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The Defence of the Ignorant Teenager

In Events, Home Affairs, Party politics on September 11, 2010 at 12:30 am


A message from the Co-founder

by Jack Blankley

First things first, may I say hello to all the readers of The Daily Soapbox out there, as a co-founder of this blog I am utterly disgusted that this is actually the first time I am actually writing for it. I suppose my excuse is I actually didn’t know how difficult it is to write one of these things, and also downright laziness.

If you’re reading this expecting a teenager (or twenteen in my case) to defend myself against all the prejudices which there are against the younger generation then I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you. I am actually going to defend New Labour, which as of the 8th September 2010, was 16 years and 2 months old, and which like many of us at that age is going through a very sickly and worrying patch.

The importance of New Labour cannot be understated. Without it I would worry this country would not have a credible opposition to the coalition, at a time when cuts are going to devastate huge regions where the public sector is the main employer. With an Old Labour, 80’s opposition, the country would not trust Labour; now I know the critics would argue that they lost faith in New Labour at the last election, but even though there was the worst economic disaster in 70 years, an unpopular war, an even more unpopular leader, and the infamous “bigot” quote; the country still didn’t give the Tory party a majority in parliament, at 36% of the vote, nowhere near as much New Labour won in 1997 when it was still a toddler.

The biggest ideological difference New Labour has over Old Labour is actually a very Tory idea, that is that you will make much more of a difference in government then outside of it, and the way you do that is by appealing to everyone, not just the left (and this is coming from a nutty lefty at Sussex University).

Remember the minimum wage, devolution, improvements in waiting times in hospitals, the complete regeneration of some inner cities which were horribly ignored by the last Tory government. Remember the Good Friday agreement, equal rights for homosexuals, remember the rebuilding of relations with Europe, remember that New Labour politicians made unprecedented actions on the banks to stop this country from having a depression. These changes were mostly opposed by the Tories and can only be done inside government.

I know New Labour isn’t the finished article – it had cash for honours, the Iraq war and foundation hospitals, it gave too much power to the banks – but who is at 16? And going through that traumatic break up of its parents Brown and Blair has always limited its growth. But it’s now looking for a new parent, to take it through the next stage of its life; and I fear if it gets the wrong guidance and leadership, it could turn from a promising, still relatively new ideology into a forgotten about, no hoper who has never really been given the opportunities to fulfil its own potential, nipped in the bud at only 16.

The Labour leadership contest will decide this. I hope people give it a second chance or I fear the Tories will be able to put through their own policies for the long term.

  1. Thanks for a very interesting post. One thing that has struck me up-to and beyond the General Election is the antipathy that many young people still have against Conservatives even though they must have next to no memory of the benign Major years, much less the actually divisive Thatcher ones (over two decades ago now).

    You’re right to point out all the New Labour achievements (specifically minimum wage, devolution, school academies, investment in the NHS, freeing the Bank of England from political interference, sticking to Tory spending plans for the entire first term against the wishes of the left of the party to get us out the last recession etc.)- I’m now a card carrying Tory, but like most of the nation I consistently voted for Blair. The reality is that for those of us in the sensible, pragmatic middle (centre right in my case) who heeded the reassurance that there was no chance of ‘Voting Blair, Getting Brown’ felt quite stung when that happened. The Speed at which Brownism started to wash away at Blairism once the unelected had ousted him – and now the speed at which the left may even wash away Brownism suggest that it may be a long, long time before they likes of me are tempted back. In parallel the Conservatives finally started getting back to their One Nation Conservative roots under Cameron. It’s a party I am once again at ease to stand up for – but it is interesting that younger people who cannot bare any scars from the 80s don’t yet wish to/want even entertain the possibility of making that leap.

    The Coalition players and Milliband Snr are the only grown-ups in the game at the moment. If anyone other the Milliband Snr wins you’re instinct that Labour will be stuck sniping from the sidelines like a group of idealistic sixth-formers will come true.

    As an aside though – this sentence caught my attention:

    “Without it I would worry this country would not have a credible opposition to the coalition, at a time when cuts are going to devastate huge regions where the public sector is the main employer”

    Perhaps one of the most disturbing things about Labour’s time is exactly how many people – as you say ‘huge regions’ – came to be so wholly dependant upon the State. Not through benefits but through work. That they did was a real tragedy for Britain and gave an illusion of prosperity that was being sustained by the nation living beyond our means – it was fantasy economics – the misery was always going to come when the bubble burst. Of course the pain will be blamed on the ‘nasty party’. ces’t la vie.

