Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Don Paskini recently posted an interesting piece on the Labour Party's PPB, 'Fighters and Believers'.
As I pointed out in the comments thread, I think it is interesting that Labour is now looking back to its pre-1994 history and trying to darw some sense of meaning and inspiration from it. Rather than emphasizing the discontinuity between 'Old' and 'New' Labours - surely a key part of the New Labour rhetoric - there seems to be a desire to emphasize the continuity between Labour today and the Labour party of the early and mid-twentieth century.
This is surely welcome. And, to an extent, it is also more accurate since the discontinuity between 'Old' and 'New' Labour was always somewhat exaggerated. (In many ways, New Labour has been impeccably Croslandite, using economic growth to spend more on public services and consistently enacting redistributive budgets which have had an appreciable impact on poverty.)
But to watch 'Fighters and Believers' is to be struck forcefully by one big and important discontinuity between the tradition of dissent and protest it invokes and Labour in government today.
Much of the footage appearing early on in the broadcast is of people - workers, suffragettes, anti-apartheid campaigners - protesting and demonstrating.
As I also pointed out in the comments thread at LC, if these demonstrators were on our streets today, the police would quite likely be photographing them and logging them on the ACPO-initiated database of political activists ('domestic extremists'). Confusing 'peaceful protest' with 'lawful protest', the police would be doing their best to prevent any protest activity with a civil disobedient element. They might even be kettling them.
And this would be done with the acquiesence, if not support, of a Labour Home Secretary who thinks he can defuse profound questions about civil liberties with avuncular joshing.
In a recent post here at Next Left, bemoaning what I perceived as the lack of engagement with civil liberties issues in the Labour blogosphere, I wondered if Labour wasn't in the process of transforming itself into a party of executive authoritarianism, fully and finally disconnected from its roots in the tradition of radical dissent and protest. This is hyperbole. But the disconnect between the 'Fighters and Believers' footage and Labour's policy towards protest in recent years is clear.
And 'executive authoritarianism' more widely? Over at Liberal Conspiracy and OurKingdom (not part of the specifically Labour blogosphere) there is grave concern about the draconian and disproportionate powers that Peter Mandelson is seeking for the state to clamp down on online piracy.
Still, one should be grateful for small mercies. At least the government isn't proposing to make it compulsory for us all to give DNA samples to the police on the grounds that, after all, we are all potential criminals.
So I welcome the Labour Party's desire to reconnect with the 'fighters and believers' - and with the spirit of a libertarian socialism. But let's not underestimate the extent of the change in Labour's outlook - in its culture - necessary to make this more than an exercise in nostalgia.
Perhaps this meeting (advertised at Labourhome) might help.