Friday, August 03, 2007


Why John Ruskin Would Not Approve of New Labour

I liked the article by Geoffrey Wheatrcroft today in which he laments the distance Labour has travelled from the ideals of John Ruskin(see pictures) and his great anti-capitalist polemic Unto This Last. He cites the Gould memo re the need for Brown to be a 'powerful muscular modernisation politician' and regrets the absence of anything relating to 'purpose'. He goes on to criticise Labour's obsession with higher education and the perceived need for 50% to be in HE by 2010 while the real need has been for competent artisans. Wheatcroft continues:

But what's most curious of all is that a party which still has "Labour" in its name should now be almost openly contemptuous of people who actually labour... there [used to be] an equality of dignity and esteem between "hand and brain", a view that New Labour has conspicuously shed.

He concludes:
Labour has quite left behind its puritan, ethical and plebeian roots to become a party of middle-class technocrats and careerists.

To this, admittedly well directed critique I would suggest:

1. Gould's memo addressed to the essentials of political methodology-how to win; for philosophy one should refer to his Unfinished Revolution book.

2. It's true that Labour has moved a worryingly long way from its puritan roots but maybe it could do no other in a democracy? The fact is that, for a plethora of reasons, western society has become obsessed with materialism. It seems a bit much to expect Labour to wind back a movement which has been evolving since at least the allies' victory in the last world war. Denying what they want would be like Canute ordering the waves to cease their onward rush. In a democracy politicians are essentilly elected to deliver what voters want.

But I do agree that it's very sad that the real moral thrust of the party seems to have been swept away. Labour has shown more than a little too much enthusiasm for the kingdom of Mammon rather than the the bedrock of its founding principles. Tony Blair may have had no option but to accept the realities of those waves, but he need not have surfed in on them with so much glee- nor suggested that 40 super casinos be built throughout the UK.

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