Dead Men Left

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

New Labour is not Old Tory

Andrew Bartlett, commenting on this post:

It seems to me that New Labour is moving towards identifying social problems as being the property of individuals, rather than a function of social structure. This, I feel, is a very dangerous trend - it legitimates such dispicable tactics as The Sun's 'war on gipsies' - and a fundamentally anti-left (and anti-reason) shift in the intellectual climate. Labour may be doing good work on 'the causes of crime', as well as 'crime', the problem is that they explicity reject the philosophical grounding on which the former is conducted. Their rubbishing of the '1960s' was a case in point. With no politicians fighting the corner of a leftist perspective on society, when Labour lose office we'll have some of the nastiest governments in our democratic history.

New Labour would then represent not a conversion to liberalism but the apotheosis of the whole reformist tradition, as developed by the Webbs, and Bernstein, and Crosland: a completely functional (and elitist) approach to society, with social problems categorised by the "tools" necessary to solve them. When some attempt is made at rationalising the approach, it reveals a contempt for theory and a passive, unquestioning acceptance of the conventional categories of social science. A quick glance through Tony Gidden's The Third Way is revealing in this respect.

The main reason, incidentally, why Paul Foot's chapter on New Labour is the weakest in his exceptional book, The Vote, is revealed in its title: "New Labour=Old Tory". It doesn't, and we can't pretend that it does.