Very Old Labour

Mr Blair in Opposition decided to build a new brand, called New Labour, so he could win an election.

His media strategy had two prongs. In the first he trashed the Tory brand, and in the second he decontaminated the Labour brand. Both strategies were designed to tell people “things could only get better”.

He trashed the Tories by endless repetition of three claims – that they put up taxes, they were the party of boom and bust, and they were sleazy. The first two claims all centred around the disastrous decision to be too European, by joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism which damaged the UK economy. This was a consensus decision of all three political parties, but one Mr Blair distanced himself from very neatly when the idiocy of it came home for all to see. Mr Blair even had the gall or self confidence to claim in a less important soundbite that the Tories were isolated in Europe and too divided on Europe, because a few of us had opposed the deeply damaging economic policy the three front benches had supported.

What are we to make of Labour’s main claims now? The party that complained of boom and bust imported from Europe has now put us through a far more violent boom and bust of their own making. The party which complained of Tory tax rises has hiked taxes overall by more through their stealth taxes. The party which found a few examples of Tory sleaze and made much of them has now presided over many a Cabinet level resignation and the whole expenses row.

Decontaminating the Labour brand entailed one main claim – that Labour was no longer the party of nationalisation. Mr Blair staged a “fight” with his left wing, and took nationalisation out of his party’s aims. He said Labour would be wedded to prudence, and run the economy on sound lines. There would be no more excessive borrowing and trips to the IMF. He added that Labour was no longer the party of the Trade Unions, that it would accept the Thatcher Union reforms. It was to be sound on defence.

How hollow all those claims look now. Never has a Labour government nationalised so much, if you look at the scale of nationalisations compared to National Income. At last they saw the opportunity to nationalise the banks, a bridge too far for previous Labour governments, though one their core supporters always wanted to cross. They fought successfully to prevent those of us with an alternative to nationalisation from getting air time to put the case, and used a left wing Lib Dem, Mr Cable, to help them win their battle.

Prudence was not only divorced quite early, but in more recent months they have held a drink and drugs party on her grave. The scale of extra spending and borrowing is enormous, well beyond anything any previous peace time government has attempted.

The Trade Union reforms have been modified in some areas, as the party has come once again to rely almost entirely on Union funding. The senior politicians now meet Union bosses to hammer out common policies.

In recent years, when more and more money has been thrown at most parts of the public sector, the old Labour dislike of defence has left that budget struggling with cuts and inadequate resources. Labour has increased the spending on social security at the expense of spending on national security.

“New Labour” turns out to be a media strategy, not a brand. A successful brand requires its architects to live the message, to implement the promises, to be proud of what it stands for. New Labour’s alleged brand values of prudence, justice, fairness, honesty have failed because the government forgot that it not only needed to say them, but also to do them.


  1. Brian Tomkinson
    July 19, 2009

    A successful brand has above all to represent a product that consumers want. Frankly, this entire obsession with branding of political parties is rather insulting to the electorate. “Selling” a political party as though it is a tin of beans I find very unappealing. Why do you all do it? It does perhaps help explain why your party’s policies are often announced and no one when questioned seems able to explain the details behind the spun headlines.

  2. alan jutson
    July 19, 2009


    It would appear from the National Press reports this morning that five major Government Departments including the Treasury, Ministry of Defence, Work and Pensions, Home office, H M Revenue and Customs may not be able to satisfy the National Audit Office with their figures.

    It would appear that the National Audit Office are finding it difficult to get enough and sufficient information to clarify the Accounts.

    It is suggested that this bad news maybe delayed until Parliament goes into recess.

    If true, there can be no more of a damming report on how this Government runs things.

    Perhaps this is the reason The Tories could not get any info on the State of UK PLC when it asked a few weeks ago.

    Heaven help the next Government who have to pick up the pieces, as they will probably not be aware for years of the amount of debt and spending promises made in the last few years.

    I can only suggest that when the next Government gets into power, it needs to conduct a thorough Audit of UK PLC and publish it, complete with the expected TAX take Income, to show the Country the real state of the economy.

