July 25, 2006


Brown has moved as far to the right as Blair. So where do we turn now?: The concerns of the centre-left hold the key to the party's renewal, but they are being shut out of the debate (John Harris, July 25, 2006, The Guardian)

In the midst of the government's serial difficulties, one underlying story seems to have been missed. Blair may be on his way out - departing in "a year and a bit" according to an overheard Alastair Campbell - but for those of us who have spent the past decade standing at an ever-increasing distance from his government these are still grim times. If there were small shafts of light in the 2005 election campaign they now seem like something from another age: after the nosedive of the initially Blairite election effort and the PM's claim to have "listened and learned", we appear to be speeding into the unremittingly New Labour future we were promised in the first place - from trust schools to brazen healthcare privatisation, and on to John Reid's desperate 24-point crime plan.

Meanwhile, the figure on whom so many hopes are projected usually seems set on dashing them. Like most of my Labour friends, for reasons increasingly more emotional than rational, I cannot quite snuff out my faith in Gordon Brown, but the signs are hardly promising. No one expects any explicit words of dissent, but even when it comes to coded messages there is an uneasy silence - and from time to time there come pronouncements that seem to confirm the worst. Take, for example, the run of interviews at the end of last year, when Brown boasted - with the belligerent air of a school bully - about the blows he has landed on Labour orthodoxy: "I have introduced most of the private finance initiative, sold off air traffic control, made a controversial decision on the London Underground, set up the Gershon review to sack or make redundant 80,000 civil servants."

Flick through the recent Mansion House speech in which he announced his support for a renewal of Britain's nuclear armoury and you may start to feel very miserable indeed. Here, of course, he was playing to the City gallery, but his glowing mentions of "contestability and choice" in education, the necessity of seeking a "low-tax economy", and his obligation to make the flimsily regulated UK "more flexible" tapped into already familiar themes. As with Reid's latest wheeze, here was another reminder that nine years of Labour government have left the post-Thatcherite terms of trade depressingly intact. Brown and his associates talk a lot about the prospect of a progressive consensus, though it often seems a distant hope: if the commendable work done by the Treasury - not least when it comes to poverty - has either been hushed up or sat uncomfortably with much of the New Labour narrative, part of the explanation lies with the chancellor's own endorsement of priorities that would once have caused mainstream Labour hearts to sink.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 25, 2006 10:15 AM
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