Fall of the Welfare State

Article excerpt

At first sight, the debates developing (hardly "raging") inside the Labour Party seem of little intellectual or commercial interest: the resentful musings of the electorally outplayed.

The fact that Labour had to deal with more post-mortems than Inspector Morse suggests a political positioning irredeemably at variance with the principal consumer interests. But Labour's struggle to make sense of its market nevertheless offers a quite sophisticated perspective on not a minor question: what kind of society are we becoming?

Labour has realised that it cannot find electoral prosperity either by promising better public institutions or by stoking the country's conscience about hospital waiting lists or crumbling schools. It has become reconciled to a dual paradox: first, that though in surveys Britons would accept the policy of more tax for a better NHS, in reality the impulse is very weak; second, that though millions of us have, in spite of the recession, never indeed had it so good, our willingness to finance public goods is clearly finite.

Much debate has attended the national "caring, sharing consumers of the 90s". How deep are the consumer's wider sensitivities and how, in appropriate marketing language, should these be addressed? Labour brought its archetypal caring-sharing brand to market in April 1992 only to find the marginal consumer-voters backing, perhaps shamefacedly, off in their thousands. …