This was New Labour’s greatest achievement


by Sunny Hundal    
11:00 am - July 8th 2010

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When talking of New Labour’s achievements of the last thirteen years, I distinctly get the impression most people don’t see it as I do. Furthermore, many lefties disillusioned with Labour can’t even bring themselves to talk of ‘achievements’.

But there is, I think, an important reason to talk about it now.

There are two battlegrounds that have defined differences between the left and right (in Western Europe and North America) over the last 70 years or so: a war over over social issues and a war on economic issues.

The war on social issues has broadly been won by the left.

On the economy, the war is defined not so much as between the working classes and middle classes, but more on the size of the welfare state. The size of the welfare state remains the cornerstone of how left-wing governments define themselves.

And so, expanding the size of the welfare state and making it central to people’s lives, despite Thatcher’s best attempts to destroy it, was one of New Labour’s greatest achievements. And by that I mean expenditure on the NHS, on public transport, on public works, on the arts and of course on unemployment benefits.

New Labour spent so much money expanding the welfare state that libertarians still cry into their cornflakes in the mornings while reading dodgy economics.

New Labour built Sure Start centres, they drastically cut NHS waiting lists and they poured billions into public transport. They pouredbillions into upgrading schools. Not only do many people dismiss this lightly, they fail to understand the ideological point behind it.

The welfare state is key to the success of economic redistribution. And in order to maintain popularity for the welfare state it has to fulfil two criteria: it has to be universal; and it has to improve people’s lives to the point they feel they have a stake in it.

The problem was that Gordon Brown over-reached himself, and the financial crash not only wiped out huge tax revenues but also gave the Tories a pretext to reverse the massive gains made to expand the welfare state.

The Tories need to shrink the state for ideological reasons because the less people have contact with it, the less they’ll support it.

By putting it in those explicit terms I want to make a few points:

1) Labour MPs and activists frequently make the criticism that liberal-left bloggers are far too obsessed by issues like the database state, foreign policy, CCTV, PFI schemes etc without understanding the totality of what they’re trying. I think some of this is valid.

2) I thought many missed the point about Ed Miliband’s comments on the benefits system. Sure, New Labour did use a lot of negative language, but it’s naive to assume people won’t talk about “benefits cheats” just because the Labour government didn’t. The Daily Mail cannot be wished away. And so I’m assuming New Labour simply made the calculation that sounding harsh on benefit cheats in public would convince the public something was being done about them – and keep faith in the system. Because once that faith goes, then the system goes.

And I was pleased that Ed wanted to find ways to make the welfare state more universal and extensible to maintain its support (because he gets the ideological point). I think the left needs to come up with innovative ideas and solutions to make that happen.

3) To then say there is no difference between New Labour and the Tories is, I think, also disingenuous. The Tories are as ideological as New Labour was, and their aim will be to drastically reduce the size of the welfare state and make it a soul-destroying experience. They’ll want people to hate the NHS and public transport so they no longer rely on the state to provide that. New Labour philosophy was, broadly and simplistically, the opposite of that. There is a huge difference.

And finally, the same applies to Democrats across the pond. The New York Times made this case recently, and I made it earlier when I criticised John Pilger (for damning Obama over foreign policy and calling him GW Bush 2.0, while ignoring healthcare).

I concede the point, in advance, that New Labour’s loose regulation of financial markets ultimately brought down their biggest achievement.

Nevertheless, for a little while, millions of people across the country got a glimpse of how the state could work for them. If the Tories go too far in taking that way, they might just punish them for it.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. Rowan Davies

I think DFID was New Labour’s greatest achievement, m’self.

But agree that it was v heartening to see Ed M make the case for universal benefits in your interview yesterday. Wish he could bring himself to be a bit more explicit about it, but I’m glad that he seems to be essentially on-board. (I liked your feminism question too, and I liked his answer.)

2. gwenhwyfaer

Sorry, but I don’t buy that Labour were only sounding harsh on “benefits cheats” to win over the Daily Mail readership – and even if they were, that strategy has proven to be an abject failure. Why? Because it cedes the whole debate to the abolitionists.

It’s impossible to design a benefits system that doesn’t let someone take advantage of it – swing the lead, scrounge, whichever pejorative term someone wants to throw around. A favourite tactic of those who want to see the welfare state eliminated is to protest about the “horrendous level of fraud” in the system – because more than anything, it builds an image in people’s minds that everyone is at it. Benefit fraud becomes the only benefits story – and public opinion turns against it.

So the left should be approaching it from the point of view of saying “Look, some people are always going to swing the lead, whichever system we come up with. So we’re going to accept that, and concentrate on making sure that the people who need help get it quickly and with dignity, because that’s what civilised societies do.” And it isn’t enough to say it – the benefits system should be redesigned with this ethos in mind, without the arbitrary divisions and partitions that make it so easy for people to cry “fraud”. The days of full employment are behind us; a welfare system that does not reflect that is simply not fit for purpose, and a Labour party that will not stand up for welfare is no Labour party at all.

expanding the size of the welfare state and making it central to people’s lives, … was one of New Labour’s greatest achievements.

Why is making the welfare state “central to people’s lives” A Good Thing?

1) Labour MPs and activists frequently make the criticism that liberal-left bloggers are far too obsessed by issues like the database state, foreign policy, CCTV, PFI schemes etc without understanding the totality of what they’re trying. I think some of this is valid.

These MPs and activists appear to be making two assumptions:

1. That those bloggers are not interested in other issues;

2. That the ends always justify the means.

4. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

How much of that was Smith (ie – not new labour) and how much of it was Blair?

They’ll want people to hate the NHS and public transport so they no longer rely on the state to provide that.

They won’t, honestly. It’s an enduring political mistake (made by everyone) to ascribe infinite malice to the differing opinions of the opposition. Quite apart from anything else, if the government make people hate the NHS, it’ll be the government that gets the blame for it.

