Entries tagged with “Labour”.


The problem with Ralph Miliband, according to son Ed, is that he didn’t properly appreciate Margaret Thatcher: “My dad was sceptical of all the Thatcher aspirational stuff,”  Indeed, and so are all those of us who were unconvinced by it at the time, and were never converted to the Neo-liberal project subsequently.

Ralph Miliband was of course a Marxist academic and a prominent and distinguished member of the British New Left.  Like many on the left he was sceptical of the British Labour Party’s ability or willingness to achieve fundamental change to capitalist society.  The Labour Party, he believed, was trapped both tactically, by its reliance on parliamentary reformism, and ideologically, by the dominance of labourist and revisionist perspectives on capitalism versus socialism.  His book ‘Parliamentary Socialism’, published in 1961, records the Labour Party’s political development from its creation at the beginning of the 20th century to the internal policy battles over nationalisation and nuclear strategy following its defeat in the 1959 General Election.

When ‘Parliamentary Socialism’ was reprinted in 1972, Miliband added a postscript which reassessed the Party under the leadership of Harold Wilson.  For those who insist that the move to ‘New Labour’ orchestrated by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown represents a fundamental break with what the Party believed or how it behaved previously, this makes interesting reading.

For example:

…Harold Wilson said much, in the eighteen months after he became leader of the Labour Party, which appeared to provide an answer to Labour’s search for the kind of positive ‘message’ which it had failed to find ever since the collapse of the Attlee Government in 1959.

His most insistent and persuasive theme was the need for change, renewal, modernization and reform in every area of British life, most of all in economic life.  Much of what he said sounded radical enough…. It needs to be understood, however, that what Wilson was attacking was not British capitalism as a system, but some facets of it, the ‘old boy network’, ‘candy-floss commercialism’, ‘parasitic speculators’, the ‘grouse-moor mentality’, and that what, in effect, he counterposed to this was not the vision of a socialist society, but of a renovated capitalism, freed from its aristocratic and gentlemanly accretions, dynamic, professional, entrepreneurial, numerate and efficient.

…Wilson’s apparent conviction that it was possible to make a clear separation between ‘patriotic’ and ‘unpatriotic’ enterprise altogether ignored the degree to which those forms of it to which he objected and those forms of it which he approved were in fact intertwined.  Secondly, that even if some such separation was possible, the kind of capitalism which appeared to meet with his approval was as socially irresponsible and greedily exploitative as any other kind.

Ralph Miliband, though, does not accuse Wilson of simply engaging in a public relations exercise.  Wilson’s urge to reform was genuine but:

… his reforming zeal was deliberately set, for all its verbal edge, within the context of an economic system whose basic features were accepted by him and his colleagues as given; and that all their proposals for change had therefore to be adapted to the nature and requirements of that system.  But ‘adapted ‘ is too weak – ‘subordinated’ would be more accurate…. the ‘modernization’ for which he asked could only mean the more efficient operation of the capitalist system; and this would include that ever-greater concentration of private economic power, which he denounced, but which the Labour Government was in fact to encourage.

So when Ed Miliband announces that he has no problem with some people becoming very rich, as long as they made their money “the hard way”; or that his and his party’s mission is to “save capitalism from itself”, he is firmly in the tradition of previous Labour leaders.  I am sure that Ed, like Wilson, genuinely wants to fashion a more ‘humane’ capitalism.  But also, like Wilson, he believes he is constrained by what the nature and requirements of the system will allow.  And here lies the rub.  Wilson, in the sixties, was operating within the social democratic consensus that emerged in the non-communist European states and the USA after the Second World War.  This was the unwritten concordat between labour and capital that sanctioned the role of governments in macroeconomic policy, allowed trade unions some limited access to political and economic decision making, and accepted (however grudgingly) greater redistribution of wealth both directly in better wages and pensions, and indirectly in greater public spending on health, welfare and education for working people.  Now some might say that, compared to Wilson, Ed Miliband is a political minnow.  But the essential fact here is that he is swimming in a very different pond.