    In short we need to come clean, and clear the decks for action.

    Interesting to hear again, reported in the Press, that Jackie Smith was concerned about her ability to run a Department, having never run anything in her life before.

    Digby Jones (mail on Sunday) also makes sensible comment about never being able to change things whilst the present system is in place.

    They are now all coming out of the woodwork (having been sacked or resigned) and spilling the beans. It is as many of us have thought for years, pointless changing Ministers every year for a new one, when the new one knows no more than the old one who had no experience of his subject (Health, Defence, Finance, Education, Law,Etc) in the first place.

    What a shame these people never had the courage to speak their minds in Cabinet, but were just yes Prime Minister, (cardboard cut out politicians) with no thoughts, or no courage to voice their own views at the time.

    1. DennisA
      July 19, 2009

      The EU have been unable to satisfy auditors for I think, the last 15 years, but the junnergaut rolled on and rolls on.

      1. DennisA
        July 19, 2009

        Sorry, “juggernaut”!

        1. Mike Stallard
          July 19, 2009

          And whistleblowers have been bullied and criminalised by the Commissioners and OLAF. Marta Andreasen for one.

        2. alan jutson
          July 19, 2009

          Yes adopting more of the EU policies every week.

  3. Demetrius
    July 19, 2009

    Some of us have been here before. Try reading through the events of 1949, a 30% devaluation, food rationing reduced, the government in serious financial trouble, an NHS costing double what it was supposed to, yet a string of political stunts to try to rescue things for the election due in 1950. And they had to start keeping the City happy, largely by withdrawing from the mutualisation of insurance companies and other concessions. So while I went hungry, the stockbrokers were making their turn. Then in 1967 there was almost a repeat performance.

  4. Stuart Fairney
    July 19, 2009

    A good and timely analysis, especially since many of the governing elite and media were howling for ERM membership for years before.

    (That said, it is an odd historical fact, but had Kinnock won in 1992, the ERM debacle would have happened anyway. That would have destroyed the Labour party for another generation.)

    It is very much back to old Labour now for sure, but I still don’t know what Mr Cameron will be ~ I hope for an uber-Thatcher, but I fear he may be no more than ‘Blu-Labour’ and the recent dropping of the policy to cut IHT suggests the latter, despite the horrendous state of the national books.

    1. alex popplewell
      July 21, 2009

      Interesting FT column from tim montgomerie (based on asking them)suggests that the new parliamentary con party will be fairly thatcherite,and pretty universally eurosceptic-or “sound”,according to your PoV…i think DC has suffered from clothes stealing and one hopes he will set out a more adventurous stall in short order.even the radical schools policy has a bit less to it than meets the eye….but the mood of the country is that profigacy hasn’t worked,so cuts (of waste) isn’t as toxic a message as we might fear.

      1. Stuart Fairney
        July 21, 2009

        I fear DC may suffer from the same problem Blair had, i.e. not really reflecting the views of his party, but elected in the desperate hope that he could win an election. I hope I am wrong. Time will tell.

        Perhaps the one great mistake Thatcher made, amongst many successes, was the fact she changed policies without changing the culture. Many Brits simply do not believe their kids would be educated, or themselves treated in hospital, or taken care of in old age without the state. This is of course nonsense, they would be better off, but we need to break with the prevailing zeitgeist.

  5. Acorn
    July 19, 2009

    Understood JR and the Conservative Party alternative is ……… ?

    I expect I will have to wait till the election for that, assuming the swine flu crisis doesn’t postpone it to some future date. In the interests of the nation, naturally. Meanwhile, I will get out my copy of Key Concepts in Politics (Heywood; Palgrave) and re-read the bit about political ideologies. Remember when politics used to be about ideologies; those were the days, you knew where you were with ideologies?

    For those contemplating the nations future, can I suggest some Sunday reading. This may help you bamboozle a politician standing on your doorstep in the near future. Should you be lucky enough to have JR on said doorstep, you may get an answer, the rest can forget it.

