April 01, 2008

Some thoughts on the Labour Party

I haven’t blogged for a month, and US politics isn’t really worth covering atm (in short, Obama will take the democratic nomination, but it’ll be painful for a few weeks yet, and polling numbers vs McCain aren’t worth analysing for a while yet). So I return to my home ground of British politics.

A short while back a friend of mine felt that the early years of the Blair government (his first term basically) were the best for the British people during his lifetime. This is a sentiment shared by media analysts, people who believed in Blair, his brand of 3rd way politics. (A brand is not a paradigm, perhaps I am too cynical) In my considered opinion this is not the case.

In my opinion for a government to be considered of note or above average they must achieve a victory on a major issue over their political foes. A victory can only be claimed when their opponents are forced to concede the point politically.

An example of this is the formation of the National Health Service by the Attlee government. It was opposed at the time by the conservatives, but it has never been dismembered. One can argue over side issues – like differences in service in different parts of the country or internal market reforms for example, but the principle that it is the obligation of the government to provide for the health of the nation is not under political threat.

Another example is the change in economic policy during the thatchers years: principly privatisation of government services and emphasis of the importance of monetary, rather than fiscal policy. Keeping to these policies has become a fundamental part of the set of policies that the labour party have been elected on over the last few years, even though they have begun to overspend somewhat.

Which leaves the open question: What have the New Labour Government done to justify the praise. As far as I can see there are several key issues, none of which are ‘victories’.

Foreign policy – pre-emptive military aggression, backed by Bush and Clinton. This hasn’t proved to be popular with voters, or been a key issue battle with the Conservative Party.

Constitional Reform – with the growing nationalism in both Scotland and Wales this could be seen as a successful labour policy. Unfortunately its not exactly unilaterally accepted, a lot of English voters are wondering why their taxes are subsidising Scottish and Welsh extravagense, the NHS is no longer national, and I suspect that Britain won’t maintain its integrity throughout my lifetime. Upper house reform has also failed to achieve anything of significance – instead of two democratic houses we have gone down an appointments route.

Fox Hunting – passed through massive majority of labour voters in the house, this issue has been heavily protested by the people it actually affects, nearly no one else thinks its in any way important and the key arguments for and against haven’t been challenged. It also isn’t fully enforced.

Minimum Wage – another possible example of a major victory by Blair, the fact that it was set at the same level as most entry level jobs were paying rendered it null and void. Portillo may have caused a stir by accepting it, but ultimately it was more reflective of the internal divisions the conservatives faced at the time, than a like/dislike of the policy.

Independance of the BoE – this is a Thatcherite policy, and since its passing Hague has commented that he felt he was in opposition, and was obliged to disagree with the government on policy, not that he was fundamentally opposed to its passing.

Now I have reached the end of my post, I remember why I’ve been so much more interested in American politics than British politics. (In a Walter Sobchak-esque voice) Say what you want about the tennents of George Bush, but at least he had an ethos.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Good Friday Agreement? It had a sense of inevitability about it, especially after the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire, but the Tories were apparently completely incapable of producing the goods. This is a point of debate as if you define a successful government in terms of forcing others to see things its way then it’s tricky to work out if the Tories did want a Good Friday style treaty but couldn’t as from 1994-7 their slender parliamentary position meant they felt reliant on Unionist votes in the Commons, or if they genuinely felt that talking to IRA or Sinn Fein was against their beliefs.

    I would also class the minimum wage as a success based mostly on the way the CBI (i.e. Tories who aren’t in politics) rage against it constantly to this day but there seems to be a general acceptance of it by the Tory party. The initial level may have been painfully low but its increase by increments also yielded howls from the CBI every time so it wasn’t necessarily a smooth ride at the lowest possible level.

    Labour did fail to make a foreign policy impact but honestly the only one they could have made – joining the euro – would have caused a revolution and we don’t want that. Wars are generally agreed on by all sides, I can’t recall the last time a government went to war in this country with the main opposition failing to back it (and thus Iraq shows the failure of all parties to listen).

    Defending Labour’s first term is a matter of picking on small things (apart from NI) which went some way to counterbalancing the impact of Thatcher, more humane social moves mostly. I think it rather impossible for modern politics to produce any of the big consensus changing moves a la the NHS due to the nature of politics these days, with parties eliding into one. Left/right means very little anymore in many ways, we’ll see no more major moves until a new schism breaks out to replace those battle lines.

    Still never voting Tory, mind.

    02 Apr 2008, 02:12

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