The post-war decades saw increasing strains within the social democratic consensus as economic growth stagnated and capital accumulation was felt (at least by those doing the accumulating) to be blocked by state regulation and the power of organised labour.  The crises of the seventies were resolved by the overturning of that consensus in the interests of capital.  In the US, the UK and elsewhere the right took political power with a very different agenda, using the shock doctrine of exploiting economic and political crisis to implement radical change.  This assault involved the systematic dis-empowerment of organised labour and democratic institutions, the deregulation and removal of barriers (national and global) for business, and the large-scale privatisation of state assets and services.  It established  Neo-liberalism as the new hegemony and consigned social democracy to the same realm of unreality to which ‘socialism’ had already been dispatched.

The Labour Party, because of its revisionist ideology and parliamentarialism, was completely powerless to resist this onslaught.  In the face of the destruction of social democracy as a viable political position the Party had a clear choice: either oppose the new order by adopting a more radical, anti-capitalist position, or accept that ‘There Is No Alternative’ and work within the constraints imposed by Neo-liberalism.  Labour of course chose the second, some grudgingly and some enthusiastically.  Hence the nature of Blair/Brown’s ‘modernisation’, the ostentatious removal of the Party’s Clause IV, the alliance building with the City of London and the Murdoch press.  The Party leaders are very aware that they are swimming in different waters now and have aligned themselves with the sharks in fear of being eaten.

When Ed Miliband won the Labour leadership over his brother David, Private Eye magazine produced a front page with an image of TweedleDum and TweedleDee and the caption “Dum wins, Dee furious”.  Many party members felt this was an unfair slur on Ed -  the same people, probably, who believed there would be some significant difference when Gordon Brown replaced Blair as Prime Minister.  The fact is that there is almost no difference politically between Blair, Brown and the two Milibands.  They have all signed up to the Neo-liberal ‘reality’ and cannot envisage doing anything to challenge its precepts.  For this reason Labour would not repeal the Tories’ anti-trade union laws and will not even support union actions to defend pay and conditions (apart from pointless and powerless A-B marches, preferably on days when there is minimal disruption for business), and Labour will continue to champion markets and ‘entrepreneurs’ over collective and social provision.  This is despite the fact that, like Wilson, Labour leaders know very well the effect is to increase inequality, boost the transfer of wealth from poor to rich, and produce a further decline in social solidarity.  All things they denounce but will, given power, encourage.

I suspect the main difference between Ed Miliband and his brother David is that Ed has a residual nostalgia for social democracy, whereas David is unencumbered by that baggage.

Postscript:  Interestingly, Ed Miliband’s views on capitalism, as expressed in The Telegraph interview with Charles Moore, are a little more nuanced and thoughtful than you would guess from The Guardian’s report quoted above (see Sunny Hundal’s post on Liberal Conspiracy) – and this might possibly be connected to The Guardian’s apparent lack of support for Ed and Labour in comparison to its continued defence of Nick Clegg.  However Ed’s views still clearly fall in to the pattern outlined by his father – radical(ish) rhetoric obscuring an inability to challenge the causes of the problems being denounced.

Following the recent arrest and charging of UK Uncut activists involved in a protest at Fortnum & Mason during the anti-cuts demonstration in London on 26 March, I felt moved to email my MP with the request that she sign John McDonnell’s Early Day Motion 1146.  This was raised last December and says:

That this House congratulates UK Uncut for the role it has played in drawing attention by peaceful demonstrations to tax evasion and avoidance and to the need for firm action to secure tax justice.

Her response was that while of course she supported UK Uncut’s work in “highlighting tax avoidance by large companies”, she would not be adding her name to the EDM because of her

“concerns about UK Uncut’s response to the violence against the police and vandalism that occurred in parallel with the TUC March for the Alternative on Saturday 26 March. Specifically I note that at no point in the organisation’s response to the march (or in any other public statements) do they openly condemn these acts, which occurred in and around Soho and outside Fortnum and Mason” and that therefore “I am unwilling to publicly support the group until it clearly distances itself from these actions.”

