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Exposing the shallowness of Labour Right thinking

Rarely can a pamphlet have got it so wrong.   The significance of Peter Kellner’s diatribe against social democracy is not its ideas, which can be readily dismissed as extreme and even outlandish, but rather that such an unbalanced farrago of right-wing populism can purport to represent any strand of contemporary Labour thinking.   It reveals the mountain that has to be climbed if the Labour Party is to rid itself of the smothering blanket of the marketisation of everything, an endless programme of spending cuts, privatisation of welfare, and the abandonment of any concern about inequality (Mandelson’s ‘supremely relaxed about the filthy rich’ writ large).  But the analysis is deeply flawed and the counter-arguments scream out to be made.

The best that can be said about this 5,000-word tirade entitled The Crisis of Social Democracy is that it exposes the shallowness of Labour Right thinking which is now indistinguishable from the Tories – actually that’s unfair to the Tories since Kellner is well to the Right of Cameron.   Of course New Labour thinking (if that’s not an oxymoron) has always been ideology-lite or ideology-vacant – unsurprisingly since New Labour was a power project, not a political vision – but if the pursuit of power and alignment with the contemporary political culture is all there is to it, as this pamphlet suggests, there is little point in having this party at all.   It might as well be outsourced to the Tories.

Kellner thinks spending cuts rather than tax increases are now permanently the order of the day.   Just wait for austerity to bite good and hard after 20 October.   Kellner wishes away inequality, the fault-line of capitalism, as mere lack of opportunity.   Just try living (as 2-3 million still have to) on £5.93 an hour.   Kellner argues (like today the Tory Suffolk County Council) for privatising and outsourcing virtually all public services and making people pay for what you receive, either what you can afford on a minimum wage of £200 a week or the de luxe version if you’re chief executive of a major company on £72,000 a week.

What is most remarkable, and objectionable, about Kellner’s outburst is his obeisance to the current deeply unjust power structure and its neo-liberal economic prop.   Not a word is said about the abuses of unrestrained markets, deregulation of finance, hire-and-fire labour exchanges,and inequality more extreme than any other country in the Western world bar the US.   Yet the whole point of the Labour Party from its inception was to contest the values and laws set in place by the dominant elite in their own interest.   This is a validly and vitally necessary role: if the Labour Party abandons it, then sooner or later another party will rise up to take on the role.

We should thank Peter Kellner for exposing so clearly why the Labour Party, post-Saturday, must embark on a course of fundamental change if it is to survive.

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