The Politics of New Labour: A Gramscian Analysis

Article excerpt

Andrew Pearmain The Politics of New Labour: A Gramscian Analysis, Lawrence & Wishart: London, 2011; 288pp: 9781907103254, £15.99 (pbk)

There is only one surviving, vigorous ideological strand in British politics, culture and society, beneath the competing managerialisms, spin and rhetorical froth which takes up much of the daily, party political shouting match; and that is Thatcherism' (p. 87). This well established theme in the literature on New Labour is reinforced by Andrew Pearmain in this volume, with the use of Gramsci. New Labour is established as a continuation of Thatcherism, based on the same historical bloc. Labour is understood to have become embedded within the Thatcherite historical bloc after 1992, when the party became the force capable of regaining 'popular consent for the "common sense" of neo-liberal market capitalism' (p. 83). Operating in the shadow of Thatcherite hegemony, Labour abandoned 'political persuasion' (p. 188) and internalised the ideology of the social forces behind Thatcherism.

The book is not primarily about the politics of New Labour, but about the social and ideological changes that made it possible. Pearmain is mainly concerned with the intellectual changes occurring within the party and to the left of it - a position influenced by Gramsci, who allowed those within 'the cultural, social and ideological fields' to have a role on a par with the more "fundamental" economic clash between classes' (p. 25). Because of this, Pearmain's book is as much a history of the Marxist left as it is a study of the Labour Party. He is especially interested In the Communist Party of Great Britain and its magazine, Marxism Today. The role of this magazine in the rightward drift of Labour is heavily stressed, helped by the fact that Peter Mandelson stated to the editor Martin Jacques, 'we'd never have done what we did without you' (p. 134). This allows the author to link the magazine to the Labour Party's conversion to the ideology of 'new times'. The stressing of the objective reality of 'new times' and the declaration of the traditional left as beyond salvage (p. 153) is seen to have had 'a crucial (and largely unacknowledged) role in the transition from "old" to New Labour' (p. 8). The magazine did not just play an important role in the creation of New Labour; its relatively small circulation is partly responsible for the demoralisation and disillusionment of the 'remnants of the political left' (p. 157). This highlighting of the role of the intellectual left comes at the expense of the social relations of production. Surely the retreat and weakening of the working class within the economic sphere and the formal political sphere of the post-Fordist state is a more important phenomenon and one which had, and still has, massive affects on the common sense of the intellectual left? Pearmain does not sufficiently explore the effects of altered power relations within ideology, which means he fails to place Marxism Today within the widespread changes in 'common sense' that are occurring in Britain and throughout the world. Changes in class relations embedded in 'common sense' mean that left-wing complicity in neoliberalism is not merely a British phenomenon concentrated around Marxism Today. In France, a significant part of the intelligentsia was equally obsessed by modernity and similarly supportive of right-wing hegemony (Poulantzas, 1979: 10).

The privileging of intellectuals and the progressive middle class in social change seems to justify New Labour, which is portrayed as 'a search to find a new basis for left-wing politics in Britain that could transcend the tired materialism, tribal sectionalism, broken corporatism, cynical economism, repressive social conservatism and overbearing statism' (p. …