As Christine Shawcroft reported in Labour Briefing Gordon Brown assured the NEC in June 'that recent setbacks are due to terrible global economic conditions not of the Government's making'. Of course there is truth in this, when citizens standard of living deteriorates they blame the government.
The New Labour philosophy which was built around neo-liberal economic policy and market mechanisms survived for ten years as property owners grew steadily richer and others towards the bottom survived on cheap credit and cheap imports. What is startling when looking back on all this was that nobody dared ask, what happens when the long boom comes to an end?
The dreadful coverage of Gordon Brown's one year anniversary in the media focuses on the election that never was and Brown's so called inability to communicate with ordinary voters. After the by election defeat the media has now shifted to turning the political coverage into a superficial debate about the vulnerability of Brown's position. This analysis vacuous at best and wholly ignores the philosophical underpinnings of the New Labour movement and the important issues we should be debating in the party, in the think tanks and the Trade Unions.
What is needed for Labour is not a 'new narrative' or a change of leader or even a cabinet reshuffle, although all this may improve Labour's rating in the polls in the short term. What is needed is for Labour to answer the fundamental question, what is the role of government?
The lesson to be learnt from Glasgow East is that people fundamentally do not accept that their standards of living, the cost to warm their homes and buy food should be determined by world economic forces, by investment decisions on Wall Street or by the cold, uncontrollable, realities of supply and demand. The post-war settlement and in particular the aim of full employment which survived until 1979 was founded upon this principle; that people are not mere commodities and the role of the government was to protect citizens from the harsh realities of the market.
So when Gordon Brown states that Labour's popularity is declining because of Britain's economic fortunes he is only part right. People do not blame the Prime Minister for high oil prices, what they cannot accept is the laissez faire attitude towards these problems. What people want, not just the lowest in society but increasingly the middle classes is protection from the market's more destructive tendencies; whether this is the vulnerability of pensions, the price of food or its disregard for environmental standards. Luckily for us on the centre left this concurs with Social Democratic thinking. This is why despite the unpopularity of the party in recent times there is a ray of hope for those on the centre left. The voters for the first time since 1979 are far to the left of the government on social and economic issues. There are also some practical measures which could be taken in the short term such as those that Jon Cruddas outlined at the Compass conference. If Labour re-aligns itself it will not just gain votes and seats but will be performing the role it was created to do, to protect the majority from the negative inevitabilities of capitalism, of boom and bust and downward pressure on wages.
Compass Youth Activist