Issue 231 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
New Labour in Focus
Tony Benn, with the aid of a miniature video camera, takes us to places that few of us will ever have seen.
He allows us to visit the whips' office at 12 Downing Street, but unfortunately we don't see any of their meeting. Next he takes a trip to Millbank Tower to see if he can find the people who write his faxes for him. In the New Labour world, Benn gets sent a fax every morning which he is meant to send to his constituency. With the technology of Excalibur, the Millbank computer, everything that each MP has said or written is recorded, so they can generate faxes--of course making sure that MPs are 'on message'. Benn also introduces us to his pager, which he does admit has its uses, such as letting him know when votes are taking place. But there are also 'useful' little reminders--MPs are told not to answer any surveys, as they are never favourable to the government!
Alistair Campbell's daily press briefing to journalists is the next stop for Benn and his camera. In a small dark room Campbell spoonfeeds journalists in an atmosphere that is reminiscent of a dictation class.
So what is the ideology behind New Labour and how has the party managed to move so far from its grass roots? Benn finds a fairly succinct answer from one of the Third Way's architects, Anthony Giddens. He explains that the aim is for a 'society which makes serious efforts in diminishing inequality, not just for moral reasons but because a society which doesn't attempt to make a serious attack on inequality is threatened'.
Benn meets parents, teachers and pupils at Pimlico School, where the governors were beaten over their attempt to sell off part of the playground to build luxury flats. He meets up with anti-foxhunting protesters and films a peace vigil against bombing in Iraq. At the Labour Party conference in Blackpool he takes time out to speak to people in the market and again finds that there is great disillusionment with the government.
Benn also videos the May Day march in Chesterfield and the Durham miners' annual gala to highlight his message that 'you can't wish away a tradition and a pride in that tradition'.
This video diary is a refreshing reminder that working class traditions remain strong and the spirit of protest is alive today.
New Labour in Focus is available from Bookmarks for £13.99. Phone 0171 637 1848