    The first one gives you an inkling of our lords and masters not only targeting the wrong interest rates but letting bank reserve ratios go into bubble mode.

    If you are confused by the technical terms, read here.

    Finally, to discover why it was a bad idea to get into “buy-to-let” in Dubai, read here.

    You will hence know more about the financial crisis than any MP; even Vince Cable.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      July 19, 2009

      “Even vince cable”

      Ha Ha Ha………… classic

  6. Lola
    July 19, 2009

    Yes. Yes. And…? Everyone who thinks about it knows this. Those that don’t want to think – and there’s no shame in that – need this explained to them as succinctly and articulately as you have done. But to my ears this is just not happening. Especially on your front bench. I do not hear any such coherent attack on the epic deceit and consequential failure of New Labour’s time in power. Can’t you have word in their collective lug holes?

    1. jean baker
      July 20, 2009

      You must have been out of the room … Brown’s ‘ducking and diving’ at PMQ’s is his standard response to pertinent questioning.

      1. Lola
        July 21, 2009

        no, that’s just Brown doing Brown, but it does not explain coherently just why his policies and those of his henchmen have failed. It needs a whole different level of patience and commitment.

        Now I quite understand that politics is the ‘art of the possible’. And that the art of getting elected is in many ways based on not frightening the voters. But I now think that this latter point is redundant. People are crying out for simple direct accurate explanations followed up with policies that correct the mistakes – however painful. You cannot fight epic deceit with more deceit. It is that is getting up The Voters nose.

  7. Beacon
    July 19, 2009

    I hate to take issue with you Mr. Redwood though I feel I must in this case. Remove the name Blair and insert Cameron to find they are one and the same.

    Hasn’t the Conservative Party been re-branded as “compassionate Conservatives?” A term that shouts, “we are New Labour in all but name.” A term that is found on a regular basis on ConHome. “A very good week for compassionate conservatism” Tim Montgomerie wrote last week and is pushed at every opportunity.

    “Now for change.” ‘Change’ highly recognised as used by Obama. The strong Conservative torch replace by a scribbled tree looking more like the lefty Greens.

    Isn’t the Lisbon Treaty Cameron’s ERM?

    There is no doubt Labour has regressed back to old Labour. No-one expected any different of them following the Blair’s departure. Cameron has moved to fill the void Blair left vacant.

    One can only hope that the Conservative Party re-branding fails so that it may not regress, but return to true conservative values.

    1. jean baker
      July 20, 2009

      Old Labour broke Britain economically by appeasing bully boy unions.
      New Labour has broken Britain in it’s march to centralized state control and EU appeasement – by ‘bully boy’ tactics, spin and manipulation.

      David Cameron is a true ‘democrat’ whose aims are a return to local government, re-empowering people and abolishing waste.

      1. Beacon
        July 21, 2009

        Your statement that “David Cameron is a true democrat” is not true at all. Mr. Cameron is a signatory to a violent left wing extremest group headed by none other than Ken Livingstone and the Union Unite. He makes no apology for that. Hardly a democrat.

        Then you base your argument not on fact but what may be. There is no evidence to suggest Cameron will “return to local government, re-empowering people and abolishing waste.”

        If however, he does as he has suggested and returns grandees such as Peter Lilly, Stephen Dorrell, and might I suggest, John Redwood to the front benches. Then there is a qualified belief that a Cameron government would do as you have said.

        1. jean baker
          July 21, 2009

          Mr Cameron’s views and proposals are based on the principles of democracy as opposed to complex, wasteful ‘state’ control.

          Your allegation of his association with ‘violence’ and extremism is unevidenced and best taken with a good pinch of salt.

  8. Denis Cooper
    July 19, 2009

    I think it’s fair to say that the Tories trashed their own brand, as much as Blair trashed it, and now that the Labour brand is also comprehensively trashed it’s starting to affect Parliament’s brand, and our national brand.

    It’s no good anybody looking to the Liberal Democrats, as their dominant ideology is not to uphold liberal democracy but to ensure the disappearance of the United Kingdom as a political entity, and they’ll always work towards that end.

