MUST LABOUR WIN?
by Professor David Marquand
Economic and Social Research Council
Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon, SN2 1UJ
The booklet is a text version of the 9th ESRC Annual Lecture given by Prof. Marquand. He reminds us first of the magnitude of the Conservative defeat at the last UK General Election :
No Conservative MPs from Scotland or Wales. The lowest Conservative share of the vote since 1832. The biggest Labour majority in the party’s history. The biggest parliamentary majority won by any party since 1935. (p.3)
Prof. Marquand argues that New Labour (NuLab) won because they were able to create a new electoral coalition which extends across the social spectrum, from the dispossessed of the inner cities to the corporate elite. (p.3)
One of the positive aspects of this booklet is that it takes an analytical view from history. Prof. Marquand points out that historically coalitions have been both precipitated by a crisis and cemented by a mixture of ideology and myth. He gives examples of these two factors at work in UK political history — in the Unionist coalition of Salisbury and Joseph Chamberlain and the Old Labour coalition assembled first by Ramsay MacDonald. He traces the Conservative defeat largely though not exclusively to the crisis over a Federal Europe and to issues of Constitution and State. Interestingly, however, he suggests that NuLab have not yet “constructed a cementing ideology or myth”. He points out that :
In place of an ideology or myth it has a rhetoric — an a-historical (not to say anti-historical) rhetoric of youth, novelty and a curiously abstract future. (p.8)
We should ask two questions arising from this. Does the lack of a cementing ideology weaken the NuLab coalition? Is such a broad coalition without a myth to hold it together inherently unstable? The answer I would give to both questions is an unqualified yes. I suspect that Prof. Marquand takes the same view. Certainly he points out that there are real and bitter divisions in the world (a fact NuLab seek to gloss over with platitudes and a weird kind of ‘management speak’) :
The central fault line in modern post-industrial society is that between the winners and the losers in the global market-place. The lion’s share of the extraordinary productivity gains associated with the current capitalist renaissance has gone to the owners of capital, to a new techno-managerial Elite and to a handful of stars in the global entertainment industries. These are the winners: the new Lords of Creation. They want to hang on to their winnings. Most of all they want to maintain a global economic system in which they can win even more. Confronting them are the losers, the casualties of that same global system: the anxious middle classes, threatened by proletarianisation; the increasingly casualised working class; and the burgeoning under-class. That fault line runs through the New Labour coalition. An historical managerialism cannot bridge it, but it does — at least for a while disguise it. (p.10)
It seems that a kind of ‘false consciousness’ is in place. People are not following their interests. Rather they are confused and bamboozled into acting against their own interests.
Prof. Marquand considers also the style of rule we can expect from NuLab. He asks whether it will be a form of dirigism or pluralism. Naturally, Prof. Marquand is a pluralist. He fears, however, that NuLab will kick against the traces. He is hopeful (as are we) that some measures already in place will take on a life of their own and lead to a greater devolvement of power. He also has some further suggestions :
a local income tax, buttressing local economic development powers; regional assemblies; the democratisation of the quangos inherited from the Conservatives; a fully proportional system; more radical parliamentary reforms; and an elected second chamber, with its own democratic legitimacy, perhaps representing the institutions of civil society. (p.14)
Prof. Marquand condenses and clarifies much in just fourteen pages. This booklet is an excellent starting point for those wishing to understand the Blair “project”. It will leave you wanting to know more of his views on how we might seek to bring about changes which level the playing field and give the current losers in the global marketplace the chance to be economic winners.