Twenty Years of Renewal: Labour, New Labour, social democracy

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People need others, both neighbours and strangers, if they are to meet their own needs and flourish. Because of this, they are capable of acting from duty and not just self-interest. They are also capable of developing a concern for justice and the dignity of others. For Adam Smith, there were at least two proper aspects of prudence. One supposes that it is this superior level of prudence that Gordon Brown saw in his self — after all, it would be the type of prudence required of his own high office. It involves an expression of moral duty towards others. In short, it would seem, in the office of Chancellor, Gordon Brown supposed he was acting in the general interest of society forsaking his own baser instincts and desires.

It was supposed to do this by cementing its own role as the prime example of the type of civil association the state now deemed necessary and wished to promote. A key problem with this strategy was that the state itself was already seeking to use the third sector in ways that undermined what it wished from it in term of civic renewal. This strategy also tended to favour larger and professionally run third sector organisations — those with the wherewithal to bid for contracts and ensure delivery.

These are not organisations that are prepared to entrust their important business to volunteers who lack the professional skills and abilities required. As such, the types of opportunities for ordinary citizens that might underpin civic renewal were not forthcoming This is just one example of a broader and deep-seated problem that pervaded the entire New Labour vision. This is a model that has encouraged self-interest and consumerism, and promoted the market to pre-eminence.

It would immediately seem that civic society cannot do this properly if one of its main elements — the third sector — is being used by the state for commercial gain. Rather, it shifted toward a peculiarly American perspective which is on the one hand primarily pro-market, but on the other insists that some markets should be managed and, in some cases, restricted. Governments need to embrace the market as a support and to provide tax revenue to fund public services. At the same time, the market needs governments to make and enforce property rights, secure the rule of law, and to provide human and physical infrastructure On occasion, some markets need to be managed to restrict socially undesirable outcomes.

Like most other liberal-democracies, the main restrictions tend to apply in the realms of health and education. But these restrictions have been around in something akin to their present form since the foundation of the post-war welfare state. They have not been generated, nor can they be sustained by the type of civic society Gordon Brown alluded to. Indeed, under New Labour, both health and education became increasingly subject to the disciplines of the market.

Supplies to both services were opened up to increasing competitive tendering, and management companies from the private sector were brought in to run some hospitals, schools, and even prisons. New Labour continued to give priority to markets over welfare and sought to promote employment opportunities through labour flexibility and economic growth.


In this context, the enabling state took on a particular form. Gone were any genuine social-democratic concerns with individual autonomy or broader notions of well-being. Opportunity now lay solely in the world of work and its attendant material rewards. Welfare itself was devalued to a set of support services for the unfortunate or the unlucky. The market was pre-eminent, and the principles had to be continually massaged to fit its needs New Labour sought to graft a second message on to this: individuals also need to be good citizens.

New Labour and the Destuction of Social Democracy

Good citizens behave in a civil manner, take an interest in others, and are willing to actively engage in assisting the less fortunate. This lesson can apparently be learnt — or, at least, reinforced — through participation in such things as voluntary associations, faith groups and the like.

But this account, I fear, misses the point. Such approaches cannot replicate what was lost in the marketisation of Britain. In short, with no genuine notion of universal citizenship there can be no social solidarity, no mutual recognition, and no mutual respect. It recognised that full citizenship requires sufficient education to use the vote effectively, along with protection from the misfortunes of ill-health and unemployment. Since Margaret Thatcher, the conditions necessary for a universal democratic citizenship have progressively drained away.

Since Margaret Thatcher, the British state has effectively given up on its responsibility to promote directly a meaningful vision of equal citizenship. And this will remain the case as long as its core concern remains cost containment secured through withdrawal from post-war welfare functions. This is not a breach that can be filled by participation in voluntary associations, which are themselves increasing influenced by the competitive spirit of the market place, and which are largely the preserve of the bourgeois classes.

Voluntary associations — like families, churches, and faith groups — have nothing genuinely universal about them at all. Far too much of what New Labour attempted was rooted in values taken out of context and applied inappropriately It is certainly possible to read The Wealth of Nations as a pure defence of laissez-faire capitalism, especially by emphasising the invisible-hand process identified by Adam Smith.

