As senior New Labour politicians form a queue to deny they are seeking to replace Gordon Brown as leader of the party and take over as prime minister, they are bringing the curtain down on an era that began exactly 30 years ago today.
On May 4, 1979, Margaret Thatcher led the Tory Party to victory at the general election and Britain was never the same again. She ruthlessly set about the task of modernising an ailing British capitalism at the expense of working people and the trade unions.
The Thatcherite period of rule was marked by one conflict after another – war with Argentina, the miners’ strike, poll tax and a string of privatisations to name but a few – as the economy was subjected to a new period of intense, corporate-driven globalisation. Unemployment soared and the scars of this economic blitzkrieg are still felt in hundreds of communities up and down the country, where unemployment has been passed down through successive generations.
The mantra that the market provided all the solutions and could regulate itself, drawn from the dogmas of American monetarist Milton Friedman, took over in every field, private and public. Financial markets were set free – and where there were no markets – in the NHS for example – one was created.
The relief when 18 years of Tory rule ended in 1997 was palpable, until the voters quickly discovered that New Labour’s leaders were actually Thatcher’s heirs. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had modelled themselves on the Tory leader’s outlook and gave it their own spin. As the penny dropped, disillusioned voters stopped casting their ballots to the point where New Labour won the 2002 election with the backing of just one in four of registered electors.
The consequences of New Labour rule have been just as squalid as those that resulted from the Thatcher period. Gross inequality in society, market-driven policies imposed on every sector, from schools to the London Underground, an illegal Iraq war launched on lies and pretexts as a former head of MI6 makes clear today, and a political degeneration that knows no bounds.
The crisis now engulfing the Brown government is not just of its own making. It has everything to do with the global economic crisis that is signalling the definite end of period of capitalism marked by an unparalleled expansion into every corner of the globe.
Today’s collapse of production and trade alongside the disintegration of the financial system, has been coming for some time. Early warning signals could be seen in the Asia-Russia financial crisis in the late 1990s and the dot com meltdown of Internet-based companies in 2000. Soaring house prices and an explosion in credit in the 21st century only served to disguise the storm that has now broken with a vengeance.
Now members of the New Labour cabinet are hovering over a political corpse like vultures, ready to pick the bones of the party clean as they jostle for Brown’s job. A fat lot of good it will do them because they clearly have no chance of success in the coming general election and the Tories will return to inflict savage spending cuts on those who can least bear them.
The moral of this 30-year story is not only that the corporate-driven globalisation period has self-terminated but that the politics that helped to drive the free-market train also belong on the refuse tip of history. If there was ever a time to create a new politics that aims to put an end to class-based divisions in society, it surely is now.
AWTW communications editor