Reasons to be cheerful? Why Labour should suffer ashmageddon on polling day?

‘But surely the clinching argument against New Labour is one of simple democratic principle. Any government with a record as appalling as this one’s deserves to be punished at the polls, if accountability to the voting public is to have any meaning. The specifics of New Labour’s record—one murderous war after another; slavish devotion to finance; promotion of rampant inequality; repeated assaults on civil liberties; fragmentation and privatization of public services; outrageous corruption—make plain that they have fully merited being turfed out of office. Good riddance; this execrable government deserves to go.’

This was the conclusion to Tony Wood’s article in the New Left Review on New Labour.
Read the following extracts. To view the complete article go to:


‘The UK elections of May 2010 will mark a watershed in British politics. After thirteen long years, New Labour’s economic model lies in ruins, but a reckoning has been delayed until after the vote. Government measures to sustain the illusion of normality, including £950bn worth of bank bail-outs, asset guarantees and ‘quantitative easing’, have blown a gaping hole in public finances: the deficit now stands at 12.8 per cent of gdp—higher than that of Greece—and government debt will reach 82 per cent of gdp by next year. By the end of 2009, unemployment was marching towards 2.5 million.’

‘Viewed in international context, what have been the salient characteristics of New Labour’s period in office? Firstly, its duration: part of a wave of Third Way governments that came to power in the 90s, Labour has outlived them all. Secondly, its whole-hearted embrace of the free market, far more open and enthusiastic than those of its European analogues. Most distinctive, however, has been its integral role in Washington’s serial military aggressions: Labour’s Atlanticism has exceeded not only that of Germany’s spd, which backed the assaults on Kosovo and Afghanistan but baulked at Iraq, but also governments of the centre-right in France, Italy, Spain. Finally, New Labour has led the way on torture and repression within the European Union—above all since 2001, when the reverberations of its own foreign policy began coursing back through the domestic scene.’

‘Far from being a lesser evil, in this sphere Labour has presided over greater slaughter than any of its predecessors. Casualties from Macmillan’s colonial wars in Kenya and Aden totalled perhaps 20,000; Thatcher’s apotheosis in the Falklands came at the cost of just under 1,000 lives; the first Gulf War, in which Major participated, killed some 25,000 Iraqis. New Labour’s wars—Sierra Leone, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq—put these appalling figures into the shade. [7] The full death-toll of civilians will never be known, but is probably close to three-quarters of a million; reason enough in itself for Labour to be thrown out of office.
Enemies within
Labour’s aggressive co-prosecution of the War on Terror abroad has echoed back into the domestic sphere with a range of measures that marked a lurch into new authoritarian territory. The 9.11 attacks were the pivot of this movement; prior to that, New Labour’s Home Office had presented a number of continuities with that of the Conservatives. Major’s Home Secretaries, Howard above all, had ramped up the penal rhetoric—‘prison works’—and introduced a clutch of laws designed to curb the right to silence, increase police powers and criminalize a range of activities, while gladly feeding the headline-driven cycles of outrage over both law-and-order matters and immigration. New Labour from the outset promised a similar approach, striving to match Howard in punitive zeal. This was reflected in the increased pace of legislation—where Thatcher and Major passed criminal justice bills on average every 18 months, Blair introduced three a year, resulting in a staggering 1,036 new imprisonable offences. [8] The British incarceration rate, at 124 per 100,000, is now the highest in Europe. [9] The 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act ratcheted up the pressure on migrants, barring them from access to benefits and instituting their dispersal across the country; detention facilities were also massively expanded.
After 2001 the Home Office entered a new phase: Blunkett mounted serial assaults on civil liberties, while he and other ministers vied in their hostility towards migrants. Between 2002 and 2009, Parliament passed four Acts on terrorism, six on policing and crime, five on immigration and asylum, and one introducing a system of national id cards. The brunt of the upsurge in invasive policing, surveillance and suspicion was borne by Muslims, both British and foreign nationals—a form of officialized persecution that eclipsed anything experienced at the height of the ira’s mainland campaigns. The depths to which Labour’s racist policy had brought the country was starkly illustrated in 2005 when, in the aftermath of the July 7 bombings, London police stormed onto an Underground carriage and shot a Brazilian electrician eight times, later explaining that they thought he was a Muslim. It is Labour’s foreign policy, of course, that has fuelled the emergence of amateur home-grown terrorist groups which had never existed before. Characteristically, the government’s response was yet more punitive legislation. Since 2003 the government has quadrupled the period for which ‘terror’ suspects can be detained without charge, from 7 days to 28 days. The comparable period in the us and Germany is 2 days. [10] In 2007 a bill extending it once more, to 42 days—Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had opened the bidding at 56—was passed by the Commons, but overturned by the Lords in 2008. The episode makes an apt summary of Labour’s record in domestic affairs: having eroded the fundamental right of habeas corpus, it proceeded to haggle over how much more to compound the injustice, the better to exaggerate a threat which its own policies had created.’

‘The long boom in finance covered up the lack of growth elsewhere in the UK economy. With the pound held high by the City, manufacturing contracted more sharply under Blair and Brown than it had under the Tories: its share in gdp dropped from 26 to 22 per cent between 1979 and 1990; since New Labour took office it has slumped from 20 per cent to 12 per cent. [15] This has reinforced the demographic shift from North to South begun under Thatcher, as the industrial heartlands have emptied and employment opportunities become concentrated in the public sector or in provision of services to the country’s more prosperous areas. For the bulk of the population, low wages and flexibilization have increasingly become the norm, thanks to non-enforcement of the minimum wage and what Blair lauded as ‘the most lightly regulated labour market of any leading economy in the world’. Token efforts at redistribution, such as the Working Families Tax Credit (desperately botched in execution), have been little more than electoral window-dressing. This becomes especially clear when they are weighed against the massive upwards transfers of wealth over which Labour has presided. Inequalities of income are higher today than when Labour entered office: the top 20 per cent now earn more than seven times as much as the bottom 20 per cent. At the beginning of the 90s, the top 1 per cent owned 17 per cent of the country’s wealth; under Labour their share increased to 21 per cent. [16]’

‘From 1998 the government has devolved significant powers to newly established parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, introduced elected mayors in a dozen cities, and a local Assembly in London. Viewed at close range, the non-English components of what Tom Nairn calls Ukania now have increased control over their own affairs, allowing them to reject some of Labour’s worst policies—there are no university tuition fees in Scotland, and no nhs prescription charges in Wales. ’

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