Sunday, April 26, 2009
The End of New Labour
For once in my life, I wish I could see the future.
Watching Izzy opening her eyes this morning at the start of her 17th week of breathing, first smiling and then giggling as she focuses on my face (the source of her amusement may possibly be down to the absurd way my hair stands on end after a night on the pillow – her Dad currently bears a remarkable resemblance to Ken Dodd), I asked myself what sort of world she faces. Yesterday her grandmother, now a sprightly 88, told me she was extremely worried about the baby’s future; 11 years ago, when my last child was born, she had no such qualms. In those days the world was somehow so certain; now, nothing looks safe.
The other day some students asked me what would be the best part of the television industry for them to join when they leave university. I replied honestly that I hadn’t the slightest clue; already my industry resembles nothing I’m familiar with. The perfect storm of digital television, the internet and the recession has wiped the slate clean; what happens next is anyone’s guess.
So it is with politics. This week New Labour was finally buried by Alistair Darling. In fact, as a political construct, New Labour physically died some while ago, killed not by Brown or Blair or any individual human act, but by the demise of the very circumstances which brought it into life: the opportunities for low taxation and raised public expenditure offered by a strong, growing economy. The recession has washed away the soil in which the New Labour harvest was happily growing and which allowed it to survive scandal and sleaze through three consecutive seasons.
In politics the death of one ideology normally coincides with the rise of another. Not this time. The funeral of New Labour coincided with the cremation of the Tories’ own response to it. Cameron’s policies were based on the very same assumptions as Labour’s and so they too have gone up in smoke. Continuous growth was assured, boom and bust was over; the only argument between the parties was how to divide the spoils. Now politicians, economists, bankers and the electorate are gazing at the same blank sheet of paper. Where do we go from here?
Labour is probably back where it started, in the unelectable doldrums. You can already see the Tory posters for the next election: Labour is the party of higher taxes. But what is the alternative? Whichever government comes into power will be forced to make such savage spending cuts, such difficult decisions about taxation, the world in which Izzy learns to read and write, cut her teeth and sing her first song will be so different from her brother’s that I can’t begin to imagine it.
So how worried should I be about this new world? Well, in one sense I like the blank sheet. Anything is possible if we grasp the future and I do believe the door has opened for a new kind of politics and a new conviction. America already has Obama: this Wednesday sees the end of his first 100 days in power and I swear the air wafting across the Atlantic is now smelling sweeter. In the UK, we too need our messiah, and I doubt very much that someone as out of touch with the real world as David Cameron is going to fill those shoes.
I certainly hope, for Izzy’s sake, that we find that leader. I also hope my innocent wide-eyed daughter doesn’t grow up to see the tired old order, in which the politicians’ policies are based not on conviction but on whatever they think is needed to win over the voters. Or am I, like Ken Dodd, looking at things just a little too optimistically?