Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell startled Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications Alastair Campbell with the hard truth about New Labour on BBC Question Time on Thursday 15 September.
As Campbell claimed the public should want a rerun of the ‘free market’ economics of New Labour, McDonnell interjected to set the record straight:
As a response to rising inequality in Britain, Campbell said the public:
should not be looking for something that different to the politics we tried to give to the country.
Oxfam recently highlighted that the top 1% of Britain’s wealthiest own 20 times as much as the bottom 20% of people.
While Campbell trumpets a return to New Labour as the answer, McDonnell expressed his argument with such an idea:
You’re the person, above all else, who actually created a political environment where no one believed a word a politician said after a bit.
Within a few months of getting elected, Cameron’s Conservatives had begun breaking many of their electoral promises: there’s the severe lack of housing and gradual NHS privatisation, along with cuts to child tax credits and the front-line – to name but a few. At present, Theresa May’s government says it is bringing in boundary changes because of “fairness”. But it is using an outdated electoral roll that includes Conservative voters (usually older people) and excludes Labour voters (often younger people). ‘Fairness’ is a guise for gerrymandering.
But people wary of the Conservative government may feel the same about Labour after the years of Campbell and Blair. Most notable was the invasion of Iraq. Despite claims from the New Labour leadership, there were no weapons of mass destruction and the intelligence behind the claim was botched. Since Blair removed Kuwait’s deadly enemy Saddam Hussein, he has been awarded a multi-million dollar contract from those same Kuwaitis after leaving Number 10.
Labour voters did not only feel betrayed on Iraq. New Labour’s rhetoric on privatisation didn’t match the reality either. As Richard Seymour writes in The Guardian:
New Labour had made electoral capital out of the Tories’ unpopularity over privatisation, but only pledged to stop the sell-off of air traffic control. Even this minor promise was betrayed.
Huge swathes of the public felt misled by both Labour and the Conservatives. For McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn is the antidote to such an environment. As he continued on Question Time:
The reason Jeremy was elected was because they wanted some honesty back in politics again.
Will a return to New Labour policies offset income inequality?
On Question Time, Campbell claimed a return to New Labour was the answer to rising income inequality. But statistics from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, backed by Full Fact, show that Blair and Campbell oversaw the sharpest rise in income disparity since records began in their final term of office.
The rampant privatisation of the Blair years is part of the reason for this. When you privatise public assets, such as NHS services, people still need to use them. So they are forced to rent the services back from the private sector. In turn, this polarises income inequality, as those who own shares in the services get richer, while the majority get poorer.
McDonnell and Campbell also clashed on winning elections. During the exchange, the Shadow Chancellor told Campbell:
You lost us five million votes in that process and set us up to fail.
To which the former Press Secretary replied:
We won three general elections, John.
Before the coup started, Corbyn’s Labour had been ahead of the Conservatives three times in the polls and joint once. From a poor start when he was first elected, the Labour leader had been making gains.
The closure of the Blair years also saw Labour membership fall to its lowest level since the party was founded in 1900. From a peak of 405,000 in 1997, it fell to 176,891 at the end of 2007.
The Conservatives hold all the cards when it comes to the mainstream media. Rupert Murdoch’s News UK controls one third of our national newspapers, 70% of which are owned by just three companies. But Labour has the advantage when it comes to party membership. Its grassroots base must be utilised to subvert a largely Conservative media.
Rhetoric alone cannot last forever. In reality, the Blair years brought us war, privatisation, and polarised income disparity. As Campbell’s spin gradually wore away, Labour shed votes and members exponentially. Offering those same policies of neoliberal economics and military misadventures yet again is unlikely to create a different outcome.
Featured image via Youtube screenshot
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?