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UK Labor: the living dead? « Previous | |Next »
June 4, 2009

The Brown Labor Government in the UK is in a deaththroes. The smell of corruption around expense claims and allowances of dishonest MP's is overpowering, Labor's polling figures are dismal, there is a concerted backbench revolt to unseat Gordon Brown, there have been four ministerial resignations, and the party is fracturing as it hesitates on constitutional reform.

BellSBrown.jpg Steve Bell

It is expected that Labor will do badly in the county council elections and the European elections this week, which will further destabilise the Brown Government. A national election is due around June 2010. David Cameron and the Conservatives are looking pretty good compared to the wreckage that is Labour. Brown and Labor appear doomed, as there is nothing in the tank. Labor's implosion will make a Conservative landslide inevitable, possibly on the scale of the Conservative defeat of 1997. Labour's fate could be to become the third party.

The Guardian says that Gordon Brown must go:

The truth is that there is no vision from him, no plan, no argument for the future and no support. The public see it. His party sees it. The cabinet must see it too, although they are not yet bold enough to say so....Great causes win the day when people fight for them. A year of lingering emptiness beckons instead..The blunt reality is that, even if he set out a grand programme of reform now, his association with it would doom its prospects. Proportional representation would transform parliament, but if Mr Brown put a referendum on the ballot, it would be defeated because he backed it ....Labour has a year left before an election; its current leader would waste it. It is time to cut him loose.

Brown and co increasingly look like the living dead and faces the prospect of many years in the political wilderness.

MorelandMLabourdeath.jpg Morten Moreland, The Times

At a deeper level there is a widespread sense that the machinery of representative democracy, legislature and the executive is dysfunctional and the conventions of Westminster politics bankrupted. There is a need for reform. Proposals include super select committees that would counterbalance the unchecked power of the executive and especially of the prime minister; a written constitution; limits on parliamentary sovereignty by electoral reform (proportional representation), devolving more power to more city mayors; greater use of citizen forums with real power to recommend changes direct to parliament. The call is for a citizenship democracy rather than a consumer democracy. Neil Lawson says:

First past the post (FPTP) is the electoral system of the bygone age of Fordism, the age of mass production, of two social classes and therefore just two old political parties. It is the bureaucratic and clunking system of two tribes that go to war; tribes that are controlled and ordered by the party machines. There is no public debate, we just take it or leave it. It is yah boo and adversarial. It feeds the tyranny of middle England whereby a handful of voters in a handful of seats determine every election outcome. It gives all power to the fickle and the people who lead them; Rupert Murdoch of the Sun and Paul Dacre of the Mail. In the process core supporters are taken for granted and ignored.

He says that without proportional representation other democratic reforms are just a technical fix. Will New Labour reform the political system as its last act?

It is unlikely. Though New Labour will have lasted 13 years they have precious little to show for it. Martin Jacques says

So what then of New Labour’s political legacy? From the outset, it was founded on a deep pessimism, the belief that there was no alternative other than to acquiesce in the Thatcherite settlement. The meaning of the “new” in New Labour was that Labour should abandon any claim to a distinctive project, and that at most it could only provide a variant of Thatcherism...Looking back at 1997, one is struck by the sheer failure of intellectual and political courage that informed New Labour. Of course, it was full of fine words – about its radicalism and its project – but these were no more than a smokescreen, designed to conceal the fact that, from the beginning, it did not actually have a project worth the name, and certainly no reforming ambition.

1997 represented a step back into history: a rejection of social democracy and the abandonment of a commitment to and belief in the idea that Labour could be distinctive and original, that its purpose was not simply to offer a variant of Conservatism.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:27 AM | | Comments (12)


At a deeper level there is is the political reality of the power of the global markets and the chaos caused by the global financial crisis. You could ask where are the new political organisations and structures that correspond to this altered global reality?

What is the shape of a politics that is required to deal with contemporary social and economic storms, from which our nation state will offer us little protection? Haven't our governments made a virtue of their own powerlessness? ---- with their rhetoric about how you can't buck the markets.

The rhetoric of parliamentary reform, doesn't come to grips with the destructive power of the global financial markets.

The global economy has enriched many, but it has worked to create the working poor--those working under contract or for an agency, detached from the culture, security and profits of the organisations for which they provide essential services. They are utterly powerless to do anything but accept what little they are given – or sign on.