The example that’s closest to your argument though is education – the Tories genuinely do want people to prefer academy schools where the state is less intimately involved in provision – although still pays for it.

“I’m assuming New Labour simply made the calculation that sounding harsh on benefit cheats in public would convince the public something was being done about them – and keep faith in the system.”

If so this was a wrong calculation. Sounding harsh simply encourages the public to believe that their fears and prejudices are justified. Further,if they then find that the government is sounding harsh without (in their view) being harsh enough, they will blame it for that. And I believe the Fabians did some research which showed that public belief that benefit cheats were a problem had grown significantly during the New Labour era – illustrating the government’s miscalculation – even though the actual rates of benefit fraud had fallen during the same period. See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/britain-faces-return-to-victorian-levels-of-poverty-1831088.html

“And so I’m assuming New Labour simply made the calculation that sounding harsh on benefit cheats in public would convince the public something was being done about them”

I don’t buy this. So far, I’ve been angry with two things the coalition government has done. One was cave to 28% on CGT, and the other was the disability allowance provisions in the benefit cuts. The irony being, of course, that the latter was more just a continuation of previous anger. As someone – maybe Kate Belgrave? – put it here, Iain Duncan Smith found all the policies he needed in Jim Purnell’s filing cabinet. They didn’t just “sound harsh”, they followed through.

Mind you, I could quite believe that Labour started out with the calculation you cite and ended up believing what came out of their mouths. That would account for quite a lot of their second and third term.

The problem was that Gordon Brown over-reached himself

I’m not so sure, it looks to me the problem was GB was more interested in fighting Blair for the throne than regulating the bankers and banks that caused the economic mess we’re now paying for.

“The welfare state is key to the success of economic redistribution”

£1 Billion of money spent on high speed rail lines, would have far greater effect on economic redistribution than £1 Billion spent on welfare.

Also high speed rail has lasting benefit. Welfare once it is spent is gone.

Welfare redistribution is one of the reasons Labour was a total failure.

P.S. Something tells me nobody should mess with Danny Alexander. He’s rock.

Think gwenhwyfaer has it right on the money. It’s about selling the notion of the value and importance of state support where necessary, and Labour didn’t do that. Labour tried to have it both ways – putting money into hospitals, etc, and into the likes of Sure Start as Sunny rightly says, but at the same time, trying to grab the Daily Mail vote by demonising all people who use state systems by promoting the ASBO ideology and so on. Labour was saying that on the one hand, good state support for people who need it is important, but on the other, that people who utilise that support – as g puts it – swing the lead.

State support can and should be set up and sold as an enabler – support for people who need it, good education and healthcare for people who otherwise couldn’t afford it and so on. The likes of the NHS here, and social security in places like NZ, etc, were at one time seen as points of great national pride – people were pleased at this evidence that they’d reached a point in history where they could actively do something to protect themselves and each other from life’s worse aspects. Those systems were taken as evidence of a sort of sophistication. Labour needs to get back into selling the positives in that way, but it can’t while it’s trying to appealing to voters who only want to hear the scroungers’ line.The two narratives are mutually exclusive.

State support can and should be set up and sold as an enabler

Perhaps so.

But at 50% of GDP it has indeed “over-reached”, making it all-too-easy for the Tories to make the case for structural cuts.

Larger does not equal better.
In that sense it is not Labour’s greatest achievement.
It is Labour’s greatest folly.

cjcjc

I’m a larger equals better girl… but that aside, there is of course always reason to examine and justify public spend. I say that as a taxpayer who pays keen attention to the tax uplifted from her pay packet each month.

The point is that Labour failed because it couldn’t sell two conflicting narratives – a narrative that said investing in the public sector was important, and a narrative that said that people who use public services were scum. I’d also argue that Labour did itself no favours by misspending across the public sector – PFIs, endless consultants (Deloittes, Capita, BT – you name it), and various failed IT projects. There’s no point pouring billions into the public sector if it just walks out again in private sector pockets, and if people feel they discern no noticeable difference in service provision. That misspending also has given the anti-state brigade plenty of ammo when it comes to taking potshots at the public sector’s ability to manage and prioritise spending.

“The war on social issues has broadly been won by the left.”

No. the war on social issues has been won by the *liberals*. “Left” and “liberal” are not synonymous.

Current status on social issues is (largely), do as you wish as long as you’re not harming others. The very essence of the liberal ideal.

“a war on economic issues. ”

And I fervently hope that that one too will be won by the liberals. As, in fact, over the past 30 years or so it largely has been. When Denmark, that poster child for social democracy, can validly be described* as one of the most economically free and liberal places on the planet then I think we are at least getting there.

(Using the World Economic freedom measurement, leave aside “size of govt” and “marginal tax rates on income” and it *is* the most economically free country).

How big the State should be and how much redistribution there should be is an argument we can have later: first let’s agree that the waelth we want to redistribute is best generated by that classically liberal economy, just as the society we want, with the freedoms we want, is again that classically liberal one.

Re: 11. I’m with you more or less, but not simply because of the size of the deficit as obviously most of that isn’t the welfare burden, and the welfare burden increases during a recession by design so it becomes a red herring.

NL spent millions on improving schools and hospitals, but chucked huge tons of this money at shareholder-owned contractors and do-nothing consultants. They single handedly created an unregulated PFI market full of cowboys and chancers happy to provide as much old rope as NL could pay for.

Whatever ideological arguments you want to make about the large welfare state, the fact is that a huge amount of tax money was being scooped from the pockets of low-earners and dropped directly into the laps of upper-middle class shareholders as dividends. Teaching’s still bad, Hospitals will still kill you, and there’s still no affordable houses despite record construction profits up until 2007.

