This Labour conference looks less like a pre-election rally than a funeral. There will be very little politics as MPs and ministers prepare themselves for opposition and activists pick over the carcass of what was once the greatest social democratic party in the world. Sorry to sound morbid, but there is really is precious little to show for the last thirteen years – the longest period in office by any Labour government in history. Let’s look at the balance sheet.
Britain is more unequal than a hundred years ago. The economy has been handed to a banking kleptocracy which has been awarded immense sums of public money to help them rebuild their financial doomsday machine. The country suffers from a chronic and wholly unnecessary housing shortage. Britain has been pitched into two disastrous wars which have cost billions, ruined the country’s image abroad and killed large numbers British servicemen.
An unexpected by product of the Afghan debacle was the collapse of trust in MPs. The entire expenses-gate saga it turns out – according to the Telegraph -was started by disaffected servicemen, moonlighting in the parliamentary fees office. They were appalled at the scale of expenses fraud in the Commons, when their mates were struggling to buy decent boots. So they leaked with extreme prejudice. No, you could never have made it up. But it was on Gordon;’s watch. So were the curbs on civil liberties, Identity cards, CCTV, and the apparatus of the surveillance state.
On the plus side? Well Sure Start schemes have helped keep thousands of under fives from falling irretrievably into the underclass. The New Deal and the working family’s tax credits did help many into work – though many will have lost their jobs by now. Britain has a national minimum wage – but unfortunately more and more workers are being pushed down to it as the economy polarises. More money has been channelled into education and the health services, both of which have significantly improved. Finally: devolution, the almost accidental constitutional revolution launched by Tony Blair which history may judge as the most enduring achievement of the Labour years.
It’s not a dazzling record by any means. The puzzle of the Labour decade is why they thought, after the Tories and Thatcherism had been defeated and discredited, that people wanted more of it. Starry eyed lefty I may be, but back in 1997 there was a very widespread demand for change in Britain – some even called it a “velvet revolution” following the model of the citizens’ initiatives in Central and Eastern Europe. There was a movement for democratic renewal, for curbing the power of vested interest and challenging neo-liberal economic policies that ended up delivering the 2008 Crash.
But instead of less, we got more: more inequality, more financial services, more wars, more plutocrats avoiding tax. This was rather expected of Tony Blair; but what struck in the entrails of Labour was that after he finally replaced him as leader, Gordon Brown carried on exactly the same policies and postures. It’s as if something happens when they enter Number Ten: perfectly decent politicians are turned into incoherent, emotionally-challenged war mongering monsters.
Well, it’s is over now – the Labour Party that is. It won’t be a political force again for at least a decade, possibly more, because there is a great reckoning to be had in the movement about what went wrong during the years of Labour’s Great Opportunity. The rats have lost no time doing what they do best. . Like Baroness Vadera the former merchant banker and Brown adviser who is getting her resignation in first. Vadera will return to the plutocratic world from whence she came, equipped with valuable intelligence about how the Treasury thinks and acts during am economic crisis. Her contacts and inside knowledge will be well rewarded.
I suspect she’ll be followed into the City by the Chancellor Alistair Darling. He survived the financial crisis, integrity and career intact having fought off efforts by Brown to replace him. He owes nothing to the party leadership and will go off to fill his boots with an untroubled conscience. The greatest beneficiary of Labour’s demise, curiously is Peter Mandelson, having effectively become de facto leader filling the charisma vacuum left by Gordon Brown. I suspect Mandelson will start up a political public relations consultancy and make an even greater pile than he has already.
As for the Prime Minister, he was too busy spending the vital pre conference week rebutting malicious rumours that he is to quit on health grounds. These were spread by Blairite die-hards who miss no opportunity to demean Gordon Brown and remind the voters just how unpopular he is. Mind you they hardly need to bother. Brown’s desperation to be seen at the side of the most popular boy at school Barack Obama, at the UN last week was deeply embarrassing. The President clearly didn’t want to know.
Brown’s thirst for vicarious glamour is a by product of his insecurity Hence his demeaning phone calls to Simon Cowell to find out who SuBo was holding up after her X factor defenestration. But where will GoBro go when he is finally ejected from the great political game show? Well, until recently everyone was seeing him as a shoo in for a top financial post, like head of the International Monetary Fund, or the World Band. But his market value has been falling almost as fast as the pound.
He once said he’d like to be a teacher after he is finished with politics which suggests – no not a bog standard comprehensive – some top drawer university preferably in America. His cabinet will get down to the business of replacing him. There is a severe shortage of credible candidates since David “bananas” Miliband blew his chances with a premature coup last year. Alan Johnson seems well placed to lead a more traditional Labour party in opposition, though his is handicapped by his own lack of ambition and his candour about his limitations as a potential leader. Ed Balls, the schools secretary will be the outgoing PM’s choice but will be tarnished by the connection with Brown. And Harriet Harman can’t be ruled out despite her, hyper-feminism, since she actually appears to want the job . James Purnell, who resigned on the night of the stilettos in June, is the rank outsider who could come from nowhere.
And I’m afraid that’s about all there is to say. This is a government past its sell by date, which has run out of ideas, membership and moral credibility. The only bright spot is that there are only a few months of this left.