Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Guest Blog: New Labour Should Have Copied Madonna

By Greg Leader Cramer

Nobody likes to see 50 year old ladies writhing around in their leotard but somehow Madonna gets away with it. The reason? She has constantly reinvented herself and made herself seem fresh to each new generation of pop culture consumers. Madonna's experience holds a lesson for New Labour - their failure to renew themselves explains how they find themselves in such a hole.

As the twin hurricanes of globalisation and Thatcherism changed the UK landscape irreversibly in the 1980's, the Labour Party (with Blair and Brown in the vanguard) gradually realised and came to accept that the old Labour vision of state socialism was dead. New Labour was born, twinning a pared down version of social democracy (the idea that governments can control economic and social change and thus harness capitalism for a greater good) with an embrace of the free market. In so doing, Blair and Brown had correctly taken the pulse of a population that was ready for a greater emphasis on public services, paid for through taxation, and a tired Conservative administration was shown the door.

As New Labour has now found out, when you climb onto a bucking bronco, it can be extremely hard to tame and you suffer a high risk of being thrown off. This is what the free market has done to Gordon Brown. The New Labour leadership failed to apply, via state imposed regulation, their own social democratic principles sufficiently to the free market and this has led directly to the personal debt crisis and housing bubble that the UK now finds itself in.

Governing could be said to be about finding a healthy balance between three things: the power of free markets to increase incomes, regulation to rein in the excesses of the free market and a good safety net to catch people when the market fails them. Easy to say but less easy to put into practice. Part of that balancing act involves calibrating levels of taxation and expenditure over an economic cycle, always leaving a sufficient margin of error to allow for the unavoidable shortcomings of economic forecasting.

The architects of New Labour have made three fundamental mistakes. Firstly, they have allowed a perception to fester that the welfare state safety net is over generous. We Brits obsess about fairness and if the system (which our taxes pay for) is being abused or is viewed as unfair then disillusionment is inevitable. Combine that with the belt tightening that accompanies an economic downturn and you have a toxic mix.

Secondly, New Labour has allowed itself no margin for error in its sums. Caught out by a deteriorating economy, government borrowing is already too high at the same time as its receipts are falling. Thirdly, and most importantly, Blair, Brown et al failed to understand that the balance between the three pillars of good governance - free markets, regulation and a safety net - needs to be re-assessed and renewed, not constantly, but from time to time.

Gordon Brown is right to say that is the job of government and its leaders to take difficult decisions that are in the long term interests of the country. The implicit adjunct to this statement is that sometimes those long term decisions are unpopular with a general public necessarily more focused on the short term. Just as Blair and Brown successfully took the pulse of the nation when they created the New Labour project, so Brown - now shorn of his colleague who was so adept at it - has failed to judge how far the popular mood has swung away from the same project.

The idea that a state, using the principles of social democracy, has the tools to cure all the ills that might befall a society, has been taken too far, to the point where the public has become alienated from it. New Labour has run on merrily ahead whilst the general population has has been left behind, preoccupied with fuel and grocery bills. The gap between the two has grown too large to be bridged and, as a consequence, the public have ceased to listen to or even care what ministers are saying.

David Cameron and his colleagues have recognised this and are seeking to fill that gap with their own brand of "Compassionate Conservatism". Whether they fare any better at finding the right balance, over the long term, between the state and the free market, only time will tell.

Greg Leader Cramer is an ex-investment banker turned self-made businessman. Having survived all that, he is currently spending time remaking himself as a political commentator via his blog bemoaning the state of Tottenham Hotspur and running around after his baby daughter.

13 comments:

MikeyP said...

The thought of Harridan Harperson in conical bra and fishnet tights does not bear thinking about. (Shudder)

PompeyTeuton said...

I agree with what you say, Mr Cramer - but I'm not entirely convinced that New Labour are as different from the old incarnation as you seem to accept implicitly. Dropping Clause IV was obviously a big part of reinventing the Labour party's ideology, but what remained with even the new accepted wisdom of the Left was a preference for the protection of the rights and opportunities of the poor and disadvantaged over the meritocratic tendencies of the Right. When you say that New Labour ran away with itself and the UK public couldn't keep up, I interpret that as the electorate objecting to the inexorable expansion of the 'nanny state' spectre - it's allowed the worst-off in society to start freeriding on the benevolence of the state, while disillusioning those who contribute the most of their income to Treasury coffers. And it's given 'newspapers' (I use the term loosely) like the Daily Mail fuel for countless column inches for at least the last 8 years...

Anonymous said...

Iain

You start on a false premise I thnk.

Madonna in that video with the pink leotard is not a good look. She does not 'get away with it' even though she is undoubtedly a very athletic 50 year old and the song is a good one.

Newmania said...

In so doing, Blair and Brown had correctly taken the pulse of a population that was ready for a greater emphasis on public services, paid for through taxation, and a tired Conservative administration was shown the door.


Then why did Blair promise that there would be no tax rises then ? What about the back bench mugging of Frank Field and the take over by Brown and the left.
I cannot say this article was thrilling , pleasant enough though. Like Cliff Richard
I would have said that New Labour were more like Gary Glitter. Looked shiny and fun for a while but after a few years became an old nasty sweating bag of shit that enjoyed screwing children.


( Oh I do enjoy an elegant simile )

Diversity said...