I’m in favour of welfare state expansion, make no mistake, but NL post-2001 made a horrifically bad case for it.

Really good piece Sunny.

I think you could add that some of the money was spent badly, but when Labour came to office the country’s infrastructure was pretty much knacked, and it has been considerably improved. So much of the current discourse on the economy just retweets Tory porkies, it’s important to start getting the rebuttals early.

There’s an interesting exception to the bigger-is-better pattern of state spending since 1997. It is, of course, the housing sector, and I think it’s key to understanding why, as others have said, Labour’s greatest achievement was also its greatest folly (fx tragic music).

I was looking at the 2003 Barker report on the affordibility crisis earlier.* Barker identified two key causes of the crisis: the lack of availability of land, and the risk-averseness of developers. The latter problem mostly solved itself via the rising market. And Labour sweetened the deal by reducing VAT to 0% on new builds, which was exceptionally beneficial to the biggest house builders, because they tend to build new-builds on massive new sites, whereas smaller five-man-band developers tend more often to redevelop existing buildings on small sites, which didn’t attract the new 0% rate. This all worked fine for as long as the big companies retained confidence in the housing market and kept building. But all that is coming apart now and they’re bricking it (ahaha).

Meanwhile, the former and more fundamental problem of land shortage still hasn’t been solved, and it isn’t a land shortage so much as a shortage of residential land. Redesignation of land use is still difficult and lengthy and hence expensive. It’s speculative, so guess what, the only people who have been doing it for the past ten years are speculators. And the people in the best position to speculate are obviously the biggest house builders. Who are now running scared. The big, the fundamental thing that could have set us on a course to resolve the crisis didn’t happen. Instead, Labour bought a lot of first time buyers a house, thereby taking sticking plaster policy to a new level.

Add to that the fact that social housing is one of the few parts of the public sector Labour didn’t throw gobs of money at, and you begin to get the sense of a deliberate reluctance to solve this particular problem. The reason for that reluctance, I assume, is that buoyant house prices fuelled the credit boom and hence tax revenues. One explanation for the shocking decision to lower CGT to 18% is that it was an attempt to reinflate the property investment sector.

So it does all look as if it proceeds from the original conceit of being “intensely relaxed”** about wealth so that you can tax it and use the proceeds in the public sector. This is related to the problem of conflicting narratives cited by Kate – in concrete (ahaha) form, if you like. At least in education or health, the basic premise did work, even if it wasn’t sustainable. But in the case of housing, it was a total non-starter, which is why we are where we are.

*Ok, the wikipedia entry.

** I’ve always thought that Lord Mandelvort was unfairly maligned for that phrase. Surely the whole point of saying “intensely” rather than just “very” or “happily” is that he is acknowledging the implicit tension. Which doesn’t mean he isn’t a footsoldier of Satan, of course.

I’m deeply impressed with the alternative coalition vision. As Cameron is reported as saying in a keynote speech today:

“As part of that, every government department will be required to publish structural reform plans setting out how they will put ‘people in charge, not politicians’.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jul/08/david-cameron-civil-servants-people-power

Fine. Translated, that means localism is now ascendant so when public services fail, it won’t be the fault of central government spending cuts, it will be fault of cash-strapped local government or the public for failing to volunteer to fill the gaps after public services have been stopped or slashed.

And I’m expected to swallow all that and cheer Cameron.

Why is making the welfare state “central to people’s lives” A Good Thing?

Because the welfare state offers public goods (incl health) that are sometimes better off provided universally, and because it’s redistributive.

How much of that was Smith (ie – not new labour) and how much of it was Blair?

Smith may have provided the ideological underpinning, but he was never in power. It’s Blair who implemented it.

Think gwenhwyfaer has it right on the money. It’s about selling the notion of the value and importance of state support where necessary, and Labour didn’t do that. Labour tried to have it both ways – putting money into hospitals, etc, and into the likes of Sure Start as Sunny rightly says, but at the same time, trying to grab the Daily Mail vote by demonising all people who use state systems by promoting the ASBO ideology and so on.

I don’t disagree. Labour did try to have it both ways. But I also think that some people are quite irrational and will never buy this way of looking at things.

and a narrative that said that people who use public services were scum

Kate you’re talking about benefits here. But I’m talking about the welfare state as much bigger than that. the Labour govt never demonised people who regularly used public services.

Otherwise they wouldn’t have attacked Tories with the line: ‘the Tories will destroy the NHS and your SureStart centres’ with so much gusto. And they’re doing it now over schools.

Sunny,

Why is making the welfare state “central to people’s lives” A Good Thing?

Because the welfare state offers public goods (incl health) that are sometimes better off provided universally, and because it’s redistributive.

I don’t think we’re using the same definition of “welfare state”. What does “welfare state” mean to you?

Kate and Alix, your view that the contradiction was unsustainable may be partly true, but I’m not sure what state of affairs is forever sustainable and not hurt by external shocks.

Secondly, I agree they screwed up over housing. I think most recognise that now. And Brown didn’t spend any time thinking about this issue in depth by the looks of it. It was a failure.

Labours greatest achievements.

Getting rid of the vast majority of hereditary Peers. It was about time those aristocratic vermin were sent packing. Huge increase in spending in the health service which Cameron has claimed he will protect (we wait to see.) I don’t think people have any idea how close the health service was to falling apart under Curry fucker Major. But of course that was the great tory plan. Run it down until it falls apart. Big increase in capital spending on schools and hospitals. I thought the tapered tax rate for capital gains tax was a good idea, (pity they scrapped that)

Giving freedom to the bank of England to set interest rates so we did not have to wait for the tory party conference for a rate cut. Keeping the tories out of power for nearly 15 years, and pissing off the little Englanders.

Plenty of things they should not be proud of mind.

