A Labour government elected in 1997 with a mandate so big that passing any piece of progressive legislation was mere child's play. And now, 13 years on, it is so deeply unpopular that people cannot comprehend that it is Labour - because it is, in truth, no longer Labour. At the same time, the young Etonians of Cameron and Osbourne with their cuddlier, softer version of the Tory Party look like they might win the forthcoming election on the basis that they are not Labour. Or else the nowhere Liberals, catapulted into the stratosphere because of one night on the telly, could be kingmakers. Talk about turning full circle! Well, we can all comprehend that the "new" Labour project captured the Labour Party and dumped all its social democratic policies and leanings. Neoliberalism and worship of the market became the dominant ideology. It really was a case of "there is no alternative" to the market. The consequence was that the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, the private sector encroached upon nearly all parts of society and public services were run down. So it's easy to blame the right, the Blairites and the Brownites for this catastrophic outcome - as we indeed should. But it takes two to tango, so what was our part in it all? What portion of the blame can be laid at our door, the door of the left?
In one sense, although overwhelmed, we allowed this to happen. It was something that was done to us yet we did not stand there like a disinterested, uninvolved third party looking on from afar. There are several ways to answer this wholly legitimate question about our part in the downfall of "old" Labour. The first concerns the soft left of Labour, whether organised in currents and groups like the Labour Co-ordinating Committee or not. After years out of office and in the wilderness, the susceptibility of many on the soft left to the new messiah - Tony Blair - and his message was huge. Not having the Tories as the government and Labour just being in office began to take on more significance than the issues of what the purpose of being in government was and what could be progressively done by now holding the reins of power. Some of the more highbrow soft left bought into the mirage lock, stock and barrel of Blairism and new Labour as the genuine "third way" between the market and the state, between social democracy and free-market capitalism. Some called it "social liberalism." What of the hard left inside and outside Labour? The division and sectarianism among this left was so palpable there was no sense that a united front of the left could be constructed to fight the rampant right.
The left outside Labour seemed to think the worse Labour was the better it would be as workers would soon realise that Labour was just another bosses' party even if it was draped in the history of unions and workers in days gone by. So sooner or later, it was believed these workers would see sense and come into its fold. There was little reckoning that the shutting down of social democracy was a big blow for socialists as well. This was because now there was less legitimacy for the left and less space for it to operate in. Meanwhile, the new Labourites had a fairly clear run of it, until they engaged in unpopular foreign wars and the economy showed it was capable of both boom and bust. But the overall sense of the abdication of responsibility of the left - soft or hard - was the inability to come up with new ways and ideas of presenting and securing the longstanding ideals of social justice, equality, fairness and egalitarianism. This has to be done in a way that was meaningful and credible to workers. Too often there was an ultimatum - join us on our terms or you are part of the problem. Now, of course, doing so was not easy in a period of retreat for the working class, whether judged by the measures of consciousness, organisations or mobilisation.
Yet it was a task that could not be shrunk from. If the only purpose of this article was to say that things are bad and the left has to share some of the blame for this then there would not be a whole lot of point to it. But if we take from this that if the left acts in a different and united way it can positively influence the direction of society and what goes on within it, then something useful can come of this retrospection and introspection. The time for doing so is now. The clock is ticking towards further economic meltdown, a Tory government and massive public spending cuts.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.