Madonna's self-reinventions have sometimes hit the jackpot and sometimes not. Gordon Brown agreed with the reinvention idea. You may remeber that he tried to reinvent New Labour about a year ago. That non-event was a fiasco far worse than the worst of Madonna's staged re-births. The only parallel that I could call up to equal it was a snake that tried to shed its latest skin when half the preceding one still adhered. Embarassingly painful to watch; with no way neither forward to the new nor back to the old.

neil craig said...

"Governing could be said to be about finding a healthy balance between three things: the power of free markets to increase incomes, regulation to rein in the excesses of the free market and a good safety net to catch people when the market fails them"

Don't agree. This seems to imply that government regulation of business is as important as business actually creating wealth. Parliament should seek to minimise regulation to what is clearly necessary. Its job should be to provide to provide a conducive infrastructure, including rwegulations & making crime unprofitable, rather than finding a balance between industry producing things & government, largely, preventing them beingb produced.

I also don't agree that current feeling is less happy with the welfare state than previously. There have always been complaints. I think there is unhappiness with the amount spent on nannying, diversity, subidies & quangos more than what the poor actually receive.

I also don't agree about 50 year old women (well ok not Harperson) but then may be a matter of age.

Gareth said...

Constantly reinventing yourself means no one knows what you stand for.

To grasp power Labour pretended to be competent and not too radical. Once in power they have proved to be incompetent and happy to waste huge amounts of money on nannying us into an early grave. What we are seeing now is this unravelling.

There was once a clear divide between politicians who stood for big Government and those who stood for small Government. Not anymore. Party politics too has become far too important to MPs, particularly based on how the papers and other media react rather then how the rest of us do. Case in point - David Davis. He latched on to a theme many of his colleagues and the media could not and frankly cannot grasp.

The architects of New Labour have made three fundamental mistakes. Firstly, they have allowed a perception to fester that the welfare state safety net is over generous.

It is. How else can you explain families in double digits in which no parent works? Or idle buggers who never need to work? Why do bogus asylum seekers cross the supposed utopia that is continental Europe, just to get here? This is no mere perception.

"The New Labour leadership failed to apply, via state imposed regulation, their own social democratic principles sufficiently to the free market and this has led directly to the personal debt crisis and housing bubble that the UK now finds itself in."

Imposing regulations along a socially democratic principle stops markets being free. In a way, Labour did impose itself on the financial markets - Making lending cheaper almost overnight by adopting a lower measure of inflation and loosening of the regulations to engender a sense of success through the housing market, which duly ballooned. But shit watchdogs and dodgy goings on at their favourite bank have seen debts rise to almost unmanageable proportions. Just like the Government really.

"Secondly, New Labour has allowed itself no margin for error in its sums."

No. It's sums simply didn't add up and like many others they kept borrowing to hide it. This from a lauded Chancellor.

"Gordon Brown is right to say that is the job of government and its leaders to take difficult decisions that are in the long term interests of the country."

The decisions Brown and Blair have made were rarely in our or our country's best interests, nor difficult, such is their reluctance to be genuinely bold and also the extent of EU interference.

It was not difficult to decide to go after Saddam. It needed to be done. They simply cocked up with the spin of it being about WMDs when it should have been about regime change from the beginning. Cowards the lot of them. Not a conviction among them.

All the other decisions have only been difficult with regards to the Westminster set and party politics. Just how removed from everyday lives have MPs and political commentators become?

Anonymous said...

Nobody likes to see 50 year old ladies writhing around in their leotard . As a nearly 5o0 year old man I would say:-

Depends on who the woman is.

New Labour was an attempt to make over old labour. They have to decide now if they become new new labour and take over more conservative ground and go for a rebalance between the power of the state and the freedom of the family and individual. That will not happen with either Brown or Harman in charge.


Or move back to old labour. With Browns only police being 'tax something' and the country slidding into recession and debt what we have now does not feel much different from old labour of the 70s.

I am becoming more and more disalusioned with this country.

I have a low paid job but as I have no dependants I pay more and more tax and never get any benefits back. I see my bosses getting richer and my non working and not wanting to work neighbours with cars holidays and electrical gadgets that I could not afford.

I am putting what I can into a pension (with no help from my bosses) I worry that it will be enough to stop me getting anything from the government without being enough to pay the rent.


I would tell anybody that is young enough and smart enough to get out of this country do not wait for a change of government. I have little faith that Cameron will be much better.

I am sure that there are millions of working working class people like me that feel that none of the main parties represent them.

I would not go to a single issue party, even if I thought any of them had a chance of getting power.

The extreamist don't appeal I see 'respect' the SWP and BNP all as bad as each other.

I have always voted but now I just don't think that any of the parties want to do anything for me.

They all go on about 'hard working families' what about hard working singles?

catswhispers said...

I think Mr Cramer had to really reign himself in to only write 750 words... click through to his blog... I don't think I've ever seen such long posts. Who has that kind of time?!

Dave said...

Greg: Never end a piece with "only time will tell"
It's the journalistic equivalent of a author finishing a book with "and it was all a dream"
Otherwise interesting stuff!

Newmania said...

Greg: Never end a piece with "only time will tell"
It's the journalistic equivalent of a author finishing a book with "and it was all a dream"
Otherwise interesting stuff!


I think ...'outside a small yellow dog sniffed disconsolately at the gutter..... " is a good way to end.

Johnny Norfolk said...

Labour has always done this. As a manager you are always under presure to "do something". The very best managers know that often the best decision is to do nothing and not interfear and let things take its course as with the current mortage situation. Labour just do not understand this as control freaks.

Anonymous said...

"Nobody likes to see 50 year old ladies writhing around in their leotard"

Don't be imposing your parochialism on me. This ageism is so English.