22. Shatterface

‘The war on social issues has broadly been won by the left.’

Not if you include civil liberties as a social issue.

‘On the economy, the war is defined not so much as between the working classes and middle classes, but more on the size of the welfare state. The size of the welfare state remains the cornerstone of how left-wing governments define themselves.’

‘And so, expanding the size of the welfare state and making it central to people’s lives, despite Thatcher’s best attempts to destroy it, was one of New Labour’s greatest achievements.’

The welfare state is only ‘central’ to your life if you are sick or unemployed. Generally speeking people don’t want to be sick or unemployed. The fact that so many people are sick or unemployed is not a sign that Labour were doing well.

The goal of the state is to act as a safety net. If you handle the economy well you create employment so you don’t need a huge beurocracy to administer benefits. The fact that you do need one means you’ve failed. You might as well argue – as an idiot did here recently – that a massive increase in the prison population is a triumph for law and order.

“Because the welfare state offers public goods”

Please go and look up public goods again. They are not goods provided to the public, they are not what the public thinks will be good for them and they are not goods consumed by the public. Public goods are goods which are non rivalrous and non excludable. *That* is why there is an argument for their being subsidised from tax revenues.

“(incl health)”

For example, public health measures, vaccinations, sewers, water treatment, anti-epidemic work, these are public goods. Granny’s hip replacement is both rivalrous and excludable and is thus not a public good.

And of course the true answer to this question:

“Why is making the welfare state “central to people’s lives” A Good Thing?”

Is that unless those who dispense the favours of the welfare state to the proles have made those favours essential to the life of the proles then they can’t depend upon the votes of the proles in elevating them to the position where they get to dispense the favours of the welfare state, can they?

If only we had realised before that Count von Bismarck, first Chancellor of the German empire (1871-90), had made a grave error when he pioneered the introduction not only of old age pensions, paid by the state, but a social insurance scheme to cover personal healthcare costs:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_von_Bismarck

25. Luis Enrique

Public goods are goods which are non rivalrous and non excludable. *That* is why there is an argument for their being subsidised from tax revenues.

That is indeed why there is an argument for state provision of public goods. However there are other arguments for the state provision of other kinds of good. Nobody should think that the state should only be in the business of providing public goods.

Other kinds of good that there may be an argument for the state providing are goods in which the distribution of access to those goods is regarded as particularly important and in which the a centralised body may have efficiency advantages over private suppliers in achieving that.

ukliberty: I don’t think we’re using the same definition of “welfare state”. What does “welfare state” mean to you?

I know – and I pointed out in the article it included provisions of services like the NHS, building schools and mass-transport.

Tim Worstall:
No. the war on social issues has been won by the *liberals*. “Left” and “liberal” are not synonymous.

I know they’re not – and the fact is that they were won by the left. They were won through collectivisation, through stigmatising the enemy (esp in the case of racism and homophobia) and through direct action. Those aren’t liberal traits.

Gwyn:
Whatever ideological arguments you want to make about the large welfare state, the fact is that a huge amount of tax money was being scooped from the pockets of low-earners and dropped directly into the laps of upper-middle class shareholders as dividends. Teaching’s still bad, Hospitals will still kill you, and there’s still no affordable houses despite record construction profits up until 2007.

I don’t know if all teachers are bad – I certain;y don’t think they are. But you’re never going to get a perfect system, and New Labour made lots of mistakes for sure. PFI being an obvious one.

I think my point was partly that people use the wrong metric when trying to judge New Labour. Their intentions were still social democratic – though their implementation and ideas turned sour not long after.

27. Alisdair Cameron

And so I’m assuming New Labour simply made the calculation that sounding harsh on benefit cheats in public would convince the public something was being done about them – and keep faith in the system. Because once that faith goes, then the system goes.

And what about losing the faith, and destroying the lives of the disabled and incapacitated? Sunny, on this point you are horribly off-beam. The whole Purnell workfare/ATOS (outsourcing the vile bullying set up: paying vast sums for them to terrorise the sick and poor….and this is all before we get to the disgrace of A4e, getting huge sums of money for old rope) is one of the biggest stains upon New labour. It wasn’t idle words, it was much, much worse: it was for real, has happened, is still happening and was fully intended by New Labour.
Much of point to as a good legacy has come at a ruinous price, either directly, via the ludicrous PFI mechanism (hey, let’s pay 10 times the genuine cost: the private sector benefited most) or indirectly through the enforced marketisation of health,transport etc, giving fragmentation, phony consumerism, and allowing the private sector in (on dismal terms) via “stimulating the market”. New Lab actually undermined universality (cf cherrypicking ISTCs etc, leaving the state to pick up the costly,complex cases, cf Academies picking and choosing pupils).

Sunny: “expanding the size of the welfare state and making it central to people’s lives … was one of New Labour’s greatest achievements.”

Yes, New Labour did increase the size of the welfare state. But for all their spending on this, inequality increased at the same time to record levels. Simply spending more on a problem than the Tories is not an achievement in itself.

Sunny: “Labour MPs and activists frequently make the criticism that liberal-left bloggers are far too obsessed by issues like the database state, foreign policy, CCTV, PFI schemes etc without understanding the totality of what they’re trying. I think some of this is valid.”

But the expenses associated with the New Labour obsession with databases and PFI schemes (and running their associated artificial internal markets) are among the key reasons why Labour’s vast increase in spending on the public services did not translate proportionately into vastly improved public services.

Again, simply spending more on something than the Tories is not an achievement in itself.

And for the record, I don’t think the coalition want people to hate the NHS. As a “pro-business” government, they are instead much more likely to share New Labour’s goal of converting as much of the NHS (and all other public services) as politically possible into a series of for-profit – but taxpayer funded – corporate enterprises. I see them as being more corporatist than libertarian.

