Goodbye Blairism, farewell Thatcherism
Has Britain ended its love affair with managerial politics? Let’s hope so, argues Phillip Blond
It took us nearly 10 years to tire of Blair, but just six months to dislike his moody and secretive successor, Gordon Brown. The latest polls show the prime minister is highly unpopular, with affection for the government at a new low and Conservative support at its highest since 1992. Britain has had just over 10 years of New Labour, and its style of politics, government and media management. And it seems we do not want any more.
Elected on May 1, 1997, Blair and Brown promised honesty, integrity and proficiency. The British public voted for them en masse, well aware that public services could not survive further cutbacks and right-wing neglect. New Labour promised us something different: rising prosperity with the benefits of economic growth being applied to the public services. The health service would be renewed, education would be the new driver of equal opportunity, and poverty and exclusion would be tackled as never before.
Well - it doesn't look like that now. Despite the enormous sums of money poured into the National Health Service, nurses are still poorly paid, old people have been abandoned and forced to soil their own beds, while hospital infections that could be stopped with basic hygiene now kill more people than ever. The recent massive wage increase for the already well-paid consultants and GPs has ensured they do less work for more money while the cost of this increase equals the deficit that forced hospitals to lay off frontline staff.
Similar tales afflict education. We were told that the government would ensure opportunity for all. But the middle classes have colonised all the working-class routes to advancement. The Surestart programme, originally envisaged to help poorer families, is full of well-off mums from the suburbs. And it gets worse: a report last week showed the least able children from the richest 20 per cent of the population overtake the most able children from the bottom 20 per cent by the age of seven. Nearly half of the richest group go on to get university degrees while only 10 per cent of the poorest manage to graduate.
Social mobility has declined to pre-war levels and child poverty is rising again. The poor have been ghettoised, with 80 per cent of the new jobs created since Labour came to power going to immigrants rather than indigenous workers. Wages, especially at the bottom, have declined in value and prices of basic goods have risen dramatically. Thus the poor find themselves cut off from any improvement in their lives and prospects.
So where exactly has New Labour gone so wrong? Firstly, they offered nothing new at all. If we have had enough of New Labour we have also - even if we don't realise it - had enough of Thatcherism. The dictatorial politics of New Labour's managerial class has ensured the extension of Thatcherism into all areas of British life. Both Blair and Brown were and are ardent Thatcherites who despise the ethos of public service with its emphasis on care and vocation. Instead they worship wealth and power and adore socialising with a moneyed elite that thinks it knows best.
If they were just Thatcherites then maybe things would not have been quite so bad. But they were worse than neo-liberals; they also loved control and centralisation. Thus New Labour also introduced into the mix the worst aspect of its own tradition: the bureaucratic authoritarian state. This tax and surveillance system despises ordinary people and their organisations. It undermines local government and civic society, it extends our Quango democracy and ensures that nobody except central government has any power or influence.
I haven't even detailed the cash-for-honours scandal, nor the malevolent dishonesty surrounding the legitimisation of the war in Iraq. Why? Because all of this stems from something more basic and brutal - the overwhelming contempt that the progressive elite has had for the society it is meant to govern. ·
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