It was the new name that finally did it for me. The final nail in the coffin.
Can a name be a nail? I suppose so if it’s a metaphorical nail in a metaphorical coffin. And the metaphorical corpse? Why, it’s our dear old Labour Party. She’s had a long life, many bright moments and some great achievements. But the last few years have seen a distressing decline. It was sad to see the grand old lady in such a plight. In many ways, her final demise is a blessed relief.
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Like so many Scots, I was brought up in a Labour-voting family. My parents never voted any other way. The area in which we lived was one of those proverbial places where a pig would be elected if it was wearing a Labour rosette.
Actually, I don’t know what sort of creatures Labour councillors were. I never met one. The only politician I ever saw out and about among the voters was William Fury, the Communist candidate – and what a great name for a revolutionary! Before every election, he would paint in whitewash a huge slogan on the road outside the local factor’s office. It was usually something like “NO RENT INCREASES!” Mr Fury would have got my vote but, alas, I was too young.
I suppose by then, in the 1950s and 1960s, Labour’s great reforming achievements were already behind it. But I was one of the very many in the post–war years who benefited from Labour’s reforms in health, welfare and education. All that generation should be very grateful. But Labour was already becoming part of the English Establishment. The party was a route to honours, lordships and positions among the great and the good in every sphere of life. Mr Blair’s personal dedication to wealth accumulation is testament to where the party eventually ended up.
Still, in the 1970s, Labour did manage to improve the lot of women and ethnic minorities.
Then came Mrs Thatcher and her seismic relocation of British politics a full 180 degrees to the right. In response, no doubt Kinnock and Smith were correct to reject the utopian alternative proposed by ‘militant’. But surely not to accept that social democracy could never again triumph electorally in the new Thatcherite world.
I must admit though that, in 1997, I initially had some sympathy with Blair and Brown’s New Labour analysis that the English would never vote in a government with even the very faintest whiff of socialism about it.
Having lived in England for a considerable time, my judgment is that the majority of English voters are part Little Englander, part Yankee-wannabe. I’m sure it would be a revelation for all social democrats in Scotland if they could spend a sabbatical in England. They’d quickly realise that there is absolutely no hope whatsoever of achieving even a Scandinavian-type social democracy in the UK. There might be in an independent Scotland but never in an English-dominated UK. Hell will freeze over first.
Blair, Brown et al believed that the limited reforms possible would have to be achieved through stealth hidden behind a large cover of spin. But the end result of these tactics? Growing inequality, privileged elites undisturbed, their tax-avoiding wealth untouched. Labour ministers grovelling for the favour of media barons. The economics of the free market and light touch regulation adopted with disastrous consequences. Working class woes salved by cheap alcohol and easier access to gambling and loan companies.
So what has the new leader of New Labour, Ed Miliband, got to offer? A new name. ‘One Nation’ Labour. Is the ‘New’ still there to distinguish it from the socialist Old Labour Party? Is it New One Nation Labour? But does it matter anyway? It’s only a name, after all.
Yes, but what a meaningful, tell-tale name. Invented by Disraeli, a 19th century Tory, it describes a political paternalism designed to defuse any radical instincts among the electorate and leave unscathed existing social hierarchies. Disraeli was no mug. He recognised that much of the English working class is deferential, conservative and jingoistic. When he granted working class males the vote in 1867, he knew most would be happy to vote Tory. ‘One Nation’ has always been the political banner of conservatives whose ideal is a society where the lower orders know their place but are ‘looked after’ by their betters. The UK as Downton Abbey.
New One Nation Labour can be shortened to NON- Labour. Yes, I know. It’s a juvenile witticism but it’s an appropriate description of where that party is now. In Scotland, if anything, it’s even worse. Scottish NON-Labour is now proposing to undo all the measures in health, care, education and welfare which have benefited working people here. Johann Lamont is no Angela Merkel but she’s managed to move her party well to the right of German conservatives.
So, rest in peace, Labour. Hopefully in Scotland at least, we can exorcise and chase away the NONs, the political ghouls who have expropriated your name and despoiled your heritage.