Monday, July 21, 2008

 

'Blairism' not Necessarily Finished Brown must Tell Unions

Among the many problems facing Gordon Brown right now is the £20m debt owed by his party. As they are embarrassingly broke, the 90% of finance provided by the unions acquires an ominous significance. It seems the unions have compiled a list of 130 demands they wish to make of the Labour Party in a soon- to - be - convened forum and I'm not sure this won't spawn a whole host of additional problems.

Derek Simpson of Unite says 'Blairism has run its course and has clearly lost touch with millions of core Labour voters.' Well, I think Blair has run his course but as for his trademark ideas- no favours to the unions and use private sector where more efficient to deliver public servies- I think they are still well in the mix. Naturally, the unions will wish to resist policies which have imposed employment disadvantages on public sector workers but my reading of the zeitgeist is that if voters had to choose between 'Blairism' and any return to Old Unionism, they would not opt for the latter. Why else has Cameron's party soared so high in the polls? The mood is volatile and confused during a time of flux but it must be obvious to all what voters do not want in terms of union power.

Gordon has to negotiate the Glasgow east by-election and if he loses, will be in an even worse position to resist union demands. But if he gives in to them -even though their calls for the extension of the minimum wage and bringing health service cleaning back in-house are unexceptional- the press will spin a damaging story of Brown 'being in the pocket of the unions'. Brown must explain that 'Blairism', as Simpson calls it, is by means wholly irrelevant to voter concerns.

Comments:
My reading exactly. Some of the Union demands show a distinct lack of political antennae(to quote Sir Humphrey). Secondary picketing for example. The idea that any major political party is going to support such a move is just ludicrous. The measure is morally indefensible and would cause chaos. As you say Labour's funding shambles gives the Unions more power in the short term. But I suspect several in Labour's inner circle will also use this crisis as a opportunity to point out that Labour is in this mess inspite of the unions. A union solution lacks the necessary scope. Labour can only function as a political party with the support of big business. And Big Business isn't going to queue up for the loony demands of the unions.

In any case, regardless of funding, Labour is bound for Opposition in the immediate future. Any vague influence on Government the Unions had will disappear from then. But this will give Labour a chance to find another revenue source. I suspect they will take this chance to sideline the Unions for good - they largely have done already - and cut the funding link(the logical conclusion of Blairism).
 
Fair point on funding Michael but one wonders from where any alternative source might come? Big business and the unions represent the general divide of the two big parties. Who else could step up to fund Labour, apart from the state?
 
That's just it though. If Blair did anything(and Brown is making him look better by the day), he ended that difference. Labour really has become a Social Democratic imitation of socialism(as I am sure you realise already), even if some of it supporters haven't realised/changed.

There is no reason why such a party(with a sensible pro-market agenda, at least using markets when they were acknowledged as the best allocator of resources in an area) could not attract funding from business. Blair proved it could. The fuss of peerages(a crime disgracefully not pursued by the police) distracted people from the success of Labour funding in the 90's(and it wasn't the unions that did this, but business). No doubt some investors have been scared off by the peerage fuss. Others have doubtless realised that Brown is useless and Labour is bound for a stint in Opposition. Even the stupidest businessman(and there are a few around) will not throw money at a party that is so obviously on the road to defeat. But I have no doubt in the future Labour will attract funding again, providing it doesn't go down the barmy route some of the unions want to take it.

This of course will have the end result of Labour not really being terribly different from the Tories. But that has been a long time coming. Socialists should vote for someone else of course. But they surely realise that there are just not enough of them to really shape the agenda any more. The only debate to be had on the subject is largely academic - was it Thatcher or Blair who killed off the Left? Rather like asking who killed Caesar, Brutus or Cassius? It doesn't really matter. The Left is done, and I rejoice in the fact.
 
Michael
Very interesting but do you not also think the right has been 'blunted/tames' as well? Three election defeats and an extended spell on 30% in the polls finally proved to the Tories that trhey could not win unless they adapated to the post Thatcher world. Cameron has rowed back a bit from his initial 'liberal' exuberance but he still represents a species of Conservatism few Nicholas Ridley style rightwingers would recognise as rightwing.
 
To an extent that is true. Cameron is considerably more moderate than the other Tory leaders who faced Blair. And he is doing considerably better than the others(even when Blair was at the helm). The two things are not necessarily linked however. The Tories are doing better now because Labour are doing worse. I don't think Dave's ideas(if he had any) are any more popular than Hague's. People are just prepared to listen a bit more.

If you ask people about their conceptions of the right and left, you get a different response. The Right are (sadly) despised by a large majority of the population. But they have never been associated with the kind of incompetence of the Left. Yes the Tories gave us Black Wednesday and the like. But the Right of the party were not associated with that shambles in a way that the Labour Left were with the industrial mess of the 1970s.

Furthermore, even if the right are not popular, many of their ideas are, even with many people who do not consider themselves right-wing. There is still a large constituency of support for ideas such as the death penalty(and a tough response to crime generally, as shown by Labour's policies in the field), anti-Europeanism, low taxes, selection in education and so on. I don't really see such support for the bastions of the old Left. Yes some people have a sentimental attachment to the NHS, but most realise its limitations. Blair, ironically, summed it up when he was asked the 64k question: "are you a socialist?". His response was quite brilliant. He said that in some ways he was. He was caring about those less fortunate than himself. But in "the strict economic sense", he wasn't. Which is code for saying "no" to the original question. Ask the right a similar type of question, and you get a very different kind of answer(unless it is Dave fishing for votes).

No Nicholas Ridleys I grant you. But I think the right have just found a different way of saying many of the same things. I suspect most Tory party members still largely agree with Ridley's analysis of the EU("a German racket for taking over all of Europe").
 
Michael
I agree with much of this analysis. [Odd that we have come to agree so much where once we seemed poles apart?] To be honest I don't think many people have seriously considered 'socialism' a viable project since the early eighties. It has morphed into a more nebulous social democracy whereby the left seek to redress some social and economic imbalances in favour of the disadvantaged. But you are right: it's not possible to distill the left's message into a few axioms while the right finds this much easier. Maybe because it has had longer to justify the 'status quo' inequalities produced by a free enterprise system? Maybe because the left have not really worked out how to adapt capitalism's advantages to neutralize its disadvantages? Maybe because the left comprise so many voices, from radical to gradualist? Not sure, but it's something I'll have to think about.
Incidentally, Michael Howard and David Mellor, took B lair out for dinner shortly afgter he entered the Commons in an effort to find out why he was {allegedly) a 'socialist'. After the evening was over they agreed the asnswer was: 'Cherie'.
 
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