The Tragic Rise and Fall of New Labour

Today (11th May) marked the end of a long decade of New Labour governance in Britain. In that time, so much has passed. My adolescence for a start. We have seen so many shocking things happen, so many injustices, so many betrayals. I remember, growing up, that Labour was synonymous in my mind – under the influence of my mother – with political decency. But, the years after 9/11 – the invasion of Afganistan and Iraq – troubled that understanding. As did smaller injustices. Still, just before the 2005 election I was drawing satirical cartoons of the Peterborough Conservative candidate – particularly of his “action man” slogan and of xenophobic Tory immigration polices. And at 18 I voted Labour.

What a disillusionment that was. Immediately following the failure of Peterborough Labour candidate Helen Clark’s election bid, she quit the Labour party, blaming her defeat on everyone but herself, and tried to join the Tories. A couple of days later, word came back: they didn’t want her. I’ve just googled her and found a wiki-stub that says she blamed her defeat on the backlash against the Iraq war and top-up fees. If she truly was critical of these polices, then I could feel some slight reconcilation, but I doubt it. There were a lot of bad things said about her and I think most were true. Either way, I felt embarassed and stupid rather than simply betrayed.

Having voted for Labour in 2005, ever since I have carried a small burden of guilt. My disillusionment gave way to utter disgust at the evidence everywhere of Labour’s attacks on civil liberties, of the sinister subtext of their War on Terror, of the injustices of Guantanamo and similar confinement without proper trial in Britain, of their bureaucratic methods, their secrecy, and of their neo-liberal polices. At university these hardened rapidly, when I met others more politically sophisticated who demonstrated to me more thoroughly the character of New Labour.

The final straw though, was the torture of Binyam Mohamed. When I heard this story I was at a moment in my head where this particular injustice had an impact. Just after hearing Mohamed’s story, I attended the G20 protests in London. It was this event and discussions with a good friend who accompanied me, that gave me a sense of the more comprehensive critique necessary, as well as a sense of the community and the solidarity of those who engage in this critique. The police behaviour also evidenced for me the degree to which the State relies upon violent coercion and fuelled my anger.  Finally, the coverage of this event in the media demonstrated to me fully the prevelance of hardline conservatism, distortion and sensationalisation of the Press, the BBC and other news-media. On that day, before the protest got into full swing, I promised that I would never again vote for Labour, it now being equivalent in my own mind (if not in reality, perhaps) with collaboration with the Nazis. I didn’t want to be held accountable for their injustices. In the aftermath, I began to search out a more radical critique of Capitalism and of capitalist society.

In this election, then, I didn’t vote Labour. I fact, I didn’t vote. For me it was a pseudo-democratic event – it was a pseudo-event! It amazed me that they so readily stirred up a fervour in the British population. Almost immediately people started mindlessly repeating slogans such as “It’s apathetic not to vote”. My friend (the same one throughout, he is a kind of inadvertent and unwilling mentor) came up with the counter slogan: “It’s apathetic to vote”. When the BBC, well over a month ago, started talking up the elections as “historic”, crucial, era-defining, and direction-changing, not only did this rhetoric seem embarassing, but it amazed me that it merely reproduced the slogans of the leaders themselves. Under the name of interrogative interviewing, and of critique, the BBC merely mobilised, reproduced and reinforced the rhetoric and conditions set by the politicians – collaborated with them. The suggestion, I think, is that the media and the politicans are chiefly concerned that the electoral system work at all, and as long as you do vote and participate, no-one minds who you vote for. Not only is this evident in the campaign for particpation, but even in the logic that after the election saw Labour MPs declaring that it would be “bad for democracy” to form a “coalition of the losers”.

Predictably, my response was to shun the whole thing. On election night I was asleep by 10.30, whilst even my radical friends were up until the early hours, entranced by the counting. Some people held parties. Either way, as far as I was concerned, even the most skeptical were legitimising the event by treating it on its own terms as an important event. In my mind, whoever got in, it didn’t matter; it is the continuities between the parties that condemn us – not the pseudo-differences (a slogan of my own).

Am I sad, then, to see old Gordy go? Not on your life! Cuddly as he may look, he was the leader of a party accountable for war, torture, secrecy, corruption, lies, and the complete sabotage of the mainstream British Left. Good riddance! Now my 2005-guilt is over,  the Right wears its own face, and perhaps the broad Left might mobilise again, together now in opposition.


~ by Wit on May 11, 2010.

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