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A Blair supporter writes about British Labour…and they wonder why their poll rating is at 27% May 28, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, British Politics.

It’s not up on the web, or in print just yet, but I await the June issue of Prospect with some anticipation. Not least because as reported in the Guardian it contains an article by ‘key ally’ of Tony Blair, Phil Collins, that argues that:

Labour is undergoing a “tragedy” which has left Gordon Brown in a “vulnerable position” after a series of mistakes and bad luck.

In the clearest sign of the unease among Blair’s supporters, who have kept a low profile since Labour’s defeat in the Crewe and Nantwich byelection, Phil Collins accuses Brown’s circle of placing their faith in the “deep poisoned well” of the leftwing Fabian tradition.

A deep poisoned well…

“Labour has been in thrall to the Fabian branch of its history for decades, even as its purchase on the world has loosened … Labour’s future, after three terms, looks bleak. The only hope for the party is to excavate its liberal treasure.”

This would presumably be the liberal ‘treasure’ that has the er… Liberal… Democrats at 22 in the polls. And the Conservatives riding high at 41 while Labour is at a pretty awful 27.

He goes on, for it’s not just liberalism.

“In the drama of British politics a Labour tragedy is unfolding. A combination of strategic errors, political mishaps and bad luck has left the party in a vulnerable position. The economy is turning soft and the electorate sour.”

He takes a swipe at Brown and his allies who place their faith in the “benign” power of the central state. “Ed Balls [the schools secretary] wants a national play strategy. Such gestures remind us that Labour’s faith in central government draws from the deep, poisoned well of its Fabian tradition.

Now, one doesn’t have to be in thrall to statism to see that this reading of history is near nonsensical. Central government actually is a strong enabler of social justice, at least when moderated by a degree of sense. And in the United Kingdom the social progress made to date has largely been pushed by central government, across areas from the NHS to the liberalisation (that word again, but in a subtly different context) of British society through legislation. Who or what else has the societal heft to get these things done?

In a telling passage the Guardian reports that:

Collins indicates that Blairites are becoming increasingly impressed by David Cameron, who attacks Labour for providing centralising “top down” solutions and who pledges instead to empower people. In his article, jointly written with the author Richard Reeves, Collins warns that Cameron and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, “have got the point”, unlike Brown who finds himself on the wrong side of a new divide in British politics.

It’s hard not to sense a total fatuity in such a viewpoint. It doesn’t seem to strike Collins that the efficacy of the ‘solutions’ or more accurately the process aren’t the only factor in this, that the actual policies they expedite are of significance too. So, to give an example, while a certain localised empowered approach to schooling might on one reading be ‘progressive’ the actuality of it might, say, be sectarian or creationist. Hardly the sort of outcome I’d want in my political activity, and puzzling that Collins can’t seem to see this.

But then… as if to underscore the fatuity we read…

“The key dividing line in politics is no longer between left and right but, increasingly, between liberal and authoritarian. The Labour government too often finds itself on the wrong side of this divide. One of the lessons Labour ought to have learned from 11 years in charge of the state is to be humble about the limits of that power.”

So, once more it’s about a ‘soft’ approach where the content is secondary to the approach. Does it matter if your solution is left or right? It does not. Just as long as it is brought about in a ‘liberal’ fashion. Brilliant. And with this sort of disconnect from not merely a rhetorical allegiance to the left, but also from the actuality of it as expressed through the exercise of even minimal state power – because the state apparently is ‘limited’ in some unclear fashion, is it any wonder that Labour heartlands whose (and I mean this in no sense to be patronising) concern with ‘liberal’ or ‘authoritarian’ might be of considerably less significance than simply getting by, are turning to parties who however much we know will result in negative outcomes at least have the good grace to recognise how to articulate their interests.

It continues in a manner where detachment from reality is near sublime.

Collins says a more radical approach – far more than anything being offered by Cameron – should be applied to the NHS. Patients should be handed control of their budgets which, in the case of asthma patients, could mean them spending public money on double glazing. He writes: “The NHS can only survive through the use of liberal principles. The range of medical treatment is too large, the population too old and their expectations too great for the NHS simply to carry on as it is.

This is risible. It shouldn’t be an either/or, if Collins had a whit of leftist thinking remaining he’d recognise that it should be both. Both proper medical treatments and supports. But in the headlong rush to provide a specious ‘autonomy’ to people some element of ‘choice’ however cosmetic, has to enter the equation.

“Control over funding and treatment has to pass from the professional to the individual … Passing control to individuals means they can spend their NHS entitlement on double glazing if they think it is a better treatment for their asthma.”

No mention either of the thoughts of medical staff who might find such an approach difficult to sustain in an individual case. And no thought that most who have brushes with medical procedures are less concerned by ‘choice’ than by the quality of the conditions, the expertise of the staff, the availability of a full range of treatments. Not to mention that the most useful allocation of resources on a national scale might well require something where ‘choice’ was low on the list in any event. But then perhaps Collins thinks that the business of Labour, or indeed politics in general, should the providing of a poor facsimile of the supposed ‘choices’ of that come with wealth.

But lest one think this was an isolated case the Guardian continues:

“We are at a crossroads,” one Blairite said. “David Cameron is building up his coalition by reaching out to people hit by the abolition of the 10p starting rate of tax. We are narrowing our coalition by retreating into our heartland.”

