Hutton on Labour splits

Tom Lehman TLEHMAN at
Sun Dec 27 13:20:01 PST 1998

Dear Chris,

Is there an anti-monarchy political party in England? I noticed after Bambi won the election he had to go and see the queen and kiss her whatevers. Or if it had been a King, Bambi would have had to kiss his whatevers. Isn't this a little old fashioned.

Sincerely, Tom L.

Chris Burford wrote:

> Will Hutton, one of the most influential left economic journalists, (apart
> from Doug of course) former Economics editor of the Guardian, and now
> editor of its Sunday sister, the Observer, published this extremely
> relevant article today about the future direction of the Labour government.
> His modesty and his fostering of the collective spirit among journalists in
> the Guardian/Observer group means it is not listed as the main editorial,
> but it is that in practice.
> Hutton has been very influential with his book "The State We're In", 1995,
> against financial "short-terminism" - actually the domination of
> neo-liberal market fundamentalism, with no regulation of short term money.
> Before the election he appeared to feel somewhat closer to Brown, and to
> find that he ought to address Blair on surname terms.
> His review of Gidden's book on the Third Way, welcomes the linking of the
> third way to some sort of traditional social democratic politics. This is
> clearly different from the emphasis of Mandelson and Blair, which despite
> Blair's article on the Third Way, is more centrist and about the technical
> management of pluralist consumer capitalist society.
> Although the wave of Geoffrey Robinson revelations may have more
> compromising stuff on Brown than on Mandelson, it is Mandelson who has
> fallen and the perception is this strengthens Brown and social democracy
> versus Blair and centrism.
> I personally, for reasons argued as introduction to the earlier post today
> on voting intentions, think it is safer for Labour to go for a centrist
> agenda (I mean the term in the bourgeois party political sense and not the
> Trotskyist sense). And I think Hutton underestimates the degree of
> technological means now available to government to guide society without
> central planning, that have come in with the advent of computers. (There
> are for example 20,000 CCTV cameras in London alone.)
> See what you think of the editorial.
> Chris Burford
> London.
> Sunday December 27, 1998
> Things can only get bitter...
> By Will Hutton
> Peter Mandelson's spectacular rise and fall has underlined, as if we did
> not know it already, just how intensely brittle a political construct New
> Labour is. It has become a commonplace to observe that the Government is
> factionalised and riven by personal animosities, but that only betrays a
> deeper malaise. The party is at odds over what it should become, what
> values lie at its core, what coalition it should build and how it relates
> to the British progressive tradition - and it is those real differences
> that fan New Labour's factions and individual rivalries.
> Mandelson had and has a very particular answer to these questions, which he
> pressed a receptive Tony Blair to impose upon the party. Openly boastful of
> his lack of any left-wing credentials and a keen admirer of the Thatcherite
> approach to economic management, he was the Prime Minister's chief
> supporter and ally in Cabinet of moving Labour away from its
> social-democratic roots and instead making it the centrepiece of a new,
> progressive liberal coalition committed to laissez-faire economics and a
> loose notion of social justice. Thus, the sympathetic approach to PR and
> close links with Paddy Ashdown; thus the widening chasm that threatens to
> divide New Labour and which potentially could engulf it.
> For this is an extraordinarily hazardous and contentious political
> enterprise. Even those profoundly committed to the New Labour 'Project'
> have doubts about whether it is intellectually right to bury all traces of
> Keynesianism and social-democratic concerns about the inequities of
> contemporary capitalism, and instead invent a new liberalism that is to the
> right even of the definition of the 'Third Way' recently offered by Tony
> Giddens. There is a political coalition to be built, certainly, but the
> issue is whether its central pole should be 'Third Way' social democracy or
> free-market social liberalism.
> There is now a vast political territory opening up between the Old Labour
> Left and the centrist liberalism of Blair, but it has no champions and no
> voice. A number of key Cabinet members are keenly aware of the fact; they
> are in politics to express a social-democratic philosophy which they
> recognise is disenfranchised. The enmity to Mandelson was rooted in this
> realisation.
> Blair is faced with a choice. He can heed those concerns, and reposition
