So is New Labour dead or not?

When is a party dead? Paul Evans brings us the best of the politics blogs from domestic politics thr

Nusferatu: A Party Undead

This week Lord Mandelson declared Cameron’s claims of New Labour’s demise to be premature.

Andy Newman on Socialist Unity considered what defined the New labour project, and concluded that it: “…was built on two foundations: one was a commitment to neo-liberalism; the other was the belief that electoral success could come through winning over swing voters in marginal seats by triangulating around the Daily Mail driven socially conservative agenda”.

In a detailed look at the failings of the party’s economic agenda, he argued that it was “corrosive because it de-legitimised the whole idea of state intervention in the economy”.

Over at Spiked, the ever confrontational online heir to Living Marxism, deputy editor Rob Lyons observed that “The suggestion that New Labour is dead is somewhat ironic since the party is itself merely the zombie left behind after the demise of ‘Old Labour’.” But Heresiarch argued that Old Labour has never truly left us, suggesting rather that we have been collectively duped:

“Tony Blair looked and sounded like a right-winger when he was actually a statist authoritarian. Gordon Brown looked - and so was accounted - cautious and trustworthy. As a spectacle of legerdemain, New Labour was unprecedented,” he wrote.

Elsewhere, Tory MP David Jones blogged that behaviour in the chamber gave the lie to Mandelson’s claim – while right-winger Shane Greer enjoyed an unseemly chuckle at the disappearance of the New Labour domain.

What have we learned this week?

That it’s not always funny when Tory MPs get arrested. Damien Green has been nicked for allegedly receiving leaked Home Office documents.
Within in minutes, Conservative Home was speculating and Labour Home was gloating. Perhaps if we had greater transparency and decent responses to difficult parliamentary questions, such leaks would be unnecessary?

Around the World

As India wrestled with terrorist outrages on an unprecedented scale, Seriously Sandeep was irked by what he perceived as the appeasement and concern for the perpetrators by fellow bloggers. Aditya Kumar confessed “I am terrified. Petrified,” while Anuradha Bakshi (perhaps the sort of commentator Sandeep was needling at) asked:

“…who are the real culprits: the predators lurking with their indoctrination spiel or a fractured society where dreams of some can never be fulfilled, where hate and animosity are easily ignited and stoked?”

It transpires that Tory MEPs were also among those caught up in the chaos.

Videos of the Week

It’s easy to forget that Robert Kilroy-Silk is still, in theory at least, representing our nation in the European Parliament - he hasn’t spoken in a debate for more than three years. But if you do want to see his powers of rhetoric at work, here he is having a row with TV ghost Timmy Mallett. Online supporter cottz2008 cheered him, writing:

“cum on kilroy u to win it i can rember wen u came to ilkeston to try n be a mp well cum on win it for us”.

But now he has been chucked out of this telly competition, and it’s hard for all of us.

Quote of the Week

“It depends, I suppose, what you imagine New Labour was. If you mean the media-manipulating, bullying, authoritarian bulldozer, then it is still very much alive, and probably worse than ever.

No punches pulled, on Heresy Corner.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
Photo: Getty
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How the Conservatives lost the argument over austerity

After repeatedly missing their deficit targets, the Tories can no longer present spending cuts as essential.

“The age of irresponsibility is giving way to the age of austerity,” declared David Cameron at the Conservatives' 2009 spring conference. Fear of spending cuts helped deny his party a majority a year later, but by 2015 the Tories claimed vindication. By framing austerity as unavoidable, they had trapped Labour in a political no man's land. Though voters did not relish cuts, polling consistently showed that they regarded them as necessary.

But only two years later, it is the Conservatives who appear trapped. An austerity-weary electorate has deprived them of their majority and the argument for fiscal restraint is growing weaker by the day. If cuts are the supposed rule, then the £1bn gifted to the Democratic Unionist Party is the most glaring exception. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, sought to justify this largesse as "investment" into "the infrastructure of Northern Ireland" from "which everybody will benefit" – a classic Keynesian argument. But this did not, he hastened to add, mean the end of austerity: "Austerity is never over until we clear the deficit."

Britain's deficit (which peaked at £153bn in 2009-10) was the original and pre-eminent justification for cuts. Unless borrowing was largely eliminated by 2015, George Osborne warned, Britain's public finances would become unsustainable. But as time has passed, this argument has become progressively weaker. The UK has cumulatively borrowed £200bn more than promised by Osborne, yet apocalypse has been averted. With its low borrowing costs, an independent currency and a lender of last resort (the Bank of England), the UK is able to tolerate consistent deficits (borrowing stood at £46.6bn in 2016-17).

In defiance of all this, Osborne vowed to achieve a budget surplus by 2019-20 (a goal achieved by the UK in just 12 years since 1948). The Tories made the target in the knowledge that promised tax cuts and spending increases would make it almost impossible to attain – but it was a political weapon with which to wound Labour.

Brexit, however, forced the Conservatives to disarm. Mindful of the economic instability to come, Philip Hammond postponed the surplus target to 2025 (15 years after Osborne's original goal). Britain's past and future borrowing levels mean the deficit has lost its political potency.

In these circumstances, it is unsurprising that voters are increasingly inclined to look for full-scale alternatives. Labour has remade itself as an unambiguously anti-austerity party and Britain's public realm is frayed from seven years of cuts: overburdened schools and hospitals, dilapidated infrastructure, potholed roads, uncollected bins.

Through a shift in rhetoric, Theresa May acknowledged voters' weariness with austerity but her policies did not match. Though the pace of cuts was slowed, signature measures such as the public sector pay cap and the freeze in working-age benefits endured. May's cold insistence to an underpaid nurse that there was no "magic money tree" exemplified the Tories' predicament.

In his recent Mansion House speech, Philip Hammond conceded that voters were impatient "after seven years of hard slog” but vowed to "make anew the case" for austerity. But other Tories believe they need to stop fighting a losing battle. The Conservatives' historic strength has been their adaptability. Depending on circumstance, they have been Europhile and Eurosceptic, statist and laissez-faire, isolationist and interventionist. If the Tories are to retain power, yet another metamorphosis may be needed: from austerity to stimulus.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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