Here at AVPS we rarely pay attention to the vacuous exchanges between mainstream politicians. We're more interested in real politics than the nonsense that passes for establishment political discourse. But I couldn't really let the main Westminster village story of the week pass without my two pennies worth. Readers will recall the media storm surrounding David Miliband's piece for The Graun last week, where he set out a substance-free "vision" for New Labour. In it he states " ... we don't need a summer of introspection. The starting point is not debating personalities but winning the argument about our record, our vision for the future and how we achieve it." That it was widely seen as a leadership challenge is a touch ironic, with Bob Marshall-Andrews and Geraldine Andrews going on telly to demand "orf with his head!"
And so we are treated to an official "reply" from the Brown camp in today's Times, authored by no less a personage as John Denham (pictured), the minister for innovations, universities and skills (who comes up with these ludicrous titles?) Ostensibly about putting the boot into Cameron (as was Miliband's article), it is very clearly a "get your hands off my man!" piece. But aside from that it offers an insight into how the leading layers of government think, or rather, delude themselves.
Take Denham's opening claim. "The history of the past 11 years is pretty clear. On virtually every big argument that divided Britain in 1997 Labour has been proved right and the Tories wrong." What an incredible claim to make. What big issues? Aside from ID cards and 42 days detention, it's very difficult to get a cigarette paper between them when it comes to matters of principle. Both are united on the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Both are united in denying workers in this country the few crumbs that fall off the European Union table in terms of working hours and employment protection. The Tories are cheering on government plans to force the unemployed to work for their dole. And neither have any problem with divesting the state of its social responsibilities and handing public services over to the private sector. Denham's claims are pure hyperbole.
More vacuities pile up until we reach this astonishing claim: "the next election ... will be fought in a world where British families can’t buy or sell a home because US bankers lent money to impoverished Americans." That's right, blame the yanks for their lack of prudence. It is interesting to see how quickly this has become the government's stock response to every problem. Lost an ultra-safe Labour seat? Blame the credit crunch. Poll ratings down in the dumps? Blame the credit crunch. Troops getting killed in Afghanistan? Blame the credit crunch (probably). When you think about it, it is incredible the government and its backbench sock puppets can spin this rubbish with a straight face.
But it serves two very definite functions. In the first place it allows New Labour to delude itself into thinking its record of government is pretty spotless. As we know, Blair and Brown didn't do a thing to rein in the bubble of cheap credit during the "good times". They did nothing to pacify spiralling house prices. They green lighted the sale of Britain's family silver, opening the economy up to the penetration of foreign capital unrivalled in the advanced capitalist world. Because of the credit crunch, millions face the prospect of crippling indebtedness, negative equity and homelessness, and more lay offs as overseas capital scuttles off back home. The credit crunch and the galloping price of oil may not be New Labour's doing, but they are directly responsible for much of the misery it will cause.
Second, because all this is beyond the power of government it justifies business as usual politics. They cannot acknowledge, let alone understand that their policies are deeply, deeply unpopular. No one voted for the government's henchmen, Adam Crozier and Allan Leighton, to take the axe to Royal Mail - perhaps the one issue that has done more to alienate the Middle England it assiduously courts than anything else. Another is the 10p tax band issue, which exposed New Labour as a party intent on antagonising its working class base. This was reinforced by their retreat on taxing filthy rich non-domiciles. As a general rule voters may not be up in arms about privatisation, PFI rip-offs and welfare cuts, but when it affects them in a direct way that's a drip, drip of voters alienated from the New Labour project.
There's no reason to carry on reading what Denham has to say. His "critique" of the Conservatives is a case of pots and kettles - it takes some gumption for a New Labour minister to accuse David Cameron of superficiality!
Denham's piece is a coded paean to unify behind Brown's crumbling leadership. But ultimately, whether it is Brown, Miliband, Harman, or Straw at the helm it doesn't matter. It is policies that matter, not the (non) personalities of a series of grey blurs. This could change if either John McDonnell for the left, or Jon Cruddas for the non-Blairite/Brownite mainstream formally announce their intentions, but neither looks very likely at present.