Dead Men Left

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Apostolic Succession

Continuing the theme of Labour Party democracy, or the lack thereof, can I be the only person who finds the anointment of Gordon Brown as Blair's chosen successor a little disquieting? The idea that the Labour leader should be selected on the pronouncements of New Labour's high priests ought to seriously unsettle. It's not even a pretence of democracy: through ejections, through expulsions, and through demands for loyalty, the Labour Party is now a very efficient machine for selecting political managers with the minimum of political debate.

Or it would be if we let run unhindered. Like the aged heckler at the conference hall, events have an unfortunate habit of rudely interrupting New Labour's divine plans. It would have been impossible, after the 2001 election, to have predicted the effects of the Iraq war on British politics. It is equally impossible to predict the fallout from public-sector "reform", or from the winding-down of the economy.

What's left of the true-blue Thatcherites, incidentally, have been growling about those two for some time:

For several years this newspaper has been a lone voice in arguing that Mr Brown is not the economic miracle-worker he and his unquestioning cheerleaders in the media would have us believe. The evidence is now moving so convincingly in our direction that even an economically ignorant British media is beginning to realise it.

...followed by the usual fantasy-land complaints about "excessive" red-tape and "massive tax hikes". On productivity, however, they're closer to the mark: the British economy has been leaning very heavily on a financial sector that efficiently turns property prices into consumer debt to compensate for its stunted productivity growth. Domestic demand is propped-up, even if pressure on the current account is enormous.

Naturally, The Business blame all this on the public sector - a dubious story: public sector output is not traded internationally, so it's a little hard to see why its productivity should matter quite so much. Nor even is it quite clear how the "productivity" of, say, a doctor on her ward round should be measured. The real culprit is the private sector, far too dependent on low wages in the place of investment. Allowing for that, the collossal sums now being chucked at various PFI advisors, management consultants, and other hired parasites is startling. Colin McCabe has quite a neat summary:

Old Labour used to run deficits to employ low-paid workers in the unproductive old public sector; New Labour runs deficits to employ highly-paid consultants in the even more unproductive new public sector.

As McCabe also says, were the Labour Party still able to function as a forum for meaningful debate, the sheer profligacy of New Labour, busily shovelling public money down a private-sector black-hole, would not have remained unscrutinised. If you want "efficient public services", you have to surround them with democratic institutions. New Labour does quite the opposite.