The assimilation of Labour into accepting the Tory Party’s narrative is moving at such a pace that it is no wonder that David Cameron finds his party ahead in the polls.
In virtually every major policy area, Labour’s own views are hardly distinguishable from those of the government; on crime, immigration and anti-terror laws, Ed Miliband’s crew are actually to the right of the ConDem coalition.
Only this week, Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, claimed that the benefits system had “skewed social behaviour”, provided “unearned support” and run up an unsustainable housing benefits bill.
In an articlefor the Guardian, Byrne called for “fresh thinking” and an abandonment of the party’s “old agenda”. In practice, Byrne and Labour are backing Iain Duncan Smith’s “welfare reform” bill.
On education, where Michael Gove is busily breaking up what remains of the comprehensive schools system, there is tacit backing from Labour. As the astute Tory commentator Peter Oborne
notes: “Gove is the first post-war education secretary to challenge effectively the power of the teaching unions – and move against an educational establishment that is constitutionally opposed to excellence and high standards. Amazingly, he seems to be bringing the Labour Party with him.”
Similarly on the economy. The ConDems have insisted draconian cuts in spending were made necessary partly because of the failed economic policies of the Blair/Brown governments. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls originally rejected this simplistic, half-truth.
Now, according to Oborne, even Balls agrees with “the need for drastic cuts in public spending” and only “the relatively minor detail of timing” is in dispute. “In all essentials, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party now accepts the fundamental economic insights of the Cameron Coalition.”
No surprise then that Miliband, propelled into the party’s leadership by the three largest trade unions in the hope he would be their prisoner, is struggling to find a coherent strategy that differentiates Labour from the Tories. Enter Lord Glasman, a founder of so-called Blue Labour and a Miliband advisor, whose statements on immigration could have come from the right-wing of the Tories.
Just to make sure Miliband gets the message, Glasman has told him that “there seems to be no strategy, no narrative and little energy” at the top of the party. Glasman urges the termination of what he terms “an unhappy and abusive relationship with the unions” and to end being identified with the interests of public sector workers.
Miliband is almost there. He opposed last year’s strikes in defence of public sector pensions and there are reports that he intends to reduce the reliance on trade union funding (Rod Aldridge, the former chief of outsourcing firm Capita who donated £1m to Labour was given a knighthood in the New Year list. One of Miliband's newest advisers is Andrew Rosenfeld, the property tycoon who has also given £1m)
Glasman is kicking at an open door when he urges Miliband to “leave behind stale orthodoxies and trust his instinct that change is essential”.
Oborne’s view that the “facts of life are Conservative” and that Labour has accepted this is, of course, used to damn what he terms the “Left” which he identifies with the 13 years of Blair/Brown governments.
This is historically inaccurate as well as misleading. New Labour long ago accepted the facts of corporate-driven globalisation and came to believe in a “new paradigm” of a crisis-free capitalism, with uninterrupted growth and riches for all. It was a view shared by many economists and politicians around the world, including the present Tory leadership.
The “facts of life” are actually those of an economic and financial system in profound crisis globally and not principally because governments spent too much. Reliance on credit/debt was the only way to sustain ever-growing consumption and, more significantly, profit levels.
So the credit crunch and financial meltdown was an expression of this permanent, inner-tension between production and profit that lies at the heart of capitalism. And the result is not just the wiping out of vast areas of capacity, leading to mass unemployment, but the integration of Labour into the ConDems’ desperate strategy to turn things round.