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Nick Cohen plays the blame game


12:39 am - January 27th 2009

by Neil Robertson    


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So when I read this, my first thought was: is there anything Nick Cohen hasn’t blamed the left for recently? Let’s face it, if the guy’s taking up more column inches than usual, it’s normally because he’s found an inventive way of trashing his former comrades.

Anyway, aside from decrying the lifestyles of the super-rich and the increased polarisation of wealth in Blair/Brown’s Britain, Cohen’s substantive  argument is that New Labour could’ve moved Britain away from the Thatcherite consensus, been less lavish in its spending and cultivated an economy less reliant on financial services. Cohen posits that New Labour’s legacy will be a self-harming slavishness to lawless, reckless financiers to the expense of us all.

cohenblame

There’s an element of truth to this; I’m sure all of us, if we knew then what we know now, would’ve made different decisions, and governments are no different. Perhaps we should also have been more prudent in our expenditure, though we should also remember just how badly Britain’s public services needed investment when Labour came to power – it wasn’t like Blair had inherited the Sistine Chapel.

But what’s ignored in Cohen’s analysis is the extent to which those figures whose avarice and greed he blames for creating this crisis were also partly responsible for facilitating Labour’s ascent to power in the first place.

As the conventional wisdom tells us, New Labour was only taken seriously once it had reassured the city, and it only reassured the city when it promised to leave them alone. If Blair had promised in ‘97 to radically reconfigure the British economy in such a way that we would’ve been insulated from the sub-prime fallout, would he have enjoyed the same kind of electoral success? Would he have been able to secure the sustained & necessary public service investment?

To that, I’m not sure we can offer an answer which doesn’t rely on wild hypothesising, and that’s why Cohen’s hindsight-filled fuming falls a little flat.

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About the author
Neil Robertson is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He was born in Barnsley in 1984, and through a mixture of good luck and circumstance he ended up passing through Cambridge, Sheffield and Coventry before finally landing in London, where he works in education. His writing often focuses on social policy or international relations, because that's what all the Cool Kids write about. He mostly blogs at: The Bleeding Heart Show.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Labour party ,Media ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Is there not a chance that the headline was a sub-editor taking the piss?

Do you know what his new book’s name is?

*Finds wall – bangs head several times*

Labour needed those funders to get elected, we all know that. What I didn’t expect was them to buy into the Conservative bullshit and take it on as Labour policy – as has happened over these last few years.

The “Labour” government is not a left-wing social democratic party of government. They are right of centre to such a degree you cannot really tell the difference.

As the conventional wisdom tells us, New Labour was only taken seriously once it had reassured the city, and it only reassured the city when it promised to leave them alone. If Blair had promised in ‘97 to radically reconfigure the British economy in such a way that we would’ve been insulated from the sub-prime fallout, would he have enjoyed the same kind of electoral success?

Quite true.

And no matter what anyone says – much akin to the US; it was on Bush’s watch that this happened, the same will be said of Brown. But it isn’t just that he was PM at the time – it is everything else that goes with it – you can say “It’s about the economy, stupid!” But this next election will be fought with civil liberties and rights in mind. And I, for one, welcome that stance, too.

But this next election will be fought with civil liberties and rights in mind.

A tenner says it won’t. And a grand says that even if civil liberties are mentioned once or twice on the stump, they won’t be a significant concern for an incoming Tory government.

they won’t be a significant concern for an incoming Tory government.

Couldn’t agree more. This Tory government is paving the way for the next.

#4. John B, believe it or not, I agree.
As far as NIck Cohen is concerned, in spite of his Iraq delusions, when he’s on about his analysis of Britain, home news and Labour, he mostly gets it right.

I bet he is an ex-smoker

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/oct/28/afghanistan.politics

I wonder if he has ever even been to Afghanistan though? (I will organise a reception committee for him if he goes)

When Brown gave independence to the Bank of England he did not define of the requirements to assess debt and the creation of asset bubbles only control inflation. A former chairman of the Fed bank of the USA has said that “the duty of the central banker is to take away the punch bowl just as the party has started to get going “. This is to stop asset bubbles , such as occurred prior to 1929 and the “South Sea Bubble”.

Brown did not create a clear and comprehensive regulation of the financial markets beteen the Bof E, FSA and Treasury. In particular the derrivatives market is not regulated. W Buffet has called derrivatives ” weapons of mass financial destruction”. Soros has warned of the lack of control of the financial markets since 2003. Prior to independence , the Bof E had de facto responsibility for all aspects of the financial makets and prided itself on keeping it’s ear to the ground and intervening behind the scenes to maintain stability. Once when Wilson said the UK was bankrupt he created a run on the pound. It was only the Governor of the B of E speaking to all the central bankers and privately giving his word that the UK was not bankrupt which prevented a massive run on the pound. The reputation of the Governor’s competence and probity meant his word was trusted. Would anyone today have such trust?