    There’s precious little patriotism at the top levels of any of the three main parties: virtually none for the Liberal Democrats, very little for Labour, and not that much even for the Tories. In all three cases the ordinary members are far more patriotic than the leaders, but the members are not in control.

    Really it would be best if all three of these parties simultaneously disappeared, so we could have a fresh start. But of course the only way that could happen would be through a violent revolution; and that would end in dictatorship, not a renewal of democracy.

    1. jim
      July 19, 2009

      I agree, I think all three main parties are contaminated, they work for corporate interests and Europe. The British electorate is ignored.
      I don’t see how revolution is avoidable now, democracy always ends in tyranny. Sad to see it unfolding in front of my own eyes though.

      1. jean baker
        July 20, 2009

        New Labour is ‘tyrannical’ – hence the need for a change of government.

        The ‘ruling party’ is rotten to the core and widely recognized as such.

  9. DennisA
    July 19, 2009

    I suppose it’s conspiracy theory that the banks were encouraged to relax their lending criteria both here and in the US, realising, as any sane person did, that the whole thing would eventually collapse and the state would come to the rescue.

    “It may appear that what goes on is happenstance, but the gov’t most surely has planned it.” FDR

  10. Adrian Peirson
    July 19, 2009

    Remember all that money we loaned to the Banking Instututions, well when the Steel Co collapses, they will be able to use that money to buy up the Steel Co, dirt cheap.
    This is why the Banks are not lending, they are waiting for the economy to completely crash, if they start lending out money, they will not be able to buy everything up.
    Welcome to the Corporate Fascist New World Order.

  11. Adrian Peirson
    July 19, 2009

    The Renegade Economist’s Take on Issues.

  12. Tony
    July 19, 2009

    John: A simple question – would unemployment be higher or lower if the Tories were in power now?

    1. Stuart Fairney
      July 20, 2009

      I’ll take a crack at this if I may~

      Subject to the caveat that it was real tories who won the last election, then lower because;

      ~ taxes would be cut to stimulate economic activity
      ~ regulation would be reduced to the same ends
      ~ public sector debt would be much lower

      Now you maybe inferring that with a smaller public sector, there would be few jobs in it. Unquestionalbly true, but we surely cannot legislate and tax our way to riches. Public sector jobs, (including many, many non-jobs do not create wealth per se), they cost. Ergo, just as in a company, the lower the cost base the greater the profit. So whilst we need some police for example, don’t imagine that by employing another 10,000 cops (or nurses or whatever) you make the country richer. The reverse is true.

      So to answer your question in a single word ~ lower.

      (Again, assuming they were indeed tories not social democrats who think that socialism is okay as long as you run it more competently)

  13. Jon
    July 19, 2009

    The latest report from the IMF won’t be received very well by the Labour faithfull..

    “Imbalances and balance sheet strains had emerged even BEFORE the recent global shocks triggered a sharp decline in economic activity These included overheating in property markets, low domestic saving rates, high current
    account deficits, large external liabilities, rising (albeit still low) public debt, and significant increases in the leverage of financial sector and household balance sheets.”

    Plenty more in that report thats uncompfortable. Page 11 top left graph on household financial liabilities.

    Nothing new or that we didn’t already know for a long time. I suppose we should be grateful that the IMF in the last 10 months is being more direct with its reports.

  14. oldrightie
    July 19, 2009

    An excellent post, as ever, Mr Redwood. The usual negative and downbeat responses. Labour, including that grinning nightmare, Blair, have done and continue to do such damage to The UK that any break from their relentless ant-British Government will be a blessed relief. Roll on an election.

    1. jean baker
      July 20, 2009

      People are paid to disrupt/negate sites which do not support ‘Labour idealogy’ – the “keyboard monkeys/sock puppets” pose as genuine commentators. Taxpayer funded, of course !

      Nulabor – the clenched fist in a velvet glove.

      1. oldrightie
        July 20, 2009

        All of the comments point to the theme of your kind reply. It really is very scary.

        1. jean baker
          July 20, 2009

          Cloning is also routine ‘oldrightie’.

