It was pretty acrimonious from the very start – “it’s not up to Tony Blair to rename my party. I’m a member of Labour, not New Labour”, explained Tony Blair.
I was originally diagnosed as New Labour. But as it became apparent my signs and symptoms didn’t fit the diagnosis of New Labour at all, it became clear I had a new diagnosis: socialist.
I am not socialist of Militant subtype; I am not socialist of Momentum subtype; I am not socialist of Socialist Worker subtype. I am simply socialist.
People who have tried violently to convince me that I am not a socialist have invariably started off with the proposition that I do not know what socialism means. I can recognise socialism when I see it however, in much the same way the US Supreme Court were able to recognise pornography when I saw it. For me if socialism is recipe, essential ingredients are solidarity – i.e. not stabbing someone in the back or show no confidence in him without first discussing your concerns. This is to do with social-ism, as explained once by Tony Benn. Fairness, equality of opportunity and social justice are for me very big deals. I also feel that when it comes to public services there is a sense of equity, collaboration is favoured above competition, and there’s a sense of pooling resources, sharing and planning.
Whatever you think about ‘Corbynism’, it is no more useful to judge the notion by the quality of its followers than any religion (not that Corbynism is a religion). But I do recognise Corbynism as more fundamentally to do with what the Labour Party does best, and has a huge following as a social movement. Normally it is common for bigoted journalisms to deny outright that followers of Jeremy Corbyn can form some sort of social movement, but I do not feel this is borne out by some essential facts. Social movements these days are characterised by rationality – joining other people in a common drive, emotion – feeling some bond with other people in a mission in common, social – take for example the mobilisation, recruitment and consolidation of people in a huge social network, cultural – a chance, say, to meet up in town halls or larger, and organisational – a chance to impact upon wider policy.
Interestingly, I do think Jeremy Corbyn is a leader of this movement as he is able to frame various problems and demand collective action. Cornyn’s best bet of enforcing action is to win seats in parliament, but while 170 or more MPs are willing to humiliate Corbyn in TV studios and other forms of media and get involved in progressively desperate and synthetic stunts, and jeer him in #pmqs, the Labour Party in parliament is being undermined by most of its own MPs. The Labour Party members were seen as the ‘rank and file’ needed to vote in the party every five years, but this is totally the wrong approach to parliamentary democracy. People who posit that Corbyn does not under parliamentary democracy are clearly oblivious to the 33 years Corbyn has spent sitting as a MP for a seat in Islington. Corbyn has voted in favour of policies which he believes in, such as the equality act, human rights act, and the national minimum wage. Call that what you will – Angela Eagle might call it ‘real leadership’, in doing the right thing not doing things necessarily right to use the Peter Drucker aphorism of leadership rather than management.
New Labour was not by any stretch of the imagination a ‘political movement’. It was a brand. The word ‘Labour’ was presented as a distinctive word mark, I guess in Arial or Arial Black font. We know that various designs of the rose were tried out. The branding was full on – Neil Kinnock, whom Tony Benn loathed for taking for numerous electoral defeats while simultaneously trying to get Labour from left to right, would throw out roses in party conference like some crazed opera diva. The distinct nature of New Labour was meant to distinguish it from Labour, no longer the party of Bevan and Attlee but the party of the winter of discontent, and the trademark had all the legal hallmarks of the ‘badge of origin’ suggesting it came from a different source to “actual” Labour.
The accusation that New Labour lost its “roots” is a very serious one. Whilst Tony Blair on his election as Prime Minister said, “We have been elected as New Labour and so we shall govern as New Labour”, I don’t for one moment think that Tony Blair had any idea what his policies were. Take for example on the NHS, inheriting an economy in good shape, it was possible to improve temporarily the performance of the NHS. But the New Labour era clearly did not take socialist planning of the NHS at all serious, bringing forward the market despite promises not to. Social care was essentially privatised. It was argued that private contractors were brought into ‘to increase capacity of the NHS’, but this lack of planning for the future is not a hallmark of socialist systems. The catastrophic ‘purchaser provider split’ was brought in under New Labour. New Labour accelerated PFI, with ‘shovel ready projects’ which had been gestating under Major, and this PFI was later to set up the NHS for a massive fall – a huge drain on resources, meaning hospitals would later have to compromise on safe staffing.
