The New Labour Brand is Now Toxic

September 26, 2008 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Labour is looking into the abyss, frozen into immobility. The plotters gather. But the problem cannot be reduced to the leader, nor solved by changes in personalities. The New Labour project is exhausted. There are vague plans by Blairites to resurrect it. But this is not the 1990s: the New Labour brand is now toxic.

In such endings lie new beginnings. We need policies to tackle the economic meltdown, but most of all we need a politics. The status quo is no solution. We have to rediscover our idealism and our belief in our founding values – equality, justice, democracy, freedom. Socialism once gave us passion and hope and we need to draw on its intellectual resources and remake it for this new time and for new generations.

The future does not belong to the Conservative Party.The prospects for a more egalitarian social democracy are arguably better now than they were in 1997. Whoever wins the next election, there will be no re-run of the neoliberal economics of the 1980s and 90s. Three decades of economic restructuring have been brought to an end by recession. The frenzied period of financial speculation and profiteering is over. Neoliberalism has done its work and its creative destruction is now undermining capitalism itself. It has become structurally unsustainable.

Britain faces acute problems in creating a more equal and sustainable economy. Decades of wealth creation have ended up in the pockets of a few. Wage levels are stagnating or falling. Benefit levels continue to drop behind earnings, unemployment is set to rise. Welfare reform will see an increasing number of the ill and disabled excluded from all forms of social support. The trend to inequality and poverty will intensify. In the longer term there is the impact of the global problems of food insecurity and water scarcity. The fear of impoverishment in old age, and the burdens of caring for aged relatives extends across the population. To compound these anxieties is the threat of climate change and peak oil. For the great majority of people, there are no individual, market solutions to these problems.

The Conservatives, with their hostility toward the state, will not be able to defend society from market failure. Their idea of a “welfare society” will only tinker with social deprivation while inequality and insecurity will run unchecked. The state is the only means society has for protecting itself from the destructive forces of global capitalism. It provides the only feasible agency for social insurance, integrating transport, managing energy and water security, tackling climate change, building a renewable technologies industry, developing a national strategy for agriculture production, and coordinating and redistributing resources to create a more equitable and sustainable economic development.

But New Labour like the New Conservatives is trapped in the outdated liberal market politics of the 1990s. It wrongly believed that capitalism had eradicated class. In reality class has been restructured around new forms of production and consumption. Spurred on by focus groups, the latest poll ratings, and fear of a scabrous media, it has followed the path of least resistance. We have to tackle the structures of power and privilege that are damaging the economy and shaping all our destinies.

Labour now has an historic opportunity to seize the political high ground. The era of selfish individualism is on the wane. The electorate is increasingly concerned with social insurance, safeguarding living standards and ensuring social stability and ecological sustainability. From stranded holidaymakers to pension holders, to those falling ill, they are discovering that these collective goods are in dangerously short supply. The future will demand a more active and democratic state engaging with economic development and regulation. The redistribution of wealth and resources will be essential in rebalancing a dysfunctional economy.

But such change will come about only by re-energising individual and collective political agency. The Labour party needs its own change. It has to democratise itself and turn outward, build alliances and connect with the creative energies that are everywhere in society but few and far between in mainstream politics. Labour needs to go back to the people, and it must re-establish its roots in the working class communities whose traditional cultures and sense of belonging have been destroyed. There are no quick fixes. The future lies in remaking our politics from the bottom up.

Jon Cruddas is the Labour MP for Dagenham, East London.

This article appeared on Compass.

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