Alisdair, I don’t disagree that they made a lot of mistakes. Nor that many projects failed. Although I’d ask anyone to produce an example where a govt gets nothing wrong.

And what about losing the faith, and destroying the lives of the disabled and incapacitated?

You’ll have to offer me evidence there were systematic and widespread examples of this?

They quietly shelved the lie detectors plan after we wrote about it. They were big on rhetoric. I’m not convinced they actually took away vital money from millions of people systematically. You’ll see that happen now, but welfare benefits actually expanded under Labour.

30. Shatterface

‘And what about losing the faith, and destroying the lives of the disabled and incapacitated? Sunny, on this point you are horribly off-beam. The whole Purnell workfare/ATOS (outsourcing the vile bullying set up: paying vast sums for them to terrorise the sick and poor….and this is all before we get to the disgrace of A4e, getting huge sums of money for old rope) is one of the biggest stains upon New labour’

The left seems to be divided over whether to use punitive, illiberal measures to force people back into work or to just give up on them condemning them to a life on benefits.

31. Alisdair Cameron

Sunny, ESA and the WCA is the fucked-up system introduced by New Labour: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/not_working.
http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/campaigns/policy_campaign_publications/evidence_reports/er_benefitsandtaxcredits/failed_by_the_system

Look at CiF of late for the horrors of ATOS contracted by New Lab and deliberately incentivised to reject claims (as opposed to even-handedly consider ‘em).
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/06/osborne-haste-undermine-incapacity-benefit-reform
The tales are less about what the awful Tories might do, and more about what the vile legacy system from New Lab is doing.
And a must read is Mike Bach: http://www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatos.html

We’re not talking a workfare system, that beats up on the disabled that somehow happened by accident, but one that was designed by New Lab, and which the Tories are only too happy to ratchet up.

32. Alisdair Cameron

Sunny, ESA and the WCA is the fucked-up system introduced by New Labour: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/not_working.
http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/campaigns/policy_campaign_publications/evidence_reports/er_benefitsandtaxcredits/failed_by_the_system
Laurie Penny rightly went ballistic about it on this very site.
Look at CiF of late for the horrors of ATOS contracted by New Lab and deliberately incentivised to reject claims (as opposed to even-handedly consider ‘em).
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/06/osborne-haste-undermine-incapacity-benefit-reform
The tales are less about what the awful Tories might do, and more about what the vile legacy system from New Lab is doing.
And a must read is Mike Bach: http://www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatos.html

We’re not talking a workfare system, that beats up on the disabled that somehow happened by accident, but one that was designed by New Lab, and which the Tories are only too happy to ratchet up.

33. Alisdair Cameron

Shatterface, you have something of a point there: a wise policy would have been to work with employers to help make them more accommodating to employing the disabled. Bugger all in that direction (especially poor in mental health). Instead the stick was used on the disabled.

“They were won through collectivisation, through stigmatising the enemy (esp in the case of racism and homophobia) and through direct action. Those aren’t liberal traits.”

You what? Collectivisation? What have Stalin’s agricultural techniques got to do with it? Or direct action,…..abortion was hardly won by stigmatisation, now was the availability of contraception, the lowering of the age of consent.

“Racism” was fought far more by hte propensity of humans to miscegenate than anything else….and as to homophobia, according to everyone one except you right now that hasn’t actually been won as yet.

jungle: , inequality increased at the same time to record levels. Simply spending more on a problem than the Tories is not an achievement in itself.

It’s arguable inequality was increasing anyway… and they lessened the change. But I fully take Labour didn’t do enough on it. But we need more interesting ideas on how to make equality happen without punitive taxation.

Again, simply spending more on something than the Tories is not an achievement in itself.

True, but they also spent a lot of money on actual infrastructure. Their money wasn’t spent entirely on wasteful projects. Most of it did actually go to frontline services.

Though I’d be interested in seeing a breakdown.

“Kate you’re talking about benefits here. But I’m talking about the welfare state as much bigger than that. the Labour govt never demonised people who regularly used public services.”

Yep, fair point. The problem is that I’m not sure everyone makes the distinction between benefits users and people who generally use public services – the ‘scroungers’ label tends to apply to whomever the applier wants it to apply to, and can encompass all state services. The Conservatives have a sort of catch-all ‘public sector scroungers’ tag which can apply, as suits, to people on benefits, or asylum seekers and new immigrants who have hospital treatment here and/or send their kids to the local state school and so on, or people who are presumed to take advantage of free doctors’ visits to get themselves signed off work on a regular basis and so on. It’s about enemies of the idea of state support slapping the ‘scroungers’ tag wherever suits.
The narrative that people currently have around the welfare state/public sector is of this huge, sloppy, wildly expensive, unnecessary ‘thing’ with overpaid consultants and senior staff and stupid, expensive projects at one end, and layabouts sucking on the teat at the other (some probably think that’s its official title). From benefits to hospitals and schooling, it is all of those things, and none of those things. Those who dislike the state say it is all of those things. The anti-rhetoric writes off all aspects of it, from providers to users.

37. Shatterface

‘Shatterface, you have something of a point there: a wise policy would have been to work with employers to help make them more accommodating to employing the disabled. Bugger all in that direction (especially poor in mental health). Instead the stick was used on the disabled.’

It’s like the Future Job Fund. There was a great idea there about creating jobs and getting people off benefits that New Labour encumbered with penalties for those who refused to take part.

By attempting to stitch the perfectly reasonable idea of getting people with disabilities into work with the desire to punish ‘scroungers’ New Labour turned what should have been a debate about reasonable adjustments, funding and employment protection for the disabled into horror stories about people with terminal cancer being forced to work in coal mines.

38. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

Smith may have provided the ideological underpinning, but he was never in power. It’s Blair who implemented it.