V Cable warned of national , corporate and private debt in 2003. In 2005 or was 2006 , Foxton sold his estate agency business for £330m- obviously he saw what was going to happen. In 1997 Brown inherited a rapidly growing economy which continued to expand. By 2000 there was a surplus . By 2003, after 3 years of Brown’s spending spree, Cable was warning of the risk from debt – he was ridiculed.

The inability of Labour to create a high quality scientific and engineering education system means we lack the personnel to expand our manufacturing base and move to more advanced and profitable production. When retired professors of engineering from Imperial College who are F. Eng complain about decining standards of those coming up to university, we have a problem.

So Cohen is correct in part to blame Labour for the problems- they have been in power for 11.5 years.

As far as NIck Cohen is concerned, in spite of his Iraq delusions, when he’s on about his analysis of Britain, home news and Labour, he mostly gets it right

I think that’s mostly true, and it’s certainly the case that this piece is motivated by the best intentions, but I still find it a strange brew. He praises Labour’s investment in public services before going on to attack state profligacy with the tory line that they didn’t fix the roof when the sun was shining. Then he concedes the wisdom of Labour making a ‘bargain with the markets’, before going on to attack the lack of regulation & a reliance on a flimsy financial services sector. There’s no real indication of what Cohen thinks Labour should’ve specifically done to make Britain credit crunch proof, nor any consideration of whether it would’ve been politically possible during the Blair years.

The inability of Labour to create a high quality scientific and engineering education system means we lack the personnel to expand our manufacturing base and move to more advanced and profitable production. When retired professors of engineering from Imperial College who are F. Eng complain about decining standards of those coming up to university, we have a problem.

I find the argument that we should have a better scientific & engineering base quite compelling, actually. But just out of curiosity, is it not perhaps a little too soon to say that Labour’s failed on this front? I mean, the kids who entered school in 1997 are only just taking their GCSEs. Is it not better to make our judgements in a few years time, when they’ve passed through the GCSE/A-Level/Degree system and moved into the job market?

Neil here’s my humble answer to your piece:
http://mymarilyn.blogspot.com/2009/01/labour-and-blame-game.html

The “Labour” government is not a left-wing social democratic party of government. They are right of centre

Sorry but this is a complete falsehood. What right-wing government would pursue a policy of ‘full employment’, which is what Brown tried to do at the Exchequer for a decade?

What about the HRA, multiculturalism, Lords reform (which was botched, admittedly), the attempt to take Britain into the Euro, the deeper integration with Europe in general and the repeal of Section 28?

The Labour party shifted ostensibly to the centre in terms of economics (clause IV etc) but this was just a way for it to implement its left-wing policy of public sector growth and ‘full employment’. Brown genuinely thought he had ended the economic cycle of boom/bust – what right-wing politician would claim to have done that?

On social and cultural issues, Labour shifted demonstrably to the left under Blair. Remember that he spoke of a ‘progressive century’. In terms of its attitudes to tradition and morality, Labour is very leftist.

Do any Labour MPs support capital punishment or anti-abortion legislation? Because there were plenty who supported both back in the 50s. And you think the party has shifted right?!

#11 Cicero: Sorry but this is a complete falsehood. What right-wing government would pursue a policy of ‘full employment’, which is what Brown tried to do at the Exchequer for a decade?
But how delusional and Anglo-centric can you be?
What policy of full employment? New Labour changed the Labour market forever. In line with most western governments, under their watch employment shifted immensely towards casual and temping labour. Unemplyment went down, but the number of people on a liveable wage, on permanent contracts and the guarantees of a while back shrank dramatically.
In terms of unemployment figures, the economy simply followed the trends of the time.

What about the HRA, multiculturalism, Lords reform (which was botched, admittedly), the attempt to take Britain into the Euro, the deeper integration with Europe in general and the repeal of Section 28?
Attempts to bring Britain into the Euro? Assuming that’s a “leftist” thing to do, when exactly did they pursue that? I must have blinked.
The repeal of Section 28. They hesitated like FUCK, until 7 years into their government then finally repeal something not even the Tories were bothered with anymore.
However, I will admit that civil rights for same sex couples improved under Labour’s watch. But again, you’ve got to look at the wider picture.

Lord reforms. Please.

Deeper integration with Europe? After Iraq, Britain became as far remote from the main Eu players as it;s ever been!