This analysis appears to praise self-interested behaviour within the market for promoting unintended consequences to the general benefit of society. Among the most important of these were three main elements.

Participation as Post-Fordist Politics: Demos, New Labour, and Science Policy

Firstly, as already mentioned, selfishness is not the sole motivation of human beings. This condition could not, however, be considered to be in the particular interests of all the key groupings in society. Similarly, those deriving their income from rent would see that income increase under competitive conditions. However, these conditions were far from ideal for the owners of capital. They sought to avoid conditions of strong competition because this was the least favourable condition for profit making.

Ideally, they would prefer conditions in which they themselves enjoyed a monopoly. However, for the reasons just mentioned, the particular interests of the owners of capital were rarely compatible with the public interest. It seems to me that if this lesson was ever learnt by New Labour, it was lost in the dash for economic growth overseen by Gordon Brown.

Leadership was needed whenever circumstances were uncertain and outcomes largely unknown — as was the case in the era of globalisation. The forces at work in this era seemed too wide ranging and complex for the government to fully understand, let alone manage. What are needed for the global era are strategies for dealing with a changing and uncertain world.

In its leadership role, the government should listen and co-operate where possible. With their help, the government could develop general regulatory frameworks to help promote more desirable outcomes and mitigate the less desirable. The rise of the regulatory state in the UK marked a particular response to the vagaries of globalisation and the attendant marketisation of society.

Contents Pages: v—vi 2 total. List of figures and tables Pages: vii—viii 2 total. List of contributors Pages: ix—xii 4 total.

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Pages: 1—6 6 total. Part I: After the golden age Social democracy in crisis. Chapter 1: Explanations for the neo-liberal direction of social democracy Germany, Sweden and Australia compared. By: Ashley Lavelle. Pages: 9—28 20 total. Pages: 29—52 24 total. Chapter 3: From The Future of Socialism to a future without socialism? The crisis of British social democratic political economy. By: Noel Thompson. Pages: 53—70 18 total. Chapter 4: The political economy of French social democratic economic policy autonomy, — Credibility, dirigisme and globalisation. By: Ben Clift. Pages: 73—92 20 total.

By: Paul Kennedy.

Fragments in the Ruins

Pages: 93— 19 total. Chapter 6: A new Swedish model? Swedish social democracy at the crossroads By: Dimitris Tsarouhas. Pages: — 17 total. Chapter 7: The modernisation of German social democracy Towards a third way and back? By: Hartwig Pautz. Pages: — 18 total. Chapter 8: The meaning of modernisation New Labour and public sector reform. By: Eric Shaw. Pages: — 21 total. By: Gerassimos Moschonas. Inequalities of income are higher today than when Labour entered office: the top 20 per cent now earn more than seven times as much as the bottom 20 per cent.

The fact that growth was sustained for 56 quarters reflected the pattern of global financial flows, plus an equally long-lived house-price bubble—and, in the absence of a dot. The meltdown of and ensuing recession brought the unravelling of Brownomics, as Labour leapt to the defence of the banks.

During , unemployment rose by half a million, a rate of 1, job losses a day, while by early one property was being repossessed every 11 minutes.

Fragments in the Ruins | Rowman & Littlefield International

Even when Brown is long gone, this disastrous legacy of his chancellorship will remain. What of New Labour claims for increased spending on public services, health and education? In office, however, Labour began by continuing the Tory squeeze on spending. As a result, the long-running dearth of public investment actually intensified—the total shrinking from 1.

But from the s onwards, rather than assets being sold outright into private hands, it was now streams of public revenue that would be handed to shareholders as guaranteed profits. This has taken two main forms.

Numéros en texte intégral

Firstly, subcontracting: under Major, public enterprises were encouraged to contract out provision of services to private companies, opening the way to a new realm of commodification. This trend was rapidly expanded under Labour, now reaching from local refuse collection to the administration of welfare, from dentistry to prisons. The second modality has been the Private Finance Initiative pfi —of all the Conservative policies which New Labour has adopted and then accelerated, perhaps the most damaging in its long-term impact on public services.