Sheila Gilmore is a Labour loyalist and of course is simply repeating the party line as laid down by Yvette Cooper.  Disappointing, but no great surprise.  The demand that UK Uncut demonstrators have to “condemn” other demonstrators, whose actions they were not part of and have no control over before they can have the Party’s support, is obviously perverse.  It is a sure sign that Labour is still far more worried about appearing ‘respectable’ than celebrating witty, creative and effective non-violent direct actions.

The Labour Party is obviously almost as wary of UK Uncut as the Government.  Direct action?  A non-hierarchical structure outside the control and direction of Party and TUC leaderships?  No matter that they appear to pose a bigger threat to the neo-liberal agenda of public sector cuts and ‘austerity’ than any number of A-B marches or opposition speeches in Parliament, the Labour Party’s reflex response is to collude with the establishment in attempting to marginalise and criminalise effective protest.  Even now that police have been forced to admit that the UK Uncut arrests were motivated by “intelligence gathering”, I do not expect any significant change from the Labour leadership or the PLP invertebrate vote.

In yesterday’s Guardian Jonathan Rutherford and Aditya Chakrabortty argued that the Labour Party needs to abandon the economic policies pursued by both Blair and Brown (Britain’s economy is broken. This is how to start fixing it).  They point out that in relying on growth from lightly regulated financial markets, Labour was aiming for “Thatcherism with a Presbyterian brow.”  Their New Political Economy Network has produced a report putting forward proposals instead for a more Keynesian approach to economic policy, greater state regulation and a fairer share out of economic growth.  This is very much the new consensus emerging around the Soundings Journal, and Compass and its choice for leader of the labour Party Ed Miliband.  This is of course simply a plea for the return to the post-war social democratic consensus that was ruthlessly blown away in the 1970s by the emerging neo-liberal forces around the world, and in Britain by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party.

In many ways this should be a very modest goal since it only asks for moderate restraints on capitalist accumulation in the interests of ‘fairness’ and social cohesion (or, in Ed Miliband’s words, a slightly less brutal capitalism than experienced in the US).  What it lacks though is any sense of history or political analysis.  The underlying causes for the breakdown of social democratic systems (the restraint of social spending and trade union power on private profits, globalisation and the shift to monopoly finance capital) have not gone away.  Rather the adoption of neo-liberalism in developed capitalist states and its promulgation in the developing world and post-soviet economies, (the ‘Washington Consensus’ in which the first duty of the state is to ensure the interests of business rather than its citizens), has effected a colossal boost to the wealth and power of the capitalist class at the expense of everyone else.

As Willie Thompson notes (‘Social Democracy in Perspective’ in Left Out – Policies for a left opposition from hegemonics.org.uk):

Social democracy, it can be safely concluded, is a busted flush, incapable of developing any vision that could inspire large masses of followers. When voters vote for social democrat parties nowadays they do so only as the least worst option and with very few expectations. The possibility remains that an especially talented leader may evoke enthusiasm, such as Obama did in the USA, but once elected their limitations, or rather the limitations of the political structures, become plain, as has been the case with Obama.

The Labour left, still in denial both about the scale of the defeats of the last thirty years and the lack of popular support for its programme, appear determined to re-fight the battles of the seventies.  This is bound to result in even more disorientation and retreat.

