Magazine article Canadian Dimension

What Does Labour Stand For?

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

What Does Labour Stand For?

Article excerpt

The Conservative Party is finally paying the price of its Faustian bargain with 'the market,'and breaking apart; this much is clear. But what is much less clear is the nature of the party that will replace it in government. What does New Labour really stand for?

For roughly 80 years the party existed as the spearhead of a great social movement, an alliance between the labour movement and the country's progressive middle-class intelligentsia. What it stood for reflected its members' interests and aspirations. Although Conference resolutions did not determine the policies of a Labour government, they did set the agenda. None of this applies today. New Labour looks more and more like a party of the North American type, effectively run by a few-dozen professional politicians. Policy-making is now almost completely under the leader's personal control. This, of course, did not begin with Tony Blair: Harold Wilson had already given up even paying lip-service to the idea that Conference decisions were binding, and Neil Kinnock's 1987-89 policy review went still further. Not only did it throw out several of Labour's long-standing commitments (such as public ownership and the restoration of union rights), it was also a massive precedent for centralized policy-making, allowing Conference only to pass or reject each of the review's seven bulky reports as a whole.

Today, the leader's office, with its staff of professional advisers and researchers, has finally displaced the National Executive Council (NEC) as the source of all policy initiative.

As a result of this regime of leader-made policy, it is no longer a straightforward matter to say what New Labour's policies are: it's easier to say what they are not. They do not include raising income or indirect taxes or welfare state spending. They do not include undoing Margaret Thatcher's trade union laws or privatization measures. …

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