Brown genuinely thought he had ended the economic cycle of boom/bust – what right-wing politician would claim to have done that?
Yes and Blair genuinelly thought he had a direct line to God. Is it something to be proud of? Whatever the delusion these people have/had, it’s hardly something to boast!

On social and cultural issues, Labour shifted demonstrably to the left under Blair. Remember that he spoke of a ‘progressive century’. In terms of its attitudes to tradition and morality, Labour is very leftist.
You were obviously asleep durting Labour’s relentless attack on civil liberties, the David Blunkett-years, restrictions on protests, the ID scheme, detention plans, etc… Hello?

Do any Labour MPs support capital punishment or anti-abortion legislation? Because there were plenty who supported both back in the 50s. And you think the party has shifted right?!
But that’s the whole trend in Europe. I can tell you though that, unlike their centre-left counterparts in Germany, Spain and France, Labour are very very shy in opnely defending those rights.

You are on a planet I have yet to visit Claude you are sending transmissions for the outer nuts ring of the ninny na na noo system . Right wing …. what a load of …
Firstly what on earth is the point to take Europe an area which has conspicuously and unusually slipped into sclerotic socialism as a marker . Just about every stupid law we get comes with “In Line with Europe” on the tin .We have been the worst performing economy in the Anglosphere because we have done much the same
What about the shift from the private Sector to the Public Sector mostly on administration at a time when administration costs were being slashed everywhere else .We over took Germany as a Statist countryPublic Sector salaries and pension has gone up far faster than private Sector equivalents and Debt/taxes have been allowed to grow to fund all this . What do you want the establishment of Soviet crèches , oh yes we got that as well. Public Spending has increased by 30% or £55 billion pa adjusted .( God knows what it will be now that`s prior to the new calls on the state )
Immigration has quintupled under Blair /Brown, a promised referendum on Europe has been denied on the grounds it would have been lost. No Conservative government would have done this. Marriage has been undermined by a punitive tax system and a culture of idleness has been encouraged, until very recently with 2 million throwing a sicky. No way would the Conservative Party have tolerated that.
The Liberal certainties of rehabilitation have been observed, the police politicised and as for education it is the classic case of throw money at it and hope for the best. No reform no choice and selection resisted at every turn
Brown even tried to stop the academy scheme as well as crush the tiny amount of market input in the NHS, all of this would have proceeded far further under a Conservative Government.
Waste high taxes trendy dismantling of institutions bloated welfare selling out the country to Europe what on earth do you want ? A calamatious regulatory burden placed on small business ? You got it !

Think on your foolish words and repent Claude for truly you are a idiot

Newmania, if we have to start insulting, what are you then?

What are the moderators doing?

What policy of full employment? New Labour changed the Labour market forever. In line with most western governments, under their watch employment shifted immensely towards casual and temping labour. Unemplyment went down, but the number of people on a liveable wage, on permanent contracts and the guarantees of a while back shrank dramatically.
In terms of unemployment figures, the economy simply followed the trends of the time.

I didn’t say they’d succeeded, just that they’d followed a policy of ‘full employment’. Such policies always fail, of course, because government cannot create long-term jobs; not productive ones anyway.

A right-wing government would pursue a strict monetarist policy with the aim of stabilising inflation, which is what Thatcher attempted in her early years.

Alright Claude you are probably a very nice person and not as I may have suggested a deluded alien you are however so exceedingly wrong that I am not sure that having only recently arrived on the planet is not the kindest interpretation I can put on your “ contribution”. I would also like to withdraw the word “idiot ” and replace it with the words ” differently clever”.

Quite right Claude we must be polite

You were obviously asleep durting Labour’s relentless attack on civil liberties, the David Blunkett-years, restrictions on protests, the ID scheme, detention plans, etc… Hello?

How many Tories supported or voted in favour of these attacks? You think the destruction of liberty is right-wing?

Right-wingers value liberty – the freedom to do as one pleases until one breaks the law. Left-wingers value ‘positive’ freedom – the right to A, the right to B and so on. Labour are well and truly signed up to positive freedom – they believe in a state-managed utopia.

If you can’t see this then I’m afraid you’re so deluded as to not deserve your freedom.

Simply put, insulting people makes your argument (already lame) even weaker.
Hence, no need.

What poor definitions. If liberty is the freedom to as one pleases until one breaks the law then you have no less liberty if a string of offences are created criminalising until-now normal behaviour. And the distinction between “positive” and “negative” freedom is daft too; any example of the former can be rephrased as the latter.