If the Labour left is stuck in a ‘back to the future’ mentality, the right has no such illusions (see Peter Kellner’s Demos tract The Crisis of Social Democracy).  It responded to the party’s 1983 election defeat and the left’s disarray by accommodating the new conservative hegemony.  Accepting Thatcher’s command that “there is no alternative,” Kinnock began the process of discarding all policies seen to make the party ‘unelectable’.  Then Blair and Brown, pushing at an open door, converted it to New Labour – Thatcherism with a human face.  Despite Labour’s general election defeat, the dominance of the New Labour project (a centralised, authoritarian state dedicated to facilitating economic growth by deregulating financial markets, privatisation and ensuring a ‘flexible’ labour market) looks set to continue, and its representative, David Miliband, is favourite to take over as leader.  He appears not only to have considerable financial support for his campaign (from where I wonder?) but also the support of much of the party and the media ‘commentariat’ (see Will Hutton for example).

The main thing that differentiates New Labour from the Conservatives is that while the Tories see the recent crisis of capitalism and the resulting burden for public spending as an opportunity to extend the class power of the capitalist elite, Labour only admits to having to enforce unfortunate though necessary measures.  But what both New Labour and social democrats share of course is the unquestioning faith that, with the correct policies (neo-liberal or neo-keynesian), a Labour government could manage a stable and sustainable capitalism.  A utopian capitalist faith.

Now that Gordon Brown has announced that he will step down as leader of the Labour Party, he will no doubt be looking forward to having more time for contemplation and reflection.  I imagine he might even have time for a little light reading.  Perhaps I could suggest the following:

The vision of the early socialists was of a society which had abolished for ever the dichotomy – the split personality caused by people’s unequal control over their social development – between man’s personal and collective existence, by substituting communal co-operation for the divisive forces of competition.  Today the logic of present economic development, in inflation and stagnation, and at the same time the demand for the fullest use of material resources, makes it increasingly impossible to manage the economy both for private profit and the needs of society as a whole.  Yet the long-standing paradox of Scottish politics has been the surging forward of working class industrial and political pressure (and in particular the loyal support given to Labour) and its containment through the accumulative failures of successive Labour Governments.   More than fifty years ago socialism was a qualitative concept, an urgently felt moral imperative, about social control (and not merely state control or more or less equality).  Today for many it means little more than a scheme for compensating the least fortunate in an unequal society.

The author?  It was written in 1975 by a young Scottish socialist called Gordon Brown (in his introduction to the Red Paper on Scotland).

This is not the first example of a political journey from workers’ champion to bankers’ friend (and it surely will not be the last).  I am reminded of former Trotskyist T. Dan Smith, another labour leader who believed he could use capitalism for the benefit of the working class.  That all ended in ignominy too.

The post-election spectacle of political elites negotiating, bluffing, spinning and intriguing to decide who will take up the offices of state has dominated the media since polling day.  The way in which it has progressed has been depressingly predictable: secret discussions by a cabal of the ‘political class’ while everyone waits passively for the outcome.

Media coverage has, as usual, been dominated by the superficial.  Politics as sport or soap.  Few commentators get beyond speculation on the likelihood or desirability of Clegg supporting either the Conservatives or Labour.  Those few who point out that, in reality, the outcome is unlikely to be very different either way are drowned out by the froth.  In today’s Guardian Gary Younge makes the obvious point that, whatever deals are done by the parties, it is the ‘markets’ that have the decisive hand.  The markets want a stable government to deliver austerity cuts to public spending and all the parties are willing to oblige with more or less enthusiasm.  The conservatives are obviously impatient to do to the country what Thatcher did to the miners, but Labour is more than willing to do whatever it takes to return to ‘business as usual’.

The question is not Which side are you on, Clegg, Labour or Conservative?  (I am sure he will be able to ditch any number of his principled positions in order to serve with Cameron in the ‘national interest’).  But rather, which side are they all on?  Perhaps when people see a coalition of the damned and desperate start to dismantle public services, sack workers (or “free them to the private sector” as it will be described) and deepen the recession they will be less inclined to put their trust in our dear leaders.