> New Labour as social-democratic modernisers without the poisonous
> factionalisation that Mr Mandelson's single-mindedness and style helped to
> foment, or he can push on with his drive towards liberalism.
> It is not too grandiose to argue that upon this political judgment the
> future of left-of-centre politics in Britain depends - and it is for this
> reason that Mandelson's resignation is so portentous. It could allow the
> healing of New Labour or it could presage its open factionalisation.
> At first sight, it appears that Mandelson's going has been managed swiftly.
> There is talk of Mandelson making a swift return to the political
> mainstream, and, while managing his comeback, retaining his influence over
> Blair. This is a misreading of the political dynamic now in train.
> Mandelson cannot return to the formal position he had during New Labour's
> first year. The ministerial post he occupied and the committees he chaired
> are now filled; if he returns it will not be at the heart of policy-making
> but the fringes.
> In any case, Blair is angry; he will necessarily regard advice from someone
> whose judgment proved so sadly wanting less compelling than he used to.
> This scaling back of Mandelson's influence is of huge importance in the
> emerging struggle for the heart of New Labour. Blair is ever more bold in
> telling business leaders that he has discovered himself as a Gladstonian
> liberal. In a key speech two weeks ago, he declared his aim was to forge
> and lead a new liberal progressive coalition into the next century.
> The modernisers around Blair have come to support this basic thrust for a
> variety of reasons. For Philip Gould, his psephologist, the issue is voting
> patterns and the way the progressive vote has been divided between liberals
> and Labour. For Alastair Campbell, at heart closer to the Labour tradition
> than the other key modernisers, the reason for such an approach is that
> tactically it allows him to handle an otherwise implacably conservative
> press.
> But for Mandelson, constructing a new liberal progressive coalition is a
> matter of conviction. He believes that government initiative in the
> contemporary economy obstructs the natural course of markets and
> entrepreneurship. Social-democratic ideas of extending public services,
> tackling inequality or using the state to reshape capitalism are just
> moonshine in current political and cultural conditions. We must accept
> capitalism as it is and equip individuals better to adjust to it.
> It is this vision that Blair has begun to share. No other member of the
> Cabinet would go so far. John Prescott openly opposes working with the
> Liberal Democrats and stands by core Labour values. The same is true of the
> majority of the Cabinet, most of whom still describe themselves as
> socialist, libertarian socialist or democratic socialist if asked. Nobody
> would sign up to be members of a party purporting to develop a modernised
> version of Gladstonian liberalism.
> And nor would Gordon Brown. The Brown camp was horrified by Mandelson's
> presentation of his White Paper on Competitiveness 10 days ago, with his
> disdain for every element of Labour's
> post-war economic record and espousal of Thatcherite free markets. Brown
> can see the political space that is opening up, and how it could yet force
> a party or even Cabinet rebellion.
> Some members of the Cabinet, for example, are worried about the regressive
> element in social and welfare reform - the new treatment of incapacity
> claimants particularly rankles. Others worry about the new capping regime
> of local-government finance which will hurt poorest councils hardest. Then
> there were the considerations of resignation over bombing Iraq. So it goes.
> Mandelson's resignation shakes Blair's political geography; there is the
> loss of a key ally and the need to rebuild a political base. Brown knows
> that Blair must move to re-emphasise the social- democratic credentials of
> the Government and accepts that if this implies a narrowing of New Labour's
> coalition, that is the necessary price to be paid to preserve the party and
> Cabinet cohesion.
> How Blair responds will be decisive. Mandelson's fall is a warning that a
> Labour leader must keep his moderate Left onside to succeed; if he does
> not, the tensions at the top of New Labour can only grow.
> After all, the truth about Gladstonian liberalism is that it failed. It was
> an inadequate philosophy upon which to manage capitalism and build a just
> society.
> It needs to be complemented by the social-democratic tradition if it is to
> succeed. If that lesson is learned, Mandelson's personal tragedy may yet be
> the making of New Labour - and its ultimate success.
> © Copyright Guardian Media Group plc.1998

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