Gordon Brown has crushed any lingering belief that Labour is going to run an election campaign that addresses the needs of working class people.
In a speech to the Fabian Society conference on Saturday, he declared his commitment to the “squeezed middle”, adding, “My predecessor and friend Tony Blair said that we had campaigned as New Labour and would govern as New Labour. Let me say to you today, we have governed as New Labour and now we will campaign as New Labour.”
The speech completely repudiated what some commentators have called Labour’s “class war” approach.
Last year Brown called Conservative plans to raise the threshold for inheritance tax as “dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton”. Such statements were enough to send papers like the Daily Mail into fits. More importantly they upset Lord Mandelson, the unelected minister for nearly everything.
Coming after 13 years of a Labour government that has betrayed working people on every issue, Brown’s attempt to talk about class was empty. Still his slight tack leftwards saw a small improvement in Labour’s poll ratings.
But Labour does not talk about class anymore, and so such talk must go.
That is why Brown made his speech on Saturday.
He defined the key issue of the general election as “social mobility”.
This means that class differences will not be eliminated, but Labour will allow a few more children from poorer backgrounds to “make it good”.
Even in its own terms New Labour has failed on social mobility. The longest ever period of a Labour government has seen the greatest inequalities for a century. An OECD study put Britain at the bottom of a panel of 12 countries for social mobility and on many indicators the figures are getting worse.
On Tuesday the Financial Times newspaper reported, “Alistair Darling will order ministers this week to start work on the most swingeing public spending review in a generation, as officials acknowledged that some departments could see cuts of about 16 percent over three years.”
Darling told the paper he would “emphasise the importance of London as a financial services centre”. He added that there would be no repeat of the (wholly ineffective) tax on bankers’ bonuses, and that he wanted to reduce taxes for the richest.
In other words Labour has now adopted policies that are even closer to those peddled by the Tories.
That means hundreds of thousands more job losses, a squeeze on living standards, more children in poverty, more pensioners dying from the cold and more young people without a future.
Inside the Labour Party, after the last Blairite coup failed to shift him, there seems to be agreement that Brown is the best man to lead the party to defeat at the election. But clinging to Labour as a real alternative to the Tories is becoming less realistic every day.
We need more resistance to the cuts and job losses, to the wars and the obscene level of military spending. And it must not be held back by fears that such struggles will undermine Labour.
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