Cicero, #18,
If being against Labour’s detention plans makes me right wing, so be it.
By the way does Tony Blair’s acquiescence to Guantanamo also make me ‘unworthy’ of my freedom?

10. Neil. compare the standards of A levels in maths , further maths, physics, chemistry and biology between 1997 and now. In many universities , the first year of a degree course in science /engineering is just covering the old A level syllabus . It used to be the case that most who took science A levels took the O Level /GSCE in Maths a year early. The combining the O level and CSE to form the GSCE meant that when people started the A level , their knowledge was less. The A level course had to be reduced in rigour because GSCEs were easier than O Levels. Previously, when people started A level Physics or Chemistry they had completed a year of claculus. Therefore , Physicsand Chemistry teachers could teach by derriving equations using calculus.

China and India are producing tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of graduates in science and engineering; we are producing graduates wth degrees in media studies. Who is going to design tidal barrages to produce green electricity; graduates in cultural and media studies or civil , mechanical and electrical engineers? Who is going to build these structures; an idle workshy slap dash workforce or a highly skilled hardworking one capable of construction to exceptionally high levels of precision and accuracy? If pupils leave school with the wrong attitude to work then foreigners will be employed. The problem is that some employers think those from the Baltic Countries and Poland are better workers than the British are happy to pay them UK salaries. A pupil who as been allowed to drift through school ( or even skive off it) and has been allowed to develop a slap dash, indifferent attitude to work is highly unlikely to become a highly skilled craftsman dedicated to producing excellence.

(already lame)

So lame your response is to curl up in the foetal position , and if you imagine the left wingery of Blair / Brown stops there you are even more of an “At Risk of being not that bright ” individual than I thought . Its an absurd position to take and I doubt anyone could defend it . Were you aware that if spending were at 97 levels we would all pay no income tax , that debt paid off by this government was only during the years when they were committed to Conservative spending plans . From then on its has been a deficit every year

Banning Fox hunting with 1000 hours of debate whereas we have not had a word in actual Parliament about the economy since November ? I suppose that might just as easily have been the Conservative Party. Want about the plan to over rule loval planning and dump 3,000,0000 of new houses on the SE 2,000,000 of which would have been inhabited by immigrants yet to get here .
Nicholas Soames and Frank Field ( a sort of Labour MP now almost extinct ) have been drawing attention to this . Caroline F,lint ! She sums it up . A half baked degree at East Anglia for American history and she gets given a Seat inhabited by Mining Union Labour MPs since the year dot on a Babe ticket. She continues to be as useless as you would expect finally ending up with destroying the regions working mens clubs with her bossy unpleasant attitude to smokers . Do you think the Conservative Party would have done that . What about Harperosn for christs sake , what Conservative wants white men to be legally discriminated against and class to be taken into account in employment ?
As I say alien life form is about as ,mind as I can be but you pretend you are too upset to say a word …plenty more where that came from .

“There’s no real indication of what Cohen thinks Labour should’ve specifically done to make Britain credit crunch proof, nor any consideration of whether it would’ve been politically possible during the Blair years.”

This has been the consistent problem with Cohen’s ‘analysis’ throughout his journey from Red Pepper Blair basher to wherever he is now.

Even when he’s slagging off the left, I find many of his positions appealing on a moral basis, the problem is that he struggles to relate them convincingly to the real practical choices that politicians have and the things that might actually have happened as a result.

John B @ 4 is probably spot on.

But this next election will be fought with civil liberties and rights in mind.

A tenner says it won’t. And a grand says that even if civil liberties are mentioned once or twice on the stump, they won’t be a significant concern for an incoming Tory government.

Indeed, civil liberties aren’t an election winning issue. We can hope, perhaps, that with some lobbying the Tories (if in power) would rescind some of the stuff they said they would regarding civil liberties but I actually think the debate about liberties is best kept to the actual discussions that take place in parliament. Next election is going to all be about jobs, spending less on “scoungers”, tightening up immigration and growing the economy again, both the Tory and Labour rhetoric make it so.

Charlie,

Interesting thoughts. If you’re correct about falling standards in the teaching of the sciences, the question then is how do we improve it? We now have ‘golden hellos’ to attract new teachers, but it’s still true that a half decent scientist or mathematician will be able to find a less stressful, better paid profession than teaching when they graduate.

Also, if standards are falling as you say they are, to what extent is standardised testing, league tables and the politically-driven desire to constantly raise test scores responsible for a dilution in the rigour of the examination process? If we’re going to compete with China & India, we really have to get this part of the process right.

China and India are producing tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of graduates in science and engineering; we are producing graduates wth degrees in media studies

China and India’s comparative advantage is in low-value-add manufacturing and data crunching, ours is in media. Sounds like our qualification system is reflecting that well.

