Those, like me (and almost everyone I know
in the Labour Party), who have been critical over the years of New Labour and its record in government might have expected
that the passage of time would bring with it a kinder judgment. And in my case,
in particular, it might have been thought that – twelve thousand miles away – distance would lend enchantment.
How, then, to explain that the more we take the
long view of the Blair and now the Brown government, the sharper seem the contours of its failures and betrayals? How is it that the features of its landscape that grow – as our perspective lengthens - in shocking,
anger-making prominence are those shameful episodes at home and abroad which cumulatively are a complete denial of what a
Labour government (or any British government) should have been about?
There have been of course many good and decent day-by-day
achievements of this government. Across the whole range of political issues,
I do not say that Britain did not do better under Labour than it would have done under most alternatives. But these achievements have been molehills, judged against the towering peaks scaled by New Labour in its
rejection not only of Labour, but of any decent and civilised values.
The first – and for that reason perhaps most
unexpected – contravention of civilised norms was the Iraq war. The damning
judgment of that doomed enterprise has been repeatedly rehearsed, but to read the charge sheet again is still a shocking experience. A British Prime Minister, claiming the right to moral leadership and an almost
religious duty to confront evil, sucked up to a soon-to-be discredited US President and helped to launch an invasion of a
distant country – an invasion based upon a lie, and one that flew in the face of international law, undermined the United
Nations, alienated the whole of the Muslim world, seemed to validate the claims of terrorists and those who recruited them,
destroyed the country that was invaded and killed hundreds of thousands of its citizens, took many young soldiers to unnecessary
deaths, and rightly reduced Britain’s standing in the world.
The New Labour government still refuses to acknowledge
that any of this was wrong. It will not even countenance an independent inquiry
into how such a fatal mistake was made.
It may seem improbable that the scale of the Iraq
calamity could be matched in any other area of government. Yet, as the reasons
for and scale of the global recession become clear, it is also increasingly apparent that another global (as well as British)
disaster can be laid – substantially if only partly - at the door of the New Labour government.
It was, after all, that government which enthusiastically
endorsed the virtues of the “free” market, which turned its back on the need for regulation, which celebrated
the excesses of the City, which proclaimed that it was “intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich”. The government that should have protected
the interests of ordinary people was dazzled by the super-rich; unsuspecting Labour supporters found themselves thrown on
the tender mercies of a market-place that was cleared of any limits that might have restricted the rich and powerful. There have been no more enthusiastic cheer-leaders for the culture of greed and excess
than New Labour ministers.
On the central issue of politics – the willingness
of government to use its democratic legitimacy to intervene in the market in order to restrain its excesses – the New
Labour government ensured that the dice lay where they fell and applauded as they did.
It was Tony Blair who, standing shoulder to shoulder with Rupert Murdoch, proclaimed that the future lay with the “globalisers”
and that those who wanted to reclaim some control over their lives were “Isolationists, nationalists and nativists”. It was Gordon Brown who removed the major economic decisions from democratic control
and handed them over to unaccountable bankers.
That betrayal of those who looked to a Labour
government to help them has seen a rapid widening of inequality and a sharp intensification of social disintegration. It is the jobs, homes and lives of ordinary people that have borne the brunt. The country is a weaker and poorer place as a result.
But even that failure pales by comparison with the
latest revelations about the abandonment by New Labour of any pretence to civilised standards.
We now know that this government connived with the Bush administration to hold people illegally, to kidnap them in
secret, and to torture them while in custody – all in the name of a war against the forces of darkness. The perpetrators of these outrages seem to believe that they can be washed clean by simply declaring their
Nothing more clearly distinguishes those beyond
the pale than their willingness to use the secret, illegal and cowardly infliction of pain to terrify, cow and bend to their
will helpless people being held without charge or trial or legal redress. It
beggars belief that any British government could, in a supposed democracy, do so, and not even bother to respond to its critics. It is simply incredible that a Labour government claiming to represent the values
of the Labour movement could believe in these circumstances that it has any right to remain in office.
For me, this is too much. I am sick to the stomach. I disown this so-called Labour government. I protest.
20 February 2009
This article was published in the online Guardian
on 22 February.