In fairness, he was dead.

Whether or not Blair would ever have considered a minimum wage without Smith’s legacy is debatable.

Alisdair, I don’t disagree that they made a lot of mistakes.

Mistakes? A mistake is forgetting to carry a number in long division, or using an inappropriate word because you misremembered its meaning. Suggesting 90 day detention without charge, and lie detectors for the poor, aren’t mistakes.

Nor that many projects failed.

Well, about 70% of their IT projects did.

Although I’d ask anyone to produce an example where a govt gets nothing wrong.

Of course no-one will be able to provide such an example but that’s not the point, which is that there is a way of thinking in the Labour party, an illiberal, centralist, nanny-statist, the public are drones, tax revenue is the state’s largesse, way of thinking, that inclines them to come up with illiberal ideas and projects that are likely to fail because of how they are conceived and their natures.

An example: electronic medical records. Yes, on the face of it great idea, let’s get modern. There are a number of ways to go about it – Labour decided to (among other things) create a database at the heart of it and give hundreds of thousands (if not millions, across the public sector) access to it. It took some persuading for them to agree to even pseudonymise records that would be made available to researchers, for god’s sake.

A similar thing with ID cards – again, a number of ways of doing it, Labour decided to create a ridiculously bloated database and give access to loads of people. Oh and lie in terms of blaming it on international requirements and smear their opponents.

These aren’t mistakes, these are deliberate acts and ideas and smears born from illiberal minds.

Besides, sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from evil.

40. Shatterface

‘Besides, sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from evil.’

That sounds like Arthur C Clarke’s 2nd Law! And you know, those aliens from Childhood’s End do look rather diabolical.

@ Sunny

Their money wasn’t spent entirely on wasteful projects.

Can that go on the tombstone please?

That sounds like Arthur C Clarke’s 2nd Law!

It’s Grey’s Law – I think it’s a play on Clarke’s.

43. Sevillista

@cjcc

The current size of the state (48% of GDP I think) was not a deliberate policy choice.

The state was about 40% of GDP in 2007 (and Labour’s plans were to keep it at that level).

Unfortunately, a small group of over-optimistic idiots in banks (and sellers of sub-prime mortgages in the US) brought our economy down, causing a depression which led to the over-inflated state we have.

Look at Darling’s policy changes he made – Labour did not want the 48% level of spending to persist beyond the temporary weakness of the private sector.

New Labour did make some strides forward. Though they had a lot of years to do more, much, much more – yet they did not. That is, IMHO, one of the priorities in how disillusioned Labour/left supporters became.

Sure Start, great. Minimum wage, great, investment in the NHS greastish. Waiting lists down, but too much money spent in giving unearned super profits to those who provided services in the NHS market.

As has been mentioned above, if you are to have a system of support for those who are unemployed, unemployable, unable to work then there will be spivs who will milk the system, they (those who can afford the accountants) do so in the upper earnings bracket – yet, New Labour wore Tory clothes on their attack on all those who receive support and did relatively nothing to those who could employ someone to do their dirty work.

If you need a support payment from government if you are earning 50k a year, there is something wrong, very wrong indeed. Universal welfare? New Labour brought income tax down and down again, they even took away the 10p scale to pay for tax breaks. Is that what you mean by left-wing?

To then say there is no difference between New Labour and the Tories is, I think, also disingenuous. The Tories are as ideological as New Labour was, and their aim will be to drastically reduce the size of the welfare state and make it a soul-destroying experience.

New Labour were, and are still, on the right of centre, you can argue that point as much as you wish – but, taking it out of UK politics for a second, let us use someone who is as detested almost as much as Thatcher – Reagan. He wouldn’t even be allowed near the doors of the GOP today, you indicate that Obama is left of centre in US terms – even he is far from it. Left of centre today, certainly not 30 years ago or more. Look at the GOP manifesto of 1956, 60 – see who that looks like in today’s terms – and the GOP are of the right.

That is where New Labour are, of the right. You can successfully say they are, in today’s terminology, left of the Tories (just) – yet that does not make them left-wing. As the Tories stride right, New Labour follow like lambs to the slaughter, as you move onto their ground they can deliver a kicking because that ground is new to New Labour and an old playing field to the Tories – they know their stomping ground.

You call it a welfare state, I call it a supportive state. You call it benefits and entitlements, I call it support and investment in the individual.

New Labour are Tories, just NOT the Tories of today.

If E’Mil, or any of the other shower, want to bring about change not just in the narrative but in action they must say that they are going to pull, firstly, back to the centre, and then to the left. Then they will start getting some support back.

If you want to see people liking the stake they have in a supportive state, show them that you are going to invest in those people who are without work, invest in training, in education, in re-equipping them. People, even the middle-class, like to see their money well spent – they, like everyone else, hate to see it wasted.

THAT is something that New Labour didn’t, still won’t do. Rather than lie detectors, invest in local communities. Rather than simply reducing tax, show what you are doing with that tax, local parks for kids to play in that are clean, where people can walk their dog, and the equipment is painted and well kept. Grass cut, certainly not “CEOs” of municipal councils et al being paid idiotic sums of money to do frig all.

There are many examples, and – even though I agree the last recession wasn’t Gordon’s fault and bailing out the banks he felt the need to do, wrong in my eyes but still – he could have used the revenue to off-set some of the worst of it. That was his fault.

TL;DR

“Unfortunately, a small group of over-optimistic idiots in banks (and sellers of sub-prime mortgages in the US) brought our economy down, causing a depression which led to the over-inflated state we have.”

YUP, but tory trolls don’t want to hear that. They have been programmed to repeat “it is all the public services fault.”

“Labour MPs and activists frequently make the criticism that liberal-left bloggers are far too obsessed by issues like the database state, foreign policy, CCTV, PFI schemes etc without understanding the totality of what they’re trying. I think some of this is valid.”

