Magazine article The Spectator

If You Want to Know about Pain, Feel the Lash of New Labour's Leninists

Magazine article The Spectator

If You Want to Know about Pain, Feel the Lash of New Labour's Leninists

Article excerpt

'To modernisation - and electrification!' The small tumblers of a savage rice liqueur, Moutai, were crashed together again. Just as they had been after each course of boiled chicken feet and roasted sparrow from the by now spinning table. Our hosts, in this gritty mining town on China's frontier with Mongolia, were effusive. When the spindly Mr Zhing from Beijing, by now thoroughly tired and emotional, succeeded in emptying his glass over himself, a new cry went up: `To modernisation and Mr Zhing's trousers!' In this part of the People's Republic, where the party's writ still runs large and production targets met are learned by rote, it was if the Cultural Revolution was still in progress.

`Modernisation is changing millions of lives for the better... it is making a progressive future possible. The revolution is not finished yet!' Could this be just the beginning of Mr Zhing's long response? A courteous exhortation for yet more coal production perhaps? Sadly not. For the commissar who produced this antique piece of agitprop about the unfinished revolution was none other than Philip Gould, focusgroup guru, soothsayer to the Prime Minister and author of The Unfinished Revolution. (Oh, and I added the exclamation mark, because it should really have been there.) He did so in a piece for the Guardian this week, in advance of the paperback version of his book which is being unleashed on unsuspecting bookshop owners.

Now Philip Gould is a thoroughly modern man. As befits the 'New' Labour managerialism, which he espouses, he wishes to go forwards rather than backwards. Yet, as thinking commentators scratch their heads in bewilderment over summer months even more devoid of political content than usual, perhaps they should take a closer look at the mindset of a few of the architects of 'New' Labour's quite astonishing apostasy.

They could begin with one of their creations: 'New' Labour's annual jamboree at the seaside, Bournemouth to be precise, in a few weeks. For the conference, as with much else, has been hijacked. The passion and the argument have been stifled, and the conference itself has become a rally, much in the way that the Conservatives' affair always has been. There is much here that loyal deputies to the Congress of People's Deputies in Beijing could recognise and applaud - in unison. Issues are smothered under a grand new consensus. Dividing lines are blurred, ideology banished.

Labour MPs are too worried about their whips' report to present any August alternative. Instead, bored hacks go in pursuit of personalities, as the politicians go in pursuit of one another. When a number of us recently tried - and failed - to resurrect Labour's once noble aim of restoring the earnings link for pensioners at the National Policy Forum, we were mocked for our lofty idealism. The Independent's Don McIntyre felt able to describe this move as a `failure of the ultra Left'. The modernisers' mindset is divorced from the history and ambitions of Labour, but, without wishing to trespass on territory already explored by Leo Abse, many of their earlier dalliances with far Left sects have left a deep mark upon their souls.

Labour, at its best, was a broad church. Whatever may have divided its members, it had a shared goal. It was just the manner of getting there that provoked the heated argument. Despite its natural conservatism and suspicion of intellectuals, Good Old Labour believed in something, which it defined as democratic socialism. …

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