Who is going to design tidal barrages to produce green electricity; graduates in cultural and media studies or civil , mechanical and electrical engineers?

a), fairly obviously. But who’s going to write about the barrages in the press; carry out PR and marketing for bidders and win the public argument for the schemes; and create business cases for building them?

Who is going to build these structures; an idle workshy slap dash workforce or a highly skilled hardworking one capable of construction to exceptionally high levels of precision and accuracy?

a and b, depending on cost-effectiveness. Probably b) for precision-machining the turbines and a) for shifting trucks of sand about the place.

A right-wing government would pursue a strict monetarist policy with the aim of stabilising inflation, which is what Thatcher attempted in her early years.

Ah yes, those fantastic-for-all-concerned Early Years Of Thatcher, which proved beyond doubt that monetarists are T3h Excellent.

john b . 1000s of scientists from China and India will soon have masters and doctorates from Imperial, UCL, Oxford and Cambridge. The engineers of Shell, BP and Rio Tinto do develop a business case prior to investing £Billions in a project. Who was more important I K Brunel or the reporter writing for a newspaper?

Many public schools are starting to use IGSCE which are similar to O Levels or IB- perhaps comprehensives should follow. Introduce high quality craft training in schools for those who want it post 14 years of age. Teach maths , physics and chemistry to plumbers and electricians.
Re introduce the old polytechnics so craftsmen can study in the evening and become chartered engineers. Many craftsmen with families cannot afford to leave work to study. Move 75% of the budget for post 16 humanities education into science , engineering and craft training. Re introduce discipline into schools. Faith schools do well because they can expel the trouble makers. Re -introduce reform schools to which the trouble makers from comprehesives can be sent. If a teacher spends 50% of the time trying to quieten a class down , then total teaching time is reduced . As friend who taught in a one of the comprehensives in the most violent parts of the UK said ” I am not involved in teaching but riot control and behavious management”. In India , China and the East there is respect for education and scholarship. Therefore, even in the poorest areas there is little or no disruption in classes. D Abbott sent her son to the city of London Boys School, Blair and Harman to London Oratory and Harman another son to a grammar school in Kent.( better than many public schools).

Until Labour introduces discipline into schools which includes punishing those who disrupt the education of others, then excellence cannot be achieved. If 25% of class or a school are trouble makers then one is not involved in education but riot control. Aspirational parents will move from an area if the schools are poor. Increasingly sciences and modern languages are becoming the preserve of public and grammar schools, especially where grade As at A level are required to enter the best universities. Therefore Labour has increased the social divide by allowing standards in many schools to plummet and allowing pupils in comprehensives to take easy GSCEs and A Levels ;rather than the harder ones such as maths, further maths,chemistry, physics,biology and modern languages. The investment banks recruited engineers from the likes of Imperial not humanities graduates from Thames Valley University.

We need to look at the best scientific and engineering training in the World and surpass it. We are falling down the international league tables for maths and science.

New Labours mistake was to believe the Right wing hype of Thatcherism. The real tragedy for liberals and the left is that this free market created catastrophe has occurred on their watch. From the moment of Reagan/Thatcher’s deregulated revolution this shit storm was always on the cards. Just like 1929 all over again.

In America the disaster has happened under the most appropriate govt, GW Bush. The most Right wing President in a generation. A man who made Nixon look like a raving leftie has presided over the total destruction of the world banking system, all in the name of laissez fare economics.

The problem is that New Labour has always been terrified of the right wing tabloids, and we can just imagine 5 years ago if Brown had called for tighter regulations and more restrictions on speculators. The Cameron’s of this world and the Tory Right would have screamed ‘socialism.’ New Labour would have offended Rupert Murdoch and that was not something that Blair would not allow.

If being against Labour’s detention plans makes me right wing, so be it.

Join the club!

If liberty is the freedom to as one pleases until one breaks the law then you have no less liberty if a string of offences are created criminalising until-now normal behaviour.

You’ve touched on a crucial point, which is that the law is precious (if one believes in the rule of law). Hence right-wingers (from traditionalists to libertarians) are against Labour’s legislative jamboree in which 1000s of new laws were created – mostly to give more power to the State.

…the distinction between “positive” and “negative” freedom is daft too

No, it’s perhaps the most profound difference between right and left-wing politics. Please do some reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_liberty
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_liberty

32. Shatterface

I don’t remember the freedoms enjoyed in Pinochet’s Chile or the similar economically liberal regimes in Uraguay, Argentina, etc. They looked like fascist dictatorships to me.


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