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Large portions of public funds would now be mortgaged to pay the investors behind the consortia. That pfi would have higher financial costs than state investment is readily apparent: the cost of private capital is higher than that for public borrowing, on top of which pfi contracts have to include a healthy return for investors. Blair and Brown have been far more energetic advocates for it than their predecessors: where the Major government only set up 2 such projects in the nhs , for example, Labour approved 8 in its first year in power, and 17 the next.

By , close to pfi projects had been contracted in the nhs alone, accounting for 90 per cent of capital investment in health since The philosophy underpinning this is a managerial one: public services need goading in order to perform. Here again Labour has accelerated a development that began under the Tories, setting a welter of targets—Blair proudly claimed at the party conference—covering everything from hospital waiting lists to museum visits, truancy rates to media coverage of the Atomic Energy Authority. The advance of marketization has brought little sign of gains in either efficiency or quality; rather, what has taken place has mainly been a market-driven deterioration.

This is especially apparent in healthcare. The same year a Concordat was signed making the use of public funds for operations in private hospitals a normal, rather than exceptional, practice. What has been the impact of these changes? Though nhs funding rose significantly after —on average, 7 per cent a year in real terms—the costs of creating and operating the internal market now consume 10 per cent of the total nhs budget; sizeable sums have gone on the expansion of new managerial layers.

Most damagingly, payments to pfi investors are locked in for a generation or more—a long-term drain on resources out of all proportion to the short-term gains. This has produced a patchwork of health inequalities to compound the growing social and economic imbalances over which New Labour has presided.

But the role of private capital was still limited; much more attention was focused on control of the curriculum. The Tories progressively restricted the size and availability of student grants, but stopped short of introducing tuition fees in higher education. Far from reversing the fragmentation of the school system begun under the Tories, Labour accelerated it, multiplying types of schools and rewarding differential performance in league tables; as a result resources now tend to accrue to schools in more prosperous areas—thus entrenching the imbalances Labour was purporting to address.

Spending on infrastructure took place principally through pfi , with consequences for school budgets comparable to those in health. In higher education, Labour has gone further than the Conservatives dared. In Blunkett introduced tuition fees and began phasing out student maintenance grants, replaced by a means-tested loan. No less philistine than the Tories, Labour has energetically sought to subordinate scholarship to the needs of business. The two areas in which New Labour had most clearly sought to distinguish itself from the Tories in the run-up to were Europe and—more coyly—constitutional reform.

Though viscerally opposed to federation, Thatcher had been persuaded to sign the Single European Act on the grounds that it would introduce a continent-wide free market. Major signed the Maastricht Treaty in , but triumphantly succeeded in exempting the UK from its Social Chapter; the gesture, however, did nothing to defuse the Euro-tensions that were to paralyse his party from then on.

European human-rights legislation was incorporated into UK law in But Brown quickly moved to assuage City of London concerns on the Euro, and thereafter sought to impress on his counterparts the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon model. Having promised a referendum on the eu Constitution, Blair then claimed the Lisbon Treaty did not require one; in , Brown snuck it through parliament. The following year, Blair was offering himself as candidate for the presidency of a Union he did not dare defend before his own electorate.

From the government has devolved significant powers to newly established parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, introduced elected mayors in a dozen cities, and a local Assembly in London. To answer this would require more sustained analysis than is possible here, and perhaps also the benefit of historical distance. A commission on proportional representation was swiftly sidelined once Labour leaders saw the size of the majority first-past-the-post had given them.

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Instead they busied themselves packing the House of Lords. The growth rate of the economy of favours can be measured by the number of peers created by successive Prime Ministers: an average of 18 per year under Thatcher, 25 per year under Major and 37 per year under Blair. The further debasement of the Lords is part of a more general corrosion of British political culture under New Labour.

It has taken an array of forms, from the overt sale of state policy—the amendment of advertising rules for Formula One racing after a donation by millionaire entrepreneur Bernie Ecclestone was an early example—to a persistent blurring of personal life and public office.