Friday 6 August 2010

Diane Abbott prefers a more ideological Milibandism

The Fabian Society has asked each of the Labour leadership contenders to write Fabian essays setting out their views on the role that ideology should play in Labour politics.

Their pieces will be published over the next week or two on the Fabian website, starting today with Diane Abbott. You can read her full piece here.

Abbott kicks off with this quote from Ralph Miliband's Parliamentary Socialism to ground her critique of New Labour.

Labour leaders, obsessed as they were with the thought of electoral success, had come to be more convinced than ever that the essential condition for that success was to present the Labour Party as a moderate and respectable party. Never indeed had Labour leaders been so haunted by a composite image of the potential Labour voter as quintessentially petit-bourgeois, and there fore liable to be frightened off by a radical alternative to Conservatism. 
But the paradox of this view was that it was both self-confirming and self-defeating: self-confirming in the sense that, the more the Labour Party geared its policies to suit "ordinary decent people who do not probably think a great deal about politics" the less interest were they likely to show in the Labour Party; and self-defeating in the sense that the less interest they showed in the Labour Party, the less likely were its leaders to be electorally succesful".
- Parliamentary Socialism; A Study in the Politics of Labour 1972

Abbott writes that

Without ideology Shadow Ministers run the risk of being just a bunch of free-lance management consultants ... So, if the Labour Party does not have a distinctive ideology, the men and women in leadership quickly become just a cast of characters in search of a coalition.

The right of the Labour Party has always been hostile to ideology. And New Labour was the most right wing faction to lead the Labour Party since 1931. So it is a paradox that New Labour was in fact intensely ideological. Tony Blair's signature achievement was scrapping Clause 4. But this was not a value free act. It in fact signalled New Labour's embrace of the market. And there was nothing pragmatic about New Labour's attitude to markets. They were its preferred method of delivering goods and services. Even when common sense suggested otherwise, New Labour clung to the view that markets knew better.

Each of the candidates also respond to a selection from questions suggested by Fabian members and Next Left readers.

Each of the candidate's pieces will be published individually - in alphabetical order - on the Fabian website, with the full collection of essays available in mid-August.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Talk of ideology always puzzles me. And Abbott's article is certainly puzzling.

I've always viewed the change to Clause 4 in terms of interests - clearly, "common ownership" never implied state ownership and bureaucratic control (otherwise why the bit about "popular administration"?). What the change to Clause Four signified (to those who it was aimed at) was not ideology but interests - it was a sign that Labour could be relied upon not to challenge vested interests - those who have a disproportionate ammount of wealth and power in their hands.