In his recent little rant in The Guardian, George Monbiot lists more than enough reasons for erstwhile Labour voters to withdraw their support at this election.  It includes the usual complaints from the left/centre-left over the growth in inequality, pro-business policies and authoritarian social policies inflicted or tolerated by Labour since 1997.  This criticism, though damning enough, is not sufficient to convince a lot of committed (if unhappy) Labour supporters – in his blog David Osler has consistently argued the case for the left to stick with Labour, if not uncritically.  This view combines two elements: first that all the likely alternatives would be worse, and secondly that the Labour Party can be renewed in either its old social democratic form or a more radical, left guise while maintaining its working class base.

The first argument, as well as being speculative, tends to exaggerate the differences between the three ‘main’ parties.  In their joint determination to see the recent economic crisis and subsequent recession as simply a Minsky Moment which can be eased back to ‘business as usual’ by more regulation of financial services and (a little) more restraint by bankers, they surely are the three wise monkeys of capitalism.  As I suspected would be the case, this election campaign has revealed very little in the way of significant differences between Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats, whether on the economy, civil liberties or the environment.

The second argument ignores the way in which all votes cast for Labour have explicitly been used as evidence of positive support for the New Labour project.  Also it does not address the limitations of reformist parties which lack clear objectives or mass popular support or both.

The unpalatable truth is, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed, non of the parties is being honest about just how severe the coming public sector cuts are likely to be.  But to challenge the consensus for this among the ‘political class’ of politicians, commentators and experts means challenging the system of capital accumulation itself.  New Labour, as boosters for globalised monopoly finance capital, are surely part of the problem not the solution. The Labour left, though, is still wedded to a feeble ‘state socialism’ based on a centralised state delivering welfare services to a passive, dis-empowered electorate which is funded by redistribution within a growing ‘mixed economy’.

Anyone concerned with substantially changing a system that is based on notions of economic growth that are unsustainable, that creates poverty, and promotes inequality, must look outside the Labour Party even to be able to debate these issues.

What have we learned from the last round of party conferences before the next General Election? That the main policy debate between Labour, Conservatives and LibDems is about public spending cuts (where they will fall and how heavily rather than the justice of who will bear them or the necessity of having them now). No great surprise there. Or with the fact that the Tories clearly anticipate victory while Labour is still in denial about its forthcoming drubbing. Despite the fact that these events are now almost purely an expensive PR exercise, tightly controlled to promote the parties’ public image, they often (unwittingly?) reveal something useful.
The Labour Party conference provided, if anyone still needed it, confirmation that it is still trapped in the ‘New Labour’ mindset of social authoritarianism coupled with economic neo-liberalism. The party that excelled at being the bankers’ friend now finds itself in a bidding war to cut public services, pensions and jobs. Some will see this as merely a right-wing phase for the party and hope for a shift to the left after the election. Although this might turn out to be true, the idea that the Labour Party will then be either willing or capable of pursuing a socialist or even radical alternative seems to be based on a determined suspension of disbelief. Leaving aside the electoral prospects of a demoralised rump Labour Party, there are more fundamental obstacles. The Labour left has no more strategy for effecting change now than it had in the eighties – a vacuum that encouraged first Kinnock and then Blair and Brown to adopt the opposition’s agenda, and the Blairites are insisting on more ‘modernisation’. So is the party, whether ‘New’ or old, fit for purpose?
Paul Allender, in his book “What’s Wrong With Labour”, argued that Labour’s left and right (and even ‘New Labour’) share the party’s ethos of ‘labourism’ which precludes it from ever being an effective agent of radical change. Allender identified seven characteristics of this inherent labourism:

an absence of ideology;
a confused and confusing policy-making process;
‘pragmatism’ over principles;
aiming to represent ‘national’ rather than sectional interests;
relying on an emotional rather than rational appeal;
a lack of democracy and excessive bureaucracy;
a culture of defeatism.

