ne of the hallmarks of New Labour
has been the way in which it has stylised the political
world that preceded it. Egged on by assorted futurologists,
soothsayers, management consultants, charlatans,
ambitious academics et al, New Labour sought to
codify and justify a straightforward move to the
political centre by referring to an ideological
body of ideas.
What went before was defined as ‘old left’ and ‘old
right’. This approach established a pick-and-mix
politics which sought, in the name of ‘modernity’ and
evoking ‘middle England’, to colonise
policy agendas irrespective of political context.
If you are outside this project you are against
modernity itself. Thus emerges the cult of newness
alongside the methodology of triangulation.
New Labour’s Leninist organisational strategy
sits alongside an anti-intellectual approach to
ideas and policy. The Government is an elite whose
object is the retention of power. Its cohesion
is supplied by ambition and reward, and its method
is based on the scientific construction of preferences
and prejudices of the swing voter.
Occasionally half-hearted attempts are made to
locate New Labour within the revisionist traditions
of democratic socialism, albeit considered through
the prism of creating a meritocratic society rather
than confronting inequality. Democratic socialist
traditions have been cynically transferred into
an orthodox, neo-classical political economy. The
notion of a new meritocratic order has become used
to legitimise inequality in the precise form predicted
by Michael Young.
Chronic inequalities exist, set against a long-term
legacy of poverty and under-investment in public
services. At the same time – due to relatively
low housing costs – my constituency of Dagenham
remains the fastest growing and the fastest changing
community within London. The pragmatic, incremental
investment strategies of national government cannot
even begin to deal with this formation. Indeed,
irrespective of long-term legacy issues, it cannot
even tread water, as lagged population statistics
mean year-on-year population growth exceeds annual
budget increases across the public services.
It is not just a question of resource distribution
however. The national policy agenda is calibrated
for a different type of community. Social housing,
the fundamental local issue, is not a middle England
priority and therefore does not figure nationally;
we resist an academy so are removed from the school
capital programme; parent power undermines school
leadership and the comprehensive strategy driven
by the LEA; the language of choice heightens expectations
but remains a fiction. The examples of middle England
policy positions compounding local problems in
more deprived communities goes on.
The cornerstone of New Labour has been the fundamental
assumption that people in these communities have
nowhere else to go. Yet the white working class
is beginning to develop an allegiance with the
It is here that the logic of triangulation has
led to the real failure of New Labour. The preoccupations
of middle England mean we must neutralise and not
resolve issues of race, immigration and asylum.
As such, the Government has never really attempted
to stand up and annunciate a clear set of principles
that embrace the core concept of immigration: its
associated economic and social dynamic, helping
to overcome structural productivity, pensions problems
and so on. Nor has it embraced the psychology of
the immigrant when looking at school attainment,
anti-social behaviour, our general work ethic or
patterns of benefit consumption.
Yet in communities like mine people see how the
Government has tacitly used immigration to help
develop its preferences for a flexible North American
labour market. It is here that the economic imperatives
of the neo-classical framework dominate. Immigration
has become an informal reserve army replenishing
the stock of cheap labour – especially in
London. People see this and perceive it as a critical
component of their own relative impoverishment.
National political debate is carried out by rich,
educated elites living outside communities changing
dramatically through immigration. These elites
compete in the ever more sophisticated battle to
triangulate around the lives of people living in
the most miserable of conditions. The most wretched
element of the whole sorry debate is the way they,
and their media cohorts, intensify tensions within
communities attempting to deal with the whole process.
Yet these front line communities are disenfranchised
because of the political expedients of middle England.
In order to begin to forge an alternative it is
necessary to study the underpinnings of New Labour.
We can then start to again articulate an actual
mission – a core emancipatory framework of
action. Indeed, we do not have to re-invent the
“I believe that a left-wing party’s
priorities are firstly to relieve misery wherever
it exists – to help the deprived, the poor
and the underdogs; secondly, to promote a greater
social and economic equality for the mass of the
people; thirdly, to apply strict social control
to the economic system in the interests of the
environment, the consumer and the less prosperous
(Crosland, 1974: 97)
Rather than seek to triangulate away the complexities
of the world and pander to the lowest cost denominator
of middle England, we might then seek to locate
our way of confronting difficult territory with
reference to a belief system.The Government would
seek to change the agenda and confront the media
regarding the economics of migration; the renewal
of public services and the consequential economic
and social benefits. This drive would work alongside
a strategy of support for migrants through education
and labour market advice.
The spatial economic strategy of the Government
must be directed at those most in need of help,
confronting the material source of far-right activity.
It is axiomatic that these two issues go together
as the front-line dynamic of migration occurs in
the poorest urban communities. Regeneration would
then become the engine for durable wealth and power
redistribution, creating real community sustainability.
The other issue is labour market strategy. We
must confront the informal economy, illegal work
and chronic exploitation through interventions
against the exploiters; the regularisation of status;
and affording rights to migrant workers, especially
in terms of legal work. This isn’t difficult
but it would mean we confront the flexible labour
market model deployed by the state.
Eight years of Labour Government should have produced
much more for poorer communities. The recent election
result and the internal mechanics of New Labour
mean – probably – that we will see
more of the same. Yet rather than emptying out
the Labour Party, by returning to traditions of
thought and analysis, we still have an opportunity
to build a movement and a Government that will
dramatically affect the material conditions within
which working people live their lives.
Jon Cruddas is Labour MP for Dagenham