Thursday, 4 September 2008

Lawson loses his compass

Heaven knows Labour is in trouble, but God help the party if it takes Neal Lawson's advice. When it was first launched, I thought Compass was worth supporting, as it seemed to advocate building on the best of New Labour's achievements, while being critical of some of its policies and looking for new directions for the party in the changed circumstances of a new century. But after listening to Lawson on this morning's Today programme, it seems that the organisation is now advocating a return to the failed 'old left' platform of the '80s and early '90s. 

In the course of a brief interview, Lawson repeated a couple of hoary, revisionist myths. Firstly, that New Labour only gained and retained power for so long because the Tory party had become deeply unpopular (this argument is a close relation to the equally false 'John Smith would have won anyway' myth). So why couldn't Neil Kinnock and John Smith break through in the early '90s, when disillusionment with the Tories was at its height? It was only because Blair and those around him modernised the party, revitalised its programme and convinced a hitherto sceptical population that Labour could be trusted, that the landslide victory of '97 was possible. Lawson's second revisionist myth was that Blairism was merely a continuation of Thatcherism in a different guise. Hmm: I can just see Maggie introducing the minimum wage, pouring millions into the NHS, devolving power to Scotland and Wales, and massively expanding early years care for children. Finally, Lawson seemed to hint that old-fashioned centralist planning offered the solution to the country's woes.

It's possible to be critical of some aspects of New Labour's record - PFI and the academies programme are among the sticking-points for me - without comprehensively trashing the achievements of the last 10 years, or believing that what the country really needs is a return to the Bennite true religion. That kind of programme would be even less popular today with a majority of the British people than it was fifteen years ago. Rather, Labour needs to build on the best of its achievements in power, at the same time developing a forward-thinking, twenty-first century programme. Step forward David Miliband.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Martin, do you really believe that Miliband will sort out the problems around marketisation, when Blair was an evangelist for it? In other words PFI and academies? And foundation hospitals?

And can any of them bring the equality which their particular revision of Croslandism was based on?

Compass doesn't advocate a 'return to Bennism'. It advocates a return to social democracy, a society which gradually becomes more equal and democratic, not one which gradually becomes less equal and accountable to the public.

That's the simplicity of the realistic choices within Labour. I know which way Miliband would fall.