His book catalogues clear evidence of all these since the party’s inception as the Labour Representation Committee in 1900. In addition both the left and Fabian traditions within the party share an overly centralising, statist approach to reform.
Given its slump in membership and public support, and the appalling record of its time in government, it is surely time to ask: what is the Labour Party for? What are its aims and objectives? The nearest it gets is the often cited claim to be in favour of greater social justice. But this is left so vague that it does not differentiate Labour from most other parties (probably only the BNP is explicitly in favour of less social justice). This exemplifies most of the seven sins of labourism. ‘Social justice’ is a muddled, undefined concept; it appeals mainly to emotion rather than reason; lack of ideology obscures the reasons for injustice and therefore the steps required to deal with it; by aiming to represent all interests the party undermines its own objectives in ending divisions and builds in defeat from the beginning.  (BTW – any party that enthusiastically pursues building more prisons is aiming to contain social injustice, not remove it.)
For a clear and concise discussion of socialists’ objectives, and the opportunities and traps of using state institutions to achieve these, William Morris’s lecture on Communism, though written over 100 years ago, still enlightens and inspires.

There appears to be widespread consensus about the need for Government to make deep cuts in public expenditure in order to reduce government borrowing. Not only have the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties agreed that this is necessary, but also most political and economic commentators and, indeed, public opinion. The only difference of opinion (and therefore the only area for debate) seems to be around how soon to cut and where. This is widely touted to be one of the key issues in the forthcoming general election and may even turn out to be the only thing differentiating the three parties.

Although the conservatives are always in favour of cutting public expenditure in principle and ‘New Labour’ has, from its birth, been a ruthless promoter of privatisation and market forces, the spur for this particular round of me-tooism has been the deluge of public money thrown at the financial system since the debt/credit crisis began to unravel in 2008 plus the extra spending on benefits and drop in tax income due to the resulting recession. Government borrowing is anticipated to reach £175bn as a result and there is widespread agreement that this has to be reduced as quickly as possible (although the reasons why this is so necessary are usually obscured and taken for granted).

The scale of cuts being envisioned by the three main parties will mean not just the axing of high-profile projects such as ID cards or Trident missile submarines (and good riddance to those), but also across-the-board cuts in basic services (education, healthcare, social services) and public sector pay and pensions. Cuts in Government spending will also prolong the recession and maintain high levels of unemployment (currently 2.5 million and rising, the highest level since 1995).

So it is the people who use public services or who lose their job who will bear the cost of rescuing the financial system and bailing out the banks but, oddly, no corresponding contribution from the people and institutions at the centre of the bail out. In fact, as we now know, “bonuses are back” for bankers (even where the banks are, for all intents and purposes, owned by the public!). One social commentator, Maurice Glasman, has described the bail out as “the biggest transfer of wealth from poor to rich since the Norman Conquest” (‘The common good’ in What Next For Labour, Demos).

Neither are there any serious proposals to control or regulate the financial sector to prevent a recurrence of such crises. So how to explain the determination of Government to return to ‘business as usual,’ and the one-sidedness of bearing the cost?  The New Labour project is founded on the idea that extra funding for the public sector can only come from faster growth and bigger profits in the private sector.  Gordon Brown is a long standing admirer of the private finance sector, its risk taking and the income it generates for government.  He would clearly like to be seen as the person who rescued the system and returned to the status quo ante.

The one-sided burden of paying for this rescue, though, is a classic example of ‘lemon socialism.’ This is a term used to describe those occasions when the state intervenes to rescue some failing part of the private sector (‘lemons’). But it also exposes the way in which capitalism is adept at avoiding the risks of the free market while retaining all the rewards. Another way of describing this is “socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor.” Other examples that spring to mind include the Government’s Private Finance Initiatives, the privatisation of the railways, and the “rescue” of MG Rover.

