By Tariq Ali | Power can shape “truth”, but not for ever. That is one lesson that could be learned from the series of electoral defeats that mark the end of New Labour’s weightless hegemony. There is something grotesque about the daily denunciations of Brown by hard-core Blairites in Parliament and their media acolytes, who barely uttered a word of criticism as the country was dragged into two wars and New Labour prettified the Thatcherite social and economic agenda, now calling for the removal of Brown. As if his removal and replacement by a robotic Blairite (Miliband senior, Purnell and, amusingly enough, even Milburn is mentioned in this regard) would do the trick.
Brown was fully implicated in the New Labour project and funded its hyper-militarism. He is too weak to even mimic Zapatero in Spain and Rudd in Australia by withdrawing British troops from Iraq. Instead, one of his zombies devised the pathetic idea of Armed Forces Day to celebrate militarism and encourage school-leavers to take up killing foreigners as their main subject and graduate or die in the university of the world.
The fact is that New Labour’s time is up. When it came to power waving the Union Jack in 1997, the social landscape had already been wrecked by Thatcherism. The phallic architecture of the deregulated financial companies dominated the city, the old gents and their cozy networks were consigned to clubland. Silicon and pharmaceutical firms, funded by Japanese and American capital and immunized against a trade-union movement, neutered by the state, sprouted along the M4 corridor southwest from London and Reading.
The old textile towns were reduced to the status of cemeteries; iron and steelworks had been ploughed to rubble. The old working class was dead. In the transference of class wealth and power, Thatcherism and its neocon New Labour worshippers were eminently successful. Wealth disparities had increased during the Blair/Brown years. Many of the cash-starved utilities had foundered in private hands. Schools and hospitals continued to deteriorate. As railway privatization proved a disaster, New Labour “radicals” were thinking of how the “revolution of choice” could privatize health and education.
From the start New Labour was pledged to consolidate the Thatcherite paradigm rather than offer anything different. Blair’s model was to depoliticize Labour (and the electorate) by preaching against the sin of “ideology” (i.e. social democracy) in the name of a new, beyond left-and-right, trendy Starbucks-style capitalism. And so it was decreed that Labour should become little more than a British version of the US Democratic Party with cheerleaders and all, though it is more reminiscent of the Republicans. Domestically, Brown would aim for fiscal-surplus levels usually only demanded of the Third World, to be ameliorated by a few low-cost anti-poverty measures.
While all this was going on there was little opposition within the Labour Party or the major trades unions. As long as they were in power with over-sized, if unrepresentative majorities, the brothers and sisters might grumble a bit in private, but power was what really mattered. Look at them now as they squeal in anguish at the thought that they might lose their jobs. Members of the Cabinet who have helped deregulate the country will find something or the other if the economy doesn’t collapse, but for New Labour cannon-fodder the world outside the bubble offers little hope. It’s too late now. They should accept that the party’s over. Desperate squabbling to retain power at all costs without any political principle involves will not endear them to the electorate and is unrealistic in any case.
As for Gordon Brown, he may be a lame-duck prime minister, but he could still do something decent. After all, he has nothing to lose now except his job. He could withdraw British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and, like the Irish Republic, permit a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Worth remembering that Blair’s massive majorities were the product not of voter enthusiasm but of a winner-takes-all electoral system, which helped to mask the collapse of the Conservatives, the country’s historic party of government. The Tory recovery is a sign of how low New Labour has fallen and marks its end.
Brown could push through two constitutional measures badly needed at home: a fully elected second chamber and proportional representation. It might help reverse a growing alienation of the young from the political process. Were he to realize that he owes the country something, he might still make the history books and as more than an accessory to war crimes.