Wednesday, 29 January 2014

What's Left? The Future of Labour

This is the title of a September 1993 Tribune pamphlet written by Peter Hain with assistance from Roger Berry among others. It was issued a year after John Major's electoral success and eight months before John Smith's untimely demise which allowed the Blair-Brown modernisers to take over the Labour Party. It was probably the pamphlet referred to in the bittersweet 2004 farewell to Tribune penned by Mark Seddon. Seddon wrote that the pamphlet: "didn't quite offer the 100 per cent endorsement that was in future to be required of everyone in New Labour, including Peter Hain. The duo were duly defenestrated."

Flicking through the pamphlet now shows what frightened the Blairite horses. Approving references to "socialism" and "the left" appear throughout. Also anathema to the Blair project was the emphasis on devolution and decentralisation, matters on which Peter Hain and Liberal Democrats would still largely agree. (Devolution to Scotland and Wales was a John Smith project, a legacy which Blair could hardly reject, though I'm sure it went against the grain.) The pamphlet's support for trade unionism would also have upset Blair-Brown, though Hain saw the future not in terms of union militancy but in the system of worker participation so successful in Germany - something else Liberal Democrats would endorse, and something there is still a chance of introducing to the Post Office network.

Two sections ring true today. The analysis of Economic Policy includes this:

"The basic problem is that Britain still consumes far too great a proportion of its national income. The 1980s Thatcher boom was a consumption boom [...] consumption increased by an average of 2.5 per cent per annum, whereas GDP increased by an average of 1.6 per cent each year. Since 1979, consumer expenditure rose by 37.2 per cent and GDP by 22.3 per cent. The gap was bridged by increasing debt as the Government encouraged the nation to live on tick."

and this:

"the electorate don't know what Labour stands for anymore. People know what Labour's against but not what it's for. They know key policies like unilateralism, public ownership and trade union rights have been ditched. They hear that Labour is no longer the Party of collectivism. But beyond this, they sense that the glitz, the televisual smile and the sound-bite conceal a vacuum."

I have heard rumours that he is to stand down as MP at the next election. I would discount them, as long as Mr Hain still sees himself as one of the few standard-bearers for socialism on the Labour benches.

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