A flower without roots cannot function, and roots without flowers aren’t impressive. This is precisely where the Labour Party finds itself in 2016. It has undeniably lost masses of voters in the last decade, with the defeats in the 2010 and 2015 general election, and complete wipeout in Scotland. And yet the modern Labour Party has become a joke. Jamie Reed MP gives a speech sycophantic to the Tories just minutes away from a serious question from Andy Burnham MP about Oregreave. Seema Malhotra MP accuses in public an office manager of ‘forcing an entry’ into an office which it seems she should have vacated about 15 days’ previously because she reigned her post. Conor McGinn MP writes an inflammatory tweet accusing Jeremy Corbyn of offensive behaviour, and somehow brings McGinn’s father into the picture. Margaret Hodge MP blames Jeremy Corbyn for everything, especially the #Brexit vote, odd given her own constituency over which she presumably has some control and influence voted #Brexit, and Corbyn mobilised 20% more of a remain vote amongst Labour members than Cameron did for Conservative members. Owen Smith MP, according to Corbyn, says ‘he’s very happy in the shadow cabinet’ one minute, and then resigns from the shadow cabinet the next. Lillian Greenwood MP complains that Corbyn was unable to support her for a transport press conference, when in fact another emergency shadow reshuffle had just been inflicted on Corbyn. When Jeremy Corbyn MP stands up in #pmqs, according to Diane Abbott, the Shadow Secretary of State for health, Labour MPs ‘sit on their hands’, look stony faced and remain silent. It is simply impossible for Corbyn to lead with such disgusting behaviour from members of the Labour parliamentary party.
I remain fond of some very talented people within Labour, such as Grahame Morris MP, Ian Mearns MP, Andy Burnham MP, and Karl Turner MP, who are extremely bright and ‘Labour through and through’. I would like for a moment explain a personal issue why I think Labour lost its way. In agreeing to the spending envelope of the Conservatives, the green light was given to cuts in the disability benefit budget. I lost my own disability living allowance even though my physical disability had not changed; I only won it back after a tribunal in Grays Inn Road. I got the impression that disabled cuts were viewed as necessary by Labour in the same way they were clamping down on ‘scroungers’, people who lie in bed all day with their curtains closed as the previous Chancellor had viewed them. And I just got the impression that Labour under Ed Miliband, whilst a potentially inoffensive social democratic party, was just totally ineffective in standing up for any socialist principles – for example it never once promised to reverse the drastic legal aid cuts and annihilation of law centres imposed from the Legal Aid and Sentencing of Offenders Act (2012). Labour did not say a peep about PFI under Miliband, either, and this policy was later to continue full on under Osborne. It carried on with failed policy of NHS Foundation Trusts, and a commitment to sucking the NHS dry of the funds it needed under the pretence of the McKinsey Efficiency Savings. And because it lost the 2015 general election – what Hilary Benn calls perversely ‘winning’ from a centrist moderate position – it was unable to reverse the catastrophic Coalition Health and Social Care Act (2012), which saw outsourcing provision of NHS services to the private sector rocket up.
It’s incredibly easy for Labour to claim that it is different whilst pursuing the same policies. For example, Owen Smith MP, leadership candidate, has a flagship policy called ‘the new deal’ which is utterly meaningless unless he specifies the instruments from which he will rebuild the UK – of course we are petrified it will involve PFI and social impact bonds, helping PwC and the City but landing the taxpayer with huge debt in generations to come. And take for example – “mutualisation” of hospitals – this involves injection of private capital into public services with the ‘carrot’ of greater staff engagement. This policy, at full pace under the last Coalition government, has already been promised by Theresa May; and is likely to be continued in the in-tray of Owen Smith. But it is simply yet another way of making privatisation ‘palatable’.
See for example:
“Similarly, the public sector ‘mutuals’ are typically not wholly owned by the staff. For example, MyCSP is 40% owned by financial services company Equiniti, with the Government retaining a 35% ownership stake and just 25% of equity owned by the staff. It is, to my mind, no more a mutual than a Thomas Cook run Co-operative Travel store is a co-operative.
Peter Hunt, chief executive of the Mutuo think-tank and former general secretary of the Co-operative Party, says: “In my view, no organisation is mutual unless a minimum of 50% + 1 is owned by the customers, employees or a mixture of the two. Consequently, a lot of government-supported ‘mutuals’ are nothing of the sort – for example, Circle Healthcare is not a mutual as it is majority investor-owned, and My Civil Service Pension is a joint venture between government, employees and an investor.
