David Miliband and Douglas Alexander have just spent a lengthy time in the US at the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions trying to draw lessons from them for the Labour Party. Nothing wrong with that, except that the lessons they draw are perverse. They’ve apparently learnt that Labour won’t win the next election by disavowing New Labour or relying too much on working-class votes. Yet the opposite is true: New Labour lost 4 million votes between 1997-2005 plus a further 1 million by 2010 precisely because it wholly neglected its working class base and showed that its closest affinities were with the employers, the City and the very rich.
They say Labour must show it is committed to reform of the State. This is code for further privatisation and deregulation even though it was a privatised and deregulated market economy which produced the biggest financial crash for nearly a hundred years as well as turning off vast swathes of Labour’s electoral base. They then come up with another bizarre statement, that “government is on trial as well as the markets” when everyone actually knows there is a need for restoring a strong positive role for government which alone was able to bail out the banks and prevent a global economic crash as well as alone having the capacity to deal with soaring energy bills and transport fares, tackle climate change, and counter the bonus greed and tax avoidance of the super-rich.
They then hint obliquely that Labour should distance itself from the trade unions (its main voting base) and their funding when they say “there is a structural imperative for Labour to take down the influence of money in politics”. The Blairites have always wanted to break from the trade unions – and presumably depend instead on billionaire friends like Lord Sainsbury, as they already do at present. They then go on: “this autumn Labour should again reach out to the Liberal Democrats with the aim of working together to get big money out of politics”. One would have thought that, with the LibDems trailing at 10% in the polls and likely to end up after the next election with little more than 10 MPs, and with Labour leading the Tories by a solid 10% in the polls, we should be going flat-out for an outright Labour victory. The Blairite obsession with casting off the trade unions certainly takes strange forms.
But what is so absurd about these flights of wishful thinking is that there is not a single word about the real lessons which Labour needs to learn – the need for radical banking reform, the need for a massive revival of British manufacturing (when this year the UK deficit on traded goods is likely to exceed the entire UK budget deficit), the need to take back public control of the NHS and education system, the need for a jobs and growth strategy rather than a programme of endless cuts, the need for an effective anti-poverty strategy and a huge reduction in inequality. Now that really would lay solid foundations for a big Labour victory at the next election.