It didn't necessarily work as well as it should, but the basics of civil society were there.
This left the Left in a quandary. Is it Onwards to the Glorious Revolution still, or do we become the new conservatives, defending the status quo against the forces of the right? The result split the left. Meanwhile the ongoing collapse of the totalitarian communist countries in the East gave succour to a Right that had just discovered it's own revolutionary doctrine. Cloaked in the language of freedom beloved of the Flower Children of the now defunct New Left, Neoliberalism made the parties of the Right the new revolutionaries.
The result was a bloody and brutal decade in which what was left of the ideals of the nineteenth century and the 1960s were crushed, literally so in the Battles of Orgreave and the Beanfield, metaphorically so in the hearts of those who were to form New Labour.
Blair, Brown, Mandelson and the rest accepted this and through a mixture of naivety, realpolitik, arrogance, greed and plain old stupidity sought to achieve the ideals of the old Left using the tools of the new Right. The result was an Iraqi imbroglio, a Credit Crunch, a massive PFI bill and all the rest.
And so in walks Ed.
Hopefully out goes Liberal Interventionism, formerly known as the White Man's Burden. Nobody has the stomach for any more wars, not even the Generals who in Basra and Helmand have had to suffer the worst indignity a British Army can ever endure - being rescued by the Americans.
Neoliberallism will no doubt linger a little longer, but a system that has brought massive inequality, environmental devastation and an economic collapse every five years or so must crumble at some point.
In 1985 Neil Kinnock had to acknowledge the failure of the tactics of the NUM and shout down the Militants who wanted to hang onto an old dogma, long past its usefulness. Kinnock did both whilst reaffirming the compassionate values at the heart of the Left.
Miliband will no doubt be his own man, but I hope he will be the new Kinnock, not the new Blair.