New Labour helped destroy the old politics but has not created a new one. We need partisans for moderationby David Goodhart / July 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Has New Labour reached its tipping point? The moment at which, in retrospect, it will be seen to have lost its purpose and direction-still, perhaps, capable of governing, even winning another election, but no longer the coherent political force that could swat away challenges from left and right with ease.
That is the current consensus among political commentators, both sympathetic and hostile. Columnists have again been telling us how Tony Blair has finally lost his “Midas touch.” The fact that most of them have been saying this at every sign of trouble for five years cannot exclude the possibility that this time they may be right.
Things do, indeed, look grim. Europe has always been a place where New Labour’s centre-ground populism was destined to collide with its grand projet idealism; it is currently looking more ragged than usual with the right-wing getting its teeth into the European constitution referendum and the decision on the euro awkwardly suspended. On top of that, the weapons of mass destruction issue and the manner in which Britain was taken into the Iraq war has stirred up earlier anxieties about “spin.” To cap it all the relationship between Blair and Brown seems at a dismally low ebb.
So is the game up? No. The weather can change on most of the above in the next few weeks and months. Moreover, the government seems untroubled by the two most significant cabinet resignations since 1997, the biggest mass demonstrations in memory and a revival in the role and authority of parliament. (So much for the end of politics and the death of the legislature.)
But what lies behind this rekindling of political passion? It is a foreign policy issue-Iraq-which has enabled the disaffected to reach back to a familiar anti-imperialist vocabulary. This, in turn, has been partly in response to Blair’s foreign policy-driven attempt to inject new moral purpose into politics.
Domestically, however, politics remains as fuzzy and technocratic as ever-and neither the left nor the right has found a way of effectively challenging New Labour’s hegemony.
For technocrats there are all sorts of important debates going on about more decentralised delivery of public services, flexible targets, and so on. When it is not pure 18th-century court politics, the argument between Blair and Brown can even be seen as a resonant clash between social liberalism and social democracy. (The Blairites want more freedom in the…