  2. Good first post there Jack, glad to see you join the ranks of the TDS bloggers at long last!

    I’m slightly astonished that there is indeed anyone that is willing to defend the New Labour project as much as you have – the primary viewpoint and conception I’m getting from the left is that New Labour as an ideological project is finished. Indeed, you essentially say yourself that the biggest difference between Old and New Labour is that the latter is going to get more done in government than in opposition – as true as that might be, that hardly strikes out as an ideology, and says relatively little about what the Labour Party should stand for except for whatever gets them re-elected (in which case we should consider New Labour as a “pragma-ology”).

    I think the main disappointment of New Labour was how it squandered the golden opportunities throughout its 13 years in power to make real differences; minimum wage, devolution and NHS improvements (unless you include MRSA) were good, but what happened to Lords reform, or electoral reform? How did they go so wrong on immigration, and why wasn’t there a better counter-cyclical policy to deal with the economic bust when it happened?

    I’m also always very sceptical about when people credit the New Labour project for the Good Friday Agreement – the vast majority of the groundwork for the Northern Ireland Settlement was laid under the Major years, and I would give more credit to John Major and Bill Clinton than I would to Tony Blair (which isn’t to belittle Blair’s role, which was also pivotal). However, I think its important to remember that the Northern Ireland peace process was a bipartisan move, from the Conservatives and New Labour, and credit should be given to both.

    A point of contention with Guy’s point above, that regions that have the public sector as the main employer is “fantasy economics” – I don’t see how real people doing real jobs is fantasy; we’re talking about nurses, doctors, policeman, fireman, teachers, garbage-man, social workers, bus drivers, solicitors, press officers, soldiers, and even the secretaries and bureaucrats, who are needed to continue to organise a state directed economy. Are these state workers somehow more fantastical than the bankers who magicked money by manipulating the stock markets? It was always the banks living beyond their means, and indeed the entire system of capital. And, as always, its the people down here that suffer.

    • Sorry Stephan – if only it was as simple as reducing the point to all public sector workers=front line workers (therefore good) against the notion of all private sector = bankers (therefore bad).

      It isn’t that simple. We’re not just talking key workers – we’re talking the circular farce of the bureaucracy that has had to expand to service the working of an expanding bureacracy. Whilst in the short term ‘a job is a job’ the reality is that all public sector jobs have to be paid for through taxation- and that burden doesn’t fall just on the bankers (if at all) – the burden falls on the shop-keepers, the farmers, what is left of our factory workers,the inventors, the cleaners, the mechanics, the publicans, the restaurants, publishers, the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers and all the other people who generate the real wealth from which taxation is taken to service Government spend and who as the state expands become a smaller proportion of the population putting into the pot rather than taking from it.

      The simple fact is that we as a nation at the end of the New Labour experiment were spending four pounds for every three we have been collecting.

      As a nation we have been carrying on like those people who live off credit cards and keep ignoring the bills to buy newer bling to give the impression of affluence and wealth when really it is all debt and they’re hoping the equity in the house will somehow increase to cover it before the day of reckoning. That approach only works for so long andhas finally caught up on those who practised it at the individual level. It’s starting to catch up with States who have been similarly cavalier. A King Canute approach to economics and not tackling this would only lead to even greater disaster. The Coalition isn’t going to cause the pain that must come because it wants to – it will be because it has to.

      Not to tackle the structural deficit would take us into an abyss.

  3. What interests me is whether the economic gulf between different regions can be addressed in any way. The debate about deficit reduction is fine and well — but the question of how the cuts will affect the country hinges on whether government can have a role to play in sparking economic growth in the areas which have been most reliant on the public sector.

    The only idea I’ve seen so far is ending national pay bargaining, which I confess I don’t fully understand — and is national pay bargaining really responsible for keeping economically uncompetitive regions down, when the effects are mostly felt in areas which the government has near-monopolies in the first place in, such as health and education?

    Anyway, if you have further ideas, it’d be great to hear them.

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