Monday, 14 September 2009

Peter Mandelson breathes some much needed life into Labour

In a brief note: For a minute I thought I was going to lose it… too be drifted back to the traditionalist side of the Labour party, which places an overwhelming focus onto the lower paid and away from the other portions of the nation. This is not a note to disparage members with alternative views completely – after all they are still decent and totally principled people whose contributions are utterly valuable to the party as a whole. However the merciless poll ratings, slaughters on the death of New Labour and revivals from Cruddas and others characters harking back to Hardie and Attlee seemed to convince me that New Labour was, well and truly, dead.

I have thankfully performed a u-turn thanks to Mandelson’s excellent speech on how New Labour has to fight back briskly and unashamedly against the reactionary forces of Conservatism, led with vigour by Cameron, Osborne and Gove. He reaffirmed New Labour’s commitment to balancing choice and diversity with a wise and flexible state – the most ideal way of performing politics.

Take it for granted, it was certainly a typical Tory-bashing speech in many ways, but it was packed with the energy, evidence and vigour that made New Labour so exciting in the first place. What made Mandelson’s speech even more impressive was his successful demonstration of one of New Labour’s core values – reshaping the state to contemporary needs – in the fiscal stimulus which has saved this country and the world from diving nose-first down under the deep sea of depression. The fiscal stimulus, which has been effectively emulated by Obama across the Atlantic, was pivotal in rescuing a system so interwoven into our socio-economic fabric that without it, there would have been a crash of business and employment unseen since the 1930s. The most recent memory of a similar contemporary crisis occurring in Britain was the recessions in 1980/81 and 1990-93. In the first wave, the experiment in monetarism was taken to the level of sado-monetarism by the Thatcher government; a decade later, Thatcherite Chancellor, Norman Lamont declared that high unemployment was a “price worth paying” for enduring a recession as deep as that one.

The enduring sign that the Tories have not shifted their skin and ideas is how they still pay tribute to the Thatcher years almost unapologetically, whilst Labour was bold enough to take a break from our history – appreciating what the previous governments of Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan had done, yet we managed to break the old mould of thinking to provide one new and fresh. What’s more – the presence of Daniel Hannan, a vituperative, NHS-hating neo-liberal MEP, as a favourite amongst the grassroots of the Tory party demonstrate how unreconstructed and outmoded socially, culturally, politically and economically they are. Even recent surveys in publications like the Economist of many Conservative Parliamentary candidates’ views predict many are more right-wing and reactionary than the 1992-2005 intakes.

Mandelson’s words are of valuable progression, especially in the face of such reactionary forces.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Classic Book Review – When Shrimps Learn to Whistle by Denis Healey (1991)

In a new century faced with a new set of daunting international political and economic problems, politicians of all colours are frequently told to look back at history to gain an idea of how to prevent ourselves from repeating the same cycle of events again. An excellent book extolling this learning from history virtue is Denis Healey’s almost forgotten work, When Shrimps Learn to Whistle. Prior to the contemporary works of former Conservative MP, Chris Patten, Healey, a former Labour Defence Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, held the mantle as the most authoritative Westminster voice on foreign affairs, effortlessly gracing many prominent themes with grace, wit, intelligence and common sense. Wisely printing this book as a historical reference for the challenges of the 1990s, it is necessary to look at it for the 21st century.

This book is a collection of essays written over a 44 year period from 1947 till 1991 covering, Communism and Social Democracy, Nuclear Weapons, Gorbachev’s Russia, The Gulf War, European Unity and the then new age neo-liberal economics pursued by the United States and Great Britain. He works out a great understanding in foreign affairs, getting down to the nuts and bolts of a problem effortlessly – detailed while not overbearing.

The chapters on the neo-liberal economic revolution (written before and after Black Monday of 1987) and the 1991 Gulf War waged by then-President George H.W. Bush against Saddam Hussein seem eerily prescient in the light of the 21st Century War on Terror as well as the contemporary credit crunch. In the midst of the 1987 crisis, Healey aptly describes the crash as the combination of ruthless globalisation, innovation and deregulation “operated by a mafia of gilded young lemmings… interested only in numbers and never relate the numbers to the economic realities which lie buried at the bottom of the heap of numbers”. In the wake of the merciless recklessness of bankers and financiers of more recent years, one can notice a distinct parallel with today’s crisis. Likewise his commentary on George Bush Snr’s “unwise” Gulf War which threatened to “produce a worldwide holy war against Anglo-Saxons” unfortunately came true with George Bush Jnr’s escapade in Iraq in 2003.

The other chapters, noticeably on NATO, non-nuclear weapons and international diplomacy show that there can be a world without war and rhetorical aggression, replaced by humane understanding and pragmatism instead of ruthless, uncompromising dogma and ideology.

After the advent of 9/11, we as a world society find ourselves trapped in another West vs East battle of political values – replacing Communism with Islamic fundamentalism. Do we dare continue to engage in violent rhetoric and botched invasions (Afghanistan and Iraq) as well as a useless stalemate? Or do we contemplate the pragmatic diplomatic options Healey witnessed and helped to create after the darkness of World War Two? Read this book to help make up your mind.