Deborah Orr points out in The Independent that New Labour failed to address the working poor--they aren't electorally significant and can be ignored; even though educational failure, parental abuse, violent criminality – are greatly exacerbated by lack of personal prosperity.

New Labour failed in terms of investment in both an expanded housing infrastructure that would make it easier to live modestly; and in public transport infrastructure that would make it possible to travel and work cheaply and efficiently.

Now the money is gone. Britain is reeling from the economic fallout of the global financial crisis.

I don't know much about UK affairs, but if it is anything like Australia, it would have been electoral poison for NewLabour or anyone else to actually do anything for the working poor. Because let us face it, a political party that actually is serious about taking on poverty has to put up taxes, and the majority simply will not put up with it.

Even a government as well entrenched as Kevin Rudd's, faced with a massive jump in unemployment, quails at the idea of bringing real relief to the miseries that poor people face. It is political suicide.

So this makes things pretty hard for a political party with a social democratic bent. They simply can't do what they would like to do, and this frustration helps to corrupt them and corrode their moral judgement. You can expect the ALP federally to be in a similar shape by 2020 or even sooner. (They've lost a minister already, I hear.)

I read 'Comment is Free' every day, and the mood of the readers there is pretty venomous towards New Labour, although they aren't enthusiastic about a Tory government, and who can blame them?

Things just get worse for Brown. He heads a dysfunctional government. How long can he hang on?

Yep --its the endgame for Brown. The Guardian is quite blunt:

The truth is that it is all over. To cling to office now would to do the Labour cause, and the country, huge harm. If Mr Brown does not recognise that fact, others will have to do it for him. His party's position is now terrible. Almost everyone in it agrees its leader has failed, but not what the response should be.

Brown is a broken leader, who can only struggle on bringing his party down in the process.

I'm not sure what the divisions are in the Labour Party. Brown did alright on the global stage re the financial crisis, but he has stumbled badly domestically. is the conflict within the Labour government and party about policy or personalities?

It's all about personalities. Blairites vs Brownites. In an Australian context, think Hawke vs Keating.

There is no real leader of the Blairite faction, but they are facing the loss of their power and perks due to the Brown government's unpopularity and certain defeat next year, and they hate it, and are taking it out on him. The fact that they have all been caught out with the expenses scandal has brought matters to a head.

Another nail in Brown's coffin--Labor does very badly in local council elections. And another Minister resigns, Caroline Flint, whilst attacking Gordon Brown for using women as "window dressing". Brown continues to hang onto power.

So we have a defensive chorus line of ministers trying to explain away the devastation inflicted on Labour in the local council and the Euro elections and asserting that Labour still has a fighting chance of winning the next general election.

so what we are seeing from Brown's perspective is an attempt at a Blairite coup to with Brown trying to see off the plotters? Is this attempt by the Blairites in the parliamentary party to destabilise Brown payback for Browns destablisation of Tony Blair? It sounds akin to a civil war within Labour.

Will Hutton makes a good point about the Westminster system in The Guardian:

For although it is legitimised by regular parliamentary elections, Britain's organisation of government is essentially monarchical. With control of the House of the Commons, the prime minister is de facto an elected monarch, a seductive power that ultimately is each holder's undoing.

He points out that the problems go back to the nature of the British constitution:
There are few formal checks and balances. The executive power of the crown, borrowed by the prime minister, saturates everything. The constitutional story is that the crown dissolves Parliament at will because it is her Parliament; in reality, the power becomes the prime minister's. Similarly, and for the same reasons, the prime minister can create and dismantle departments of state at will. He or she can appoint anybody to the House of Lords to become a minister with zero process. Patronage abounds. But from that unconstrained power comes all manner of psychoses and opportunities for political implosion. Worse, it creates a dysfunctional state in which efficient public spending is close to impossible.

The plenipotentiary powers of the prime minister quickly turn Number 10 into a court, with key courtiers attracted by the magnetism of raw power. Departments of state and, with them, great swaths of public spending, are treated as political spoils.

Labour's been given a drubbing in the European elections. Labour was pushed into second place by the Tories in Wales for the first time since 1918, suffering its lowest vote in Scotland since before the first world war and humiliatingly finishing third to Ukip nationally.

Brown's departure is a necessary condition of Labour's revival, it is far from sufficient. Labour's status is that of political junk.

so the public want to throw Labor out of office and will do so with extreme force cos Brown is only part of the problem. The party needs to change says The Guardian --but to what?