“Often the government uses the term as ‘mutual wash’ to cover over an unpalatable privatisation and the Lib Dem enthusiasm for employee ownership has facilitated this sophistry.””
This tweet is currently doing the rounds on Twitter and may or may not true. John McTernan is a campaign manager hoping to ‘save labour’, but his other failed campaigns have included ones in Australia and Scotland. Margaret Thatcher once boasted Tony Blair as one of her ‘greatest achievements’.
Privatisation is simply transfer of resources from the public sector to the private sector. New Labour continued with this, currying favour with the City big 4 accountancy and law firms, listening to them rather than Unions, essential for democratic representation.
McTernan, involved in the Blair machine, wrote this for the Times.
As we can see from the utilities, privatisation of energy has led to big bills and big profits for shareholders, and poor customer value. This is entirely to be expected from inflated collusive pricing in oligopolistic markets. PFI as we all know has led to astronomical bills like a ‘corporate Wonga’.
When New Labour was launched, there was a period of growth but this did not last longer than 2003.
In classical marketing teaching, for a product, consumers will typically stop buying this product in favour of something newer and better, and there’s generally not much a manufacturer will be able to do to prevent this. Ultimately, for a lot of manufacturers it could get to a point where they are no longer making a profit from their product. As there may be no way to reverse this decline, the only option many business will have is to withdraw their product before it starts to lose them money.
The growth of a product is described in the “Ansoff matrix”.
New Labour would, through the brand ambassadors of the Labour parliamentary party, would have to offer radically new policy ‘products’.
As explained here:
“Diversification is the name given to the growth strategy where a business markets new products in new markets. This is an inherently more risk strategy because the business is moving into markets in which it has little or no experience. For a business to adopt a diversification strategy, therefore, it must have a clear idea about what it expects to gain from the strategy and an honest assessment of the risks. However, for the right balance between risk and reward, a marketing strategy of diversification can be highly rewarding.”
The new products in question could be a return to some very old products, in some form, like denationalisation of the railways. Indeed, Owen Smith MP has probably assumed this policy for that reason. But there is no doubt Corbyn has very new offerings, keeping a safe distance from the New Labour toxic branding, which are clearly not 80s policies, such as a crackdown on aggressive tax avoidance, a real effort to improve the quality and quality of social housing, and a drive to re-negotiate in some way PFI.
Also, in traditional marketing, drastic product differentiation is necessary to stop the decline in New Labour’s brand, arguably which has become even more toxic after Tony Blair arguing ‘he’d go to war with Iraq again’ as his response to the Chilcot Report.
New Labour has lost ‘market share’ because its failure in keeping the oldest customers or attracting new customers.
This is a list of Corbyn successes as tweeted by Billy Bragg.
Meanwhile a letter in Herald Scotland has explained how attempts have been made at every corner to “thwart the leadership campaign”.
So what now? It’s obvious as Steve Richards says the party cannot carry on with Corbyn as their leader and Corbyn cannot carry on with the current MPs. The Liberal Democrats would love an early election which they argue is essential for the Government to receive a mandate on Brexit. In fact Sir Vince Cable, who predicted Theresa May as PM, the Brexit vote and the global financial crash, has predicted unambiguous a general election.
I am coming round to the thinking that, even with the operation of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, Theresa May could call an early election despite having said she wouldn’t. Sunder Katwala whom I respect enormously offered me this yesterday
And Sunder pointed me in the direction of a very helpful article by Prof Robert Hazell, Prof of Government and the Constitution, on the aforementioned Act. If I disliked Corbyn, I’d push for an early election before the boundary changes had any chance to occur (2020), pray that the Tories win the election, and call for Corbyn to leave. John McDonnell MP yesterday on the Marr Show said he and Corbyn would of course leave under such circumstances. The #LabourCoup plotters are hoping that they will hang on despite the boundary changes and be around to support a new leader more in their own image. But the level of desperation in the current coup really does suggest they don’t want to take this risk. Tragically for them, Corbyn looks very likely to win, and the Conservatives look likely not to vote no confidence in Theresa May. A sharp decline the UK economy might change all that, of course.
As it is Labour looks set to bugger on regardless. I am looking forward to Steve Richards’ final episode of ‘The Corbyn story’ when it airs tonight – a fair review of the current situation was presented by Steve recently.
Things came to a head yesterday with John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor, being forced ‘to go all Alan Partridge’ as someone astute observed.