1 Is there a word or two missing at the end of the penultimate sentence? As it stands it is unclear who is trying what.

2 Could I suggest that Labour MPs and activists (and Sunny) go away and think again and realise that these concerns are not obsessions? There are certain lines that we as a society should just not cross, like locking people up without trial, breaking international law and passing laws that European courts deem unacceptable. New Labour crossed those lines. It is a sign of the corruption of New Labour that it cannot understand the enormity of what it did. The argument that “we should see the totality” is a bit close to “no omelettes without breaking eggs” for my liking.

Yup – some in New Labour seem to have pride in the achievement of Britain having the largest per capita prison population in western Europe – “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” ?

How come this remarkable achievment for a centre-left government of Britain?

“The chances of a child from a poor family enjoying higher wages and better education than their parents is lower in Britain than in other western countries, the OECD says”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/mar/10/oecd-uk-worst-social-mobility

It happens that I think Britain has been badly served by governments of either the two big parties and the expenses scandal of the last Parliament suggests that about a third of the MPs were verging on crooks. Roll on electoral reform.

48. Matt Munro

“Labour MPs and activists frequently make the criticism that liberal-left bloggers are far too obsessed by issues like the database state, foreign policy, CCTV, PFI schemes etc without understanding the totality of what they’re trying. I think some of this is valid.”

It’s precisely because people (finally) realised “the totality of what they were trying” that they got voted out of office

49. Matt Munro

“Unfortunately, a small group of over-optimistic idiots in banks (and sellers of sub-prime mortgages in the US) brought our economy down, causing a depression which led to the over-inflated state we have.”

The state began growing almost as soon as nu lab were elected. We had the highest taxes in Europe before the banking crisis for that reason, we also had a massive and growing defecit. Obviously the banking crisis didn’t help but

a) It was nu lab that bailed the banks out, not the Daily Mail, or any tory trolls – Brown actually tried to take the credit for leading the rest of Europe down the bail out route, like he was some sort of economic messiah for socialising private debt.

b) In theory the govt will get all the money back

50. Chaise Guevara

“a) It was nu lab that bailed the banks out, not the Daily Mail, or any tory trolls – Brown actually tried to take the credit for leading the rest of Europe down the bail out route, like he was some sort of economic messiah for socialising private debt.

b) In theory the govt will get all the money back”

It’s spelled ‘New Labour’. You’re welcome.

Aside from that… you’re generally right, in that it was Brown rather than the tabloids who supported bailouts, and in that the idea that we just threw free money at the banks with no hope of return is preposterous. I would point out, however, that the non-bailout route could have been a lot darker. It’s ludicrous that we should have to bail these morons out, but at the time the alternative was a far greater calamity than we’ve actually suffered.

I think of the whole thing as a learning experience, for capitalists and politicians both. What we should all be working towards is a system where private risk never has to be covered with public money.

51. Chaise Guevara

“It’s precisely because people (finally) realised “the totality of what they were trying” that they got voted out of office”

That was the deciding factor for me. It’s ironic (and, as a left-winger, extremely annoying) that the big left-wing party decided to go all authoritian on civil liberties, and thus make itself more dangerous than the Tories.

52. John Brady

“New Labour built Sure Start centres, they drastically cut NHS waiting lists and they poured billions into public transport. They poured billions into upgrading schools. Not only do many people dismiss this lightly, they fail to understand the ideological point behind it.”

Sunny, while the Sure Start centres and cuts to NHS waiting lists sound like a good result, I’m not convinced that “pouring billions” into public transport and schools are a good idea unless we’re sure what the results are. Are you mistaking intent with results?

Sally, I agree with you on Bank of England interest rates, but when you say the banks brought down the economy, how much impact do you think they had? I’m new to these debates so happy to be contradicted, but I thought that that of UK debt of £900 billion or so only £130 billion was due to the bank bailout. Are you saying that there were wider economic impacts of the bailout? If not, what do you attribute the other £770 billion to?

Well, about 70% of their IT projects did.

Cite? (note: this is a rhetorical question, since I’m well aware that your stat is bollocks).

Sunny, do you actually agree with the “achievement” of a larger welfare state that binds people to it?

I have a word for that, it is called dependency.

If so, How can you call yourself a Liberal while supporting what is in effect forced collectivism with menaces as a good thing? A necessary evil, yes, one I understand until better ways are implemented, but a “good”? An “achievement”?

It is also odd that you use the term “have a stake in it” when one cannot in truth. It is an illusion, an opiate. If you have a stake, you should be free to sell it on and sink it elsewhere, for ownership confers those freedoms. That, surely, is not possible. The term you use is disingenuous – though possibly unintentionally so – and is highly misleading. The State controls that “stake” and decides when and where that “stake” can be accessed, if at all. It is not a stake, but a concession at the whim of the State.

One cannot be said to have a stake in something one is forced to have. One cannot have a stake in something one has no option to avoid or opt out of. Your explanation of why it was an achievement appears to be the Fabian mindset of frog-boiling – slowly co-opt people into a situation where, in truth, they no longer feel they can get out of or they are (unjustifiably) frightened to even consider alternatives.

This social engineering stinks to high heaven. People are suckered in and made dependent, too scared to contemplate life outside.

Call that an “achievement”?

Well, yes, it is an “achievement” of sorts, but nothing to be proud of. “Liberal”? Not in a million years.

p.s. @Left Outside in another post elsewhere does make some accurate statements in regard to the State, but rather over-eggs it and appears to intentionally disregard valid criticisms in other areas. As a Minarchist I can see the use at this time of the enforcement of Rule of Law*, but that is a world away form the monopolistic provision of education and health delivery, which are not natural monopolies.

