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The Third Way to Nowhere

by RICHARD RHAMES

“The emergence of politicians-without-politics, and of PR machine parties without core support has made the electoral system more arbitrary and fickle… Few voters really care either way — and with justification.”

Mike Hume,  4/29/08

May Day, a time for the working class to ponder and celebrate its traditions and accomplishments brought bad news for so-called New Labour in recent British elections. In London’s mayoral election, even long-time incumbent Kenneth “Red Ken” Livingstone was narrowly defeated. It was that kind of day. Livingstone never really warmed up to the rightward drift of Britain’s traditional Labour Party. Years back, Tony Blair tried expelling him from the “Labour caucus” and announced that he would be a “disaster” if elected mayor. Londoners went on to reject Mr. Blair’s advice. Repeatedly.

Ultimately, of course, Britain rejected Mr. Blair and, it would appear, what he and his henchmen have done to the Labour  Party. For, just as in the US  where Bill Clinton, Joe Leiberman, Bob Kerrey and other corporate minions engineered the destruction of the 20th century New Deal party, so too in England, Blair and company savaged Labour. They asserted that there was a “Third Way” between the traditional interests and platforms of Right and Left. By adopting much of the Thatcher-ite rhetoric and tendencies on fiscal policy, privatization, “free” trade, and the rest — New Labour became Thatcher-lite.

Among the Clinton-clone New Democrats, it was assumed that working people and other traditional party constituencies had “nowhere else to go.” Since the base could safely be taken for granted — even insulted and punished — the blow-dried and telegenic candidates were now free to court the opposition vote.

Labour squandered much of its apparently overwhelming political capital through Blair’s “junior-partnership” in the American war of opportunity against Iraq. But, most UK press accounts seem to agree that the May massacre may be largely a result of their failure to protect workers’ economic interests.

The latest galling affront was new prime minister Gordon Brown’s policy making Britain’s income tax less progressive. Recent — 4/6/08 — elimination of the lowest 10 percent tax bracket (or “10p band”) has pushed England’s lowest paid workers into paying at a 20 percent rate. There were various rebates and other flavorings to make the medicine go down but nobody was fooled.
Labour MP Jon Cruddas told Sunday Mirror  readers, “Over the last few years Labour has been losing elections because millions of our core supporters have decided to stay home on election days… Let’s not mess about — our people are abandoning us, we’re sinking fast… The senseless 10p band row hurt us — but it’s only one example of where we’re going wrong. Hitting hard-working people in their pocket is not bright — but the strategists thought it was. You see they needed some cash so they could cut taxes for the so-called middle-class swing voters.”

Does any of this sound familiar?

Cruddas continued, “The New Labour attitude that you can kick the workers from pillar to post because ‘they’ve got nowhere else to go’ has reached its ludicrous conclusion with [this] election… [T]he picture for Labour was bleak. The people we have let down found someone else to vote for after all… There has been a rupture between the political-class and the working-class.”
Cruddas cited the “crumbs of comfort in the fact that Ken Livingstone bucked the trend and kept core Labour support on board. He has never played by Westminster rules. But even for him it wasn’t enough.”

In this new, supposedly post-political Anglo-American world,  what passes for debate is a sorry, debauched, and infantilized shadow-play. If the political class has divorced itself from the working class (and it obviously has) then one might as well enjoy the show. It’s wet t-shirt mud wrestling time.

In this reactionary era, the political has become personal. So the London mayor’s race became about “Ken and Boris.” It was a first name affair. Livingstone’s Tory challenger was one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. The former editor of The Spectator , a journalist, television personality and Conservative MP, the King’s Scholar at Eaton and Oxford alum was known for  campaign purposes as “Boris.”

The press loved attaching other b-words to Boris’s nom de guerre: “Boyish” for his looks, “Bonking” for his celebrity trysting, “Bumbling” for his careless  outrages. In one infamous article from 2002 Johnson had berated Tony Blair’s trips to Africa — arriving, Boris sneered, as “the tribal warriors … break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief.” He also alleged that the Queen made such trips because of the “regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.”

Bumbling Boris responded to criticism by saying that he was “sad” that anyone might have taken “offense.” London’s future mayor assured a distracted public: “I despise and loathe racism.” Good enough. Apparently.

London Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown notes that, during this time Johnson “delivered apologies like pizzas to the various groups he gratuitously offended.”

The campaign of personal sniping and (by American standards) dexterous word play has yielded London a mayor who supported attacking both Iraq and the Kyoto treaty. He opposes Red Ken’s “congestion tax” on big cars in the capitol, and anti-discrimination laws. Instead he supposedly favors “good manners.”

Alibhai-Brown warned on April 21 that “Londoners would be mad to vote for Boris.” She bemoaned the looming election as a flawed exercise: It “shames democracy itself. We lurch between democratic duty and an enervating loss of will.”

US voters face an even more grotesquely trifling set of candidates in a similar context of party structures largely emptied of traditional purpose and meaning.  The leading Democratic presidential contender  dedicates himself to removing the political from politics. He pretends to oppose another  New Democrat who pretends to have opposed NAFTA, and premature death from lack of insurance.

Bad show.

Bollocks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: rrhames@xpressamerica.net

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