  15. jean baker
    July 19, 2009

    Dear John,

    New Labour’s use of ‘media strategy’ is core in the promotion of profit focussed ‘brands’ in commercialism.

    Conversely, government politicans, specifically MP’s, have historically been elected to serve their country on the basis of ‘manifestos’ – open policy disclosure.

    All ‘revolutionary’ changes inflicted on Britain since 1997 have been systematically achieved by deception and manipulation.
    Non-comformists/opposers are routinely subjected to public humiliation in the ‘media strategy’.

    Many believe the benefactors of New Labour policies and hidden agendas – non-competitive taxpayer funded PFI’s probably contribute to the party; a statutory part of deals ? . The reported £1 trillion borrowings against taxpayers have been ‘used’ for the benefit of others, not disappeared into thin air.

    Whilst troops currently at war are reportedly deprived basic needs, taxpayers funded the (reported) uncompetitive £1 bn contract for the long delayed helicopters.

  16. Mike Stallard
    July 19, 2009

    Labour has changed the face of politics. Now it is a small coterie of people in No 10 some of whom are elected, some of whom aren’t. Their funds come from an even smaller group of people – Lord Levy’s friends, TU barons, Mr Osborne’s or Lord Mandelson’s friends – who presumably dictate policy.
    Inside the bubble, there are lobbyists each of whom makes their special case. And their chums in the media.
    We are light years from the time when MPs were in control and politicians were people who knew what living ordinary lives outside Westminster meant. Most of them, too, had come through the War or at least National Service.
    And then, of course, there is Europe which pays better, gives more uncontrolled and unaccountable power and where you can, apparently, get a better suit and a better lunch/dinner.

    It will be very interesting to see how much impact on this the Conservatives make, assuming that they are elected in a few months.

  17. MartinW
    July 19, 2009

    I agree with what you say about Blair trying to trash the Tory brand with distortions and lies. Happily for them, they had a BBC/Guardian axis to help them all along the way. Mind you, I have not yet forgiven a certain lady in our Party of applying, with stunning stupidty, a notorious epithet to our Party. To say it was crazy is a vast understatement.

  18. ManicBeancounter
    July 19, 2009

    The re-branding of Labour was a re-packaging of old ideas. Most fundamentally it did not abandon the socialist idea that society & individuals can be changed for the better by changing the rules and institutions. Also that government action was always better than non-government. The re-branding added the need to be constantly “on message” (a modern spin on the old term – properganda).
    What was always lacking from the socialist idea was a simple litmuss test – Will a new initiative / regualtion improve on the what already exists? In a way things were worse. The need to be on message eliminated debate or questioning within the party. The result was a massive increase in the number of initiatives or ideas making it onto the statute book, with a corressponding decline in quality.

  19. Robert Pay
    July 20, 2009

    John’s analysis is perfectly correct. The state now accounts for 48% of GDP – the employees of which tend to vote Labour. They have gold plated pensions and Labour, knowing full well that these are not sustainable bottled any reform before the last election.

    “Pace” people like John Redwood and Frank Field (and also my MP Mark Field) there is no discussion about the unsustainable nature of the cost of the Labour Party vote bank as personified by the Public Sector Unions…many ordinary voters are starting to wake up though. Can the Tories start a debate and seem credible after having avoided the discussion for so long?

    Why should a PM or QUANGO earning say £188,000 per annum not be expected to make some provision for himself beyond say £80,000 of their salary. I have had to do this and saved a large proportion of my salary only to talk to contemporaries doing non-jobs (by their own admission) look sheepish about what they earn and the fact that we are all saving for their retirement?

    I hope they try.

  20. brian kelly
    July 20, 2009

    As I have said ad nauseam – New Labour is an entirely party political creation dedicated first to attain power and then to retain it. Every single thing is subsumed to these overriding objectives – and all things are permitted in order to achieve them. It is no great exaggeration to say that, in many ways, it compares to the political philosophy of the Soviet Union and we are only, at least partially saved so far, by our much greater political maturity.

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