* Many anarchists believe that here was a way to do it without coercion, and I am for removing coercion, but as yet not entirely confident of the practicality of the solution here – but always open minded (but, as I like to say, not so open as my brains fall out…).

john b,

Well, about 70% of their IT projects did.

Cite? (note: this is a rhetorical question, since I’m well aware that your stat is bollocks).

Is it?.

56. Flowerpower

Had New Labour funded its expansion of welfare services out of the proceeds of economic growth, using the rising revenues from taxes, then that would have been fine. But since 2002 this expansion has been fuelled by borrowed money – and we and our kids will be paying interest on these loans for the forseeable future. So it’s hardly an ‘achievement’ is it to run up debts for your your kids to pay off?

Sunny,

Increasing spending is easy and increasing taxes is difficult.

So I don’t see how increasing spending on anything can be considered a great achievement, if it is funded by borrowing – if the government didn’t finish the job and raise the taxes to pay for it.

Because that is what happened.

And that means this government, which is putting up taxes, is therefore doing more to increase the size of the state, in a sustainable way, than the last one did.

Who’d a thunk it.

Saying that massive spending funded by borrowing is an “achievement” ignores the fact that future generations will have to end up paying for it. It’s like giving someone lots of stuff, saying “hey, take this! it’s free!” and then later on asking them to pay for it. It’s not free if someone has to pay for it, and the existing tax system disproportionately targets those on lower incomes.

In 1997 it was clear that a lot of public infrastructure had been neglected and needed renewing. New Labour set about doing that but was reluctant to be upfront about how to pay for it. There was as reluctance to say “Under Major and Thatcher you had lower taxes and crumbling infrastructure: we think that higher taxes are needed to renew that infrastructure.” The result was PFI, the London Underground PPP etc. These fooled no-one except perhaps the Ministers who thought them up. They added to public debt and are expensive. They hand too much power in the public-private contractual relationship to the private partner.

Most of these programmes are incomplete. Under the Coalition they may never be completed. This doesn’t look like success to me.

That’s about right. New Labour’s ‘achievements’, as you call them, have come with a massive interest bill. I wonder whether in 20 years time we’ll consider 1997-2010 a success, or whether we’ll look back and think “how did we ever let a government borrow so much when tax revenues were booming?”

61. Matt Munro

@ 59 “In 1997 it was clear that a lot of public infrastructure had been neglected and needed renewing. ”

Sorry but I simply don’t buy this oft repeated line. What infrastructure has been renewed since 1997 ?

62. gwenhwyfaer

The left seems to be divided over whether to use punitive, illiberal measures to force people back into work or to just give up on them condemning them to a life on benefits.

Yes, Shatterface, because the right is all about staying out of people’s lives and simply giving them a decent level of financial support whilst they solve their own problems…

Look, if the concern is that people aren’t working, then simply guarantee 30 hours’ work a week, paid at minimum wage, to anyone who wants it – hell, even restrict the offer to those who have been on JSA for 6 months. I promise, if a government were to do that the unemployment problem would disappear overnight; they could dispose of every other work plan, every other qualification, for benefits, because everyone who can work would jump at the chance! (And for the “where would the money come from?” crew, are you so deluded as to seriously imagine slavefare is going to be free?!)


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    This was New Labour's greatest achievement http://bit.ly/doFQa1

  2. Kevin Blowe

    The worst case of chronic arse-gravy that Sunny and @libcon have squeezed out in a very long time http://bit.ly/doFQa1

  3. Malcolm Evison

    This was New Labour’s greatest achievement | Liberal Conspiracy: http://bit.ly/dqHWqr via @addthis

  4. hilary

    Tories will "want people to hate the NHS and public transport so they no longer rely on the state to provide". http://bit.ly/9W5h26

  5. sunny hundal

    This was New Labour's greatest achievement http://bit.ly/doFQa1

  6. Leon Green

    RT @sunny_hundal: This was New Labour's greatest achievement http://bit.ly/doFQa1

  7. HouseOfTwitsLab

    RT @sunny_hundal This was New Labour's greatest achievement http://bit.ly/doFQa1

  8. House Of Twits

    RT @sunny_hundal This was New Labour's greatest achievement http://bit.ly/doFQa1

  9. SEAN

    RT @libcon: This was New Labour's greatest achievement http://bit.ly/doFQa1

  10. mikeblakeney

    RT @HouseOfTwitsLab: RT @sunny_hundal This was New Labour's greatest achievement http://bit.ly/doFQa1

  11. Martin

    RT @sunny_hundal This was New Labour's greatest achievement http://bit.ly/doFQa1 < don't often RT Sunny but found this refreshing.

  12. Emma Burnell

    RT @sunny_hundal: This was New Labour's greatest achievement http://bit.ly/doFQa1 > great piece.

  13. Political Animal

    RT @Scarletstand: RT @sunny_hundal: This was New Labour's greatest achievement http://bit.ly/doFQa1 > great piece.

  14. Christopher Wilson

    @McShambles ran out of space! it was "by state" http://bit.ly/9jN2MX

  15. Diane

    RT @sunny_hundal: This was New Labour's greatest achievement http://bit.ly/doFQa1 <– Point 3 is a sickening worry

  16. Mark Sumpter

    This was New Labour's greatest achievement | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/bK7orJ

  17. David Chiverton

    @rogthornhill @DavidNcl These should make you angry http://is.gd/dlmqU + http://is.gd/dliDq (via @VeryBritishDude)

  18. Did Labour convince us to “keep faith in the system”? « The Bleeding Heart Show

    [...] too harsh in how it handled the benefits system. Responding to heckles from the audience, Sunny suggests Miliband’s critics have missed the [...]

  19. Duncan McAlister

    @jazzifull http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/07/08/what-was-new-labours-greatest-achievement-allow-me-to-explain/





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