They, the Blairites, really really don’t get it. They refuse to accept any responsibility and refuse to understand. No hint that their incessant concentration on ‘reform’, or the Iraq War or supposed ‘modernisations’ which ripped the heart out of their own constituencies troubles them. For them it’s always 1994, chasing after the ‘new’ and ‘choice’ and a fickle middle class at the expense of building genuine support bases that would sustain the LP through the good and bad times… The problem is that there has been no ‘retreat into the heartland’… their project was a forced march away from it, almost deliberately ignoring it or, as the mood took them baiting it, for marginal political gain. Now perhaps there is an element of political calculation here – some jockeying to force Brown along another path, but maybe not. Maybe this is the real deal, the actual face of the New Labour project. One almost entirely detached from a real sense of ideology. Good riddance, guys.


1. Hugh Green - May 28, 2008

Another title for your post could have been Phil Collins: Oh, think twice.

Now that that’s out of the way, an observation about this dividing line between ‘liberal and authoritarian’: isn’t this just another way of saying ‘there is no alternative’?

When I voted Labour back in 1997, I found that quite a lot of my friends who also voted Labour were very much Thatcher’s children, whose reasons for voting New Labour seemed based on the fact that the Tories were simply unfashionable, rather than any particular political convictions. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were now voting Tory.

Anyway, the point is that large chunks of the New Labour project were skilfully rebranded Thatcherism, but whereas the original Thatcherites seemed to execute things with a cold sneer, Blairites adopted a shiny, happy and caring approach to marketizing and metriculating everything that moved, on behalf of the middle class. Now that Cameron has stolen their clobber, it looks like they’re starting to bare their teeth as they howl in anguish.


2. ejh - May 28, 2008

Collins indicates that Blairites are becoming increasingly impressed by David Cameron

“People who thought they were on the winning side ask to be taken on by winning side.”


3. Harpymarx - May 28, 2008

Or….re title of post “Against all odds” or even “I missed again”.

Indeed there is no mention about Iraq, the so-called “reforming” public services, neo-liberalism and shafting their core voters. And the NL project is/as an utter failure. No accountability or responsibility being taken instead it is “poor us”..


4. Phil - May 28, 2008

“People who thought they were on the winning side ask to be taken on by winning side.”

See also ex-CPGB/New Labour crossover – an odd combination of wearily wanting to be on the winning side for a change and idealistically wanting to continue to be on the winning side (world-historically speaking).


5. Pax - May 28, 2008

Collins indicates that Blairites are becoming increasingly impressed by David Cameron

No s*it sherlock. To paraphrase George Monbiot recently* New Labour is “the most rightwing government Britain has had since the Second World War”. No wonder the Tories have woken up to their charms.

And if anything,I think they may have ‘triangulated’ themselves to the right of some Tories.

* Nothing Left to Fight For
And who can argue with that?

Not to mention that the most useful allocation of resources on a national scale might well require something where ‘choice’ was low on the list in any event.

It amounts to a ‘leave it to the market argument’ or TINA as mentioned above. There’s a ‘faux’ choice argument here an argument consisting of a futile either-or between centrally applied or market allocation. One with no consideration of consumer participation (to a limited extent) within current public, non-profit systems or the real-world benefit or not of it in the area of health. Even in an ideal situation health is an area unsuited to an informed consumer participation.

So what Collins is talking about is a for-profit market in health care determining product and allocation. But a market in health care makes no sense as described below*. It doesn’t provide good outcomes and it is much more inefficient and inequitous. What’s more it’s highly illiberal.


“Why do for-profit firms that offer inferior products at inflated prices survive in the market? Several prerequisites for the competitive free market described in textbooks are absent in health care.19,20

First, it is absurd to think that frail elderly and seriously ill patients, who consume most care, can act as informed consumers (i.e., comparison-shop, reduce demand when suppliers raise prices or accurately appraise quality). Even less vulnerable patients can have difficulty gauging whether a hospital’s luxurious appurtenances bespeak good care…etc…”


6. Pax - May 28, 2008
7. Jim Monaghan - May 28, 2008

The pale imitation here looks set to copy even more of the New Labour bullshit.What does anyone think of Gilmores commission.
I suppose Pat Carroll is the “left” representative on it. No merrigan or Browne left and Gilmore feels the need to go further.
Mind you the Greens have got to a similar place in much less time.
“The discreet charm of the Bourgeoisie”. I think I have the title right.
I am still a little ambigious/undecided on whether the Labour Party in Britain is the same as the Tories


8. WorldbyStorm - May 28, 2008

Pax, I couldn’t agree more with your point in paragraph two re TINA… It’s abysmal what Collins suggests. And I also agree entirely with your final paragraph.

And you’re dead right Jim, it’s pale imitation time. I’m not at all keen on the commission. Michael Taft argues well for it, but I fear it’s just another stitch up to defang the left.

That said I am with you as regards the BLP being the same as the Tories. Formally, no, and functionally absolutely not. But, the leadership (or elements of it)? That’s a different matter. That’s why, although I like Monbiot I don’t consider the Blair government to have been the most right-wing since the war. That’s an unsustainable argument in the face of Thatcher. Close though in some of the rhetoric. What do you think?


9. The surreal world of Blairite workers’ ‘rights’… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - May 30, 2008

[…] twice this week it is necessary to comment on the vacuity of the Blairite […]


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