Issue 252 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
More complacent Blair babble dreamt up by Alastair Campbell? No--this was a piece of self assessment put forward by William Hague! Yes, that William Hague, the one who has been a standing joke, who inherited a standing joke, and who has been leader of a standing joke for the last four years.
The comedian Peter Cook once did a sketch where he was reading a newspaper at a family breakfast table and, looking up from the paper, dryly muttered, 'I see the Titanic's sunk again.' Just so with Hague's Tories, although the joke switches from surreal to factual. It has surely been part of Blair's good fortune that he has had to face Hague's loonies, nasties and incompetents as the official opposition. It goes a long way to explaining Blair's huge lead in the polls.
People have not bought Hague in any of his guises--relaxed man of the people, trendy baseball cap wearing carnival attender, kung fu fighter, beer-swilling Yorkshire man, Euro hater, race stirrer, farmer's friend or cow killer.
No matter what mess New Labour gets in, Hague will get into a worse one himself. He has apparently made no headway. Indeed, only during the fuel crisis did it briefly look like the Tories could close the gap, but even then they failed. Already the knives are being sharpened and the plotters plotting as this 'rebuilt party' prepares to choose either a rebuilt Portillo or an unreconstructed Widdecombe as its next leader.
So does all this mean that all in the garden is rosy, and things have only got better under Blair? On the contrary--every poll and survey seems to show disenchantment and disillusionment with the New Labour project.
It is reflected in a number of ways: the large number of people who have left the party; the growing number of those who are now coming out and openly endorsing the Socialist Alliance; the collapse of Labour activists--apparently the pool of canvassers in most constituencies has dropped to a small proportion of those prepared to come and canvass just a few short years ago; the growing disenchantment with electoral politics, which has led one survey to suggest that the next election will have the smallest percentage of eligible voters voting since before the First World War.
New Labour spin has it that the poll will be low because people are so satisfied with the government they won't even bother to vote. What an ungracious lot the electorate must be. Given everything they hoped for from New Labour, they couldn't even be bothered to come out and say thanks.
I presume we can draw from this logic that the incredible turnout at South Africa's first post-apartheid election reflected how underwhelmed people were by Nelson Mandela's release.
In a sense, though, I suspect those New Labour whizz kids who decided politics would be much better in Britain if our parties were like the Americans are quite pleased with low turnouts. After all, the entire American system (which consistently fails to bring out over 50 percent of the voting population) is based on an assumption that the poor and whole sections of the working class will not bother to choose between capitalist tax and service cutter A and capitalist tax and service cutter B. Indeed, just in case some thought they could spot a glimmer of difference and decide to cast their vote, the American system has long been designed to force their exclusion. This was never better highlighted than in the farce that was Florida last year.
I remember hearing a right wing journalist once claiming this lack of political involvement and participation was a good thing, that politics really wasn't for the mass of people and nor should it be.
Of course, such a lack of mandate hasn't deterred successive US presidents from attacking the living standards of the poor, or swashbuckling around the globe tossing bombs about like confetti. Indeed, George Dubya, who even by usual American standards lacks any legitimacy, has been quite happy to rattle his sabres at China as if he had the whole population behind him enthusiastically chanting, 'World War Three! World War Three!'
If nobody is paying any attention you can demand, threaten and claim anything you like--the electorate is just a nuisance which gets in the way. So although everybody loathes privatisation, both the major British parties state with absolute certainty that there is no alternative to it. On social welfare, taxation, education and health, the view of the vast majority finds no reflection in the party mainstream. The politicians know what is wanted, but they don't care. They become smug, complacent, even boastful.
Just listen to Robin Cook's claims for himself in that Guardian survey: 'Breaking the deadlock in the Lockerbie case; defending Kosovo; saving lives and relieving suffering in Sierra Leone; contributing to the fall of Milosevic [only contributing, Robin? How modest of you]; transforming Britain's relationship with Europe; rebuilding respect for Britain in the world.'
Such a colossus has presided over the foreign policy of the country for the past four years, yet I bet like me you blinked and missed the sheer marvel of the man. They talk as if we're fools, treat us with contempt, disregard our opinions and in the end rather wish we weren't there at all. All the more reason to vote Socialist Alliance!