Why then, given the catastrophic failure of finance capitalism, and the widespread public anger with the banks and support for action, is there so little being offered in terms of fundamental change? To find an answer to this you need to acknowledge both the hegemony of neo-liberal capitalist ideology (“there is no alternative”), and how the balance of power has steadily shifted over the last thirty years away from democratic institutions, trade unions and civil society. Global finance capital is now too big and powerful to be easily restrained by governments acting alone to implement social democratic reforms. And, since the profitability from the (‘real’) productive economy has been stagnant for some time, the pressure is still for increased growth of finance capital due to the higher returns from its speculative bubbles. Even with the increasing likelihood of crises, crashes and the wipe out of wealth when bubbles burst, given the application of lemon socialism, this is a low risk strategy for the rich.

The Labour Party left Compass group has just held a conference, No Turning Back, which aimed to bring together left and progressive currents to explore the scope for “a new model of pluralist politics”.  The Guardian account of the conference was also very positive.  Particularly in the degree of common ground between labour’s Compass left and the Green Party in agreeing on a core set of policies.

However, my immediate reaction is to raise a couple of queries over this as a way forward:

1. It seems to me that after 12 years of the New Labour Project, the left (inside and outside the party) is at its weakest. I suspect that most members of the party who would have worked for the kind of policies and approaches outlined here have, like myself, left long ago. Not only in reaction to what the Blair/Brown governments have done, but because the evisceration of party democracy meant that our views did not count.

2. I do not yet see much sign of a strategy emerging rather than another wish list of policies. What is the Labour Party for? Is it simply about attempting to capture the State, as it is, in order to ameliorate the worst aspects of globalised capitalism? (wouldn’t this just be to repeat the mistakes/defeats of the seventies?). If the aim is, rather, to bring about a serious shift in power away from the state and big business and towards civil society, surely this requires a coherent strategy for democracy, civil liberties and greater equality that most people (not just most party members) will actively support? The Labour Party, even before its Blairite makeover, was constituted mainly as an electoral machine to increase labour representation locally and centrally, and takes support for granted.

Even that ultra-optimist, Polly Toynbee, has now conceded in The Guardian that the Labour Party cannot avoid defeat at the next election.  Bizarrely though, her advice to the party is to replace Gordon Brown with Blairite front-man Alan Johnson as leader so that the defeat does not turn into a rout.  She certainly has a better grasp of the deep disenchantment and anger that has spread far beyond Labour’s core supporters than the party.  In fact the party’s denial of its problems despite the evidence (is Labour now third or worse in opinion polls?), and its inability to offer anything but more of the same, is uncannily similar to John Major’s conservatives before their crushing defeat in 1997.

Even if, as Toynbee is now pleading for, the Labour party did change leader and ditch some of its more right wing policies (in fact it is more likely to push ahead with these until its fingers are prised off the offices of state) it is probably not going to change its fate a great deal.  Public anger at MPs expenses is being fanned by New Labour’s erstwhile friends in the media, many of which are now looking forward to a Cameron-led Tory government.  And who, outside the small circle of career politicians and their hangers-on, will be willing to go out and campaign for a continuation of New Labour?  The party has been systematically reduced to a weakened, hollowed-out shell; the trade unions have been ignored; left and libertarian opinion has been treated with contempt; rising unemployment and economic meltdown is making everyone except the rich feel insecure and threatened.

So what will be the legacy left us by the crash of New Labour and the general disengagement with the main parties?  While there will be some considerable satisfaction for many of us in seeing Labour’s hubris punished it may be short-lived if, as seems more than likely, nemesis involves a boost for the populist right.  The failure of Labour and the weakness of the left will allow the BNP to fill the political space, with the Tories more than willing to catch up (don’t expect to hear much more of Cameron’s caring social conscience).  Unless there is a swift renewal of the left to contest the far-right we can look forward to local and national politics being dominated by the brutal and nasty.

A renewed left would surely be more concerned to act to defend the rights and jobs of working people, to build support for an alternative vision of society to both the boosters of global capitalism and the neo-fascists.  However disillusioned people might have become over the last twenty years, I suspect quetism will be a much harder option in the future.