Tuesday, 31 May 2016

We are still paying the price for New Labour's missed opportunity

Still doesn't get it...
Listening back to Tony Blair telling the BBC on Saturday that "it would be a very dangerous experiment for a major western country to get gripped by this type of populist policy-making, left or right" it's hard to make sense of his subsequent claim that he wasn't talking about Jeremy Corbyn.

The context suggests that he was, and in any case he has form on this subject. Back in February he expressed himself "baffled" by the success of both Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, while bemoaning a loss of faith in the centrist progressive position. He still thinks that New Labour was on the right track, and that the party has no prospects until that track is resumed.

So Blair really doesn't get it, and, by extension, nor do most members of the parliamentary Labour party, for whom reverting to some sort of mainstream centrism is the path to electoral success. So what is it that they don't get? Most importantly that the world has moved on: young people in particular (but many older people, too) are no longer invested in a status quo that cannot provide an affordable home and a secure, reasonably-paying job.

When the new normal is debt and economic insecurity, advocating for something different, as Sanders and Corbyn do, seems more like sensible than radical or left-field. So far from being dangerous, systemic change can now be viewed as essential for the future of both people and planet. The danger comes from the forces of reaction - the corporate lobbyists, the climate change deniers, the neoliberal economists and the mainstream politicians over whom they hold sway.

Maybe, therefore, the reason why the anger with Blair won't go away is less to do with Iraq than with a more generalised, generational sense of betrayal. Labour in 1997 had the political power and the economic clout to challenge the neoliberal agenda, but instead of challenging it, it went with it. Inequality increased, the marketisation of public services proceeded apace and the global financial markets went largely unchecked.

Labour's economic policies may not have been responsible for the 2008 crash, but its failure to challenge the neo-liberal framing that brought the crash to a head at least raises the question, "what is Labour for?" It is to Corbyn's credit that he is looking for an answer, and part of the tragedy of Blair that he can't see the point.

Picture credit: By Chatham House [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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