New Labour leaders think of themselves as pragmatists though they don't
use the word: within Labour Party discourse it is contaminated by its
association with Harold Wilson. 'We are interested in whatever works',
says Tony Blair, 'We are beyond ideology'. And a tiny sliver
of the British left wonders if Blair knows that 'beyond ideology'
was one of the key slogans in the CIA's psychological warfare efforts
to prevent socialism in Europe after WW2.
In the 1950s the appeal of the theory behind 'beyond ideology'
was obvious. Europe had been wrecked by the war; the US was producing
about half the world's GDP in 1950. How wonderful the East Coast
of the US must have seemed to the streams of Labour politicians taking
the American government-funded trips across the Atlantic then! And everywhere
they went they heard the same message: it is the end of ideology. Capitalism - American
production methods - had cracked it. Redistribution - fuddy-duddy
old socialism - would not be necessary to solve the problems of the
world. No more class struggle. No more conflict. A rising tide floats
all the boats.
Now we are being governed by another group of America fans. Some of them,
Blair and Brown for example, have been on the US freebie and bought the
story - no-one more enthusiastically than Gordon Brown who has been
visiting nice, white, civilised New England - home of Yale and Harvard - since
he was in opposition. He had his honeymoon there in a cottage at Nantucket.
It is one of the clichés of the age that New Labour are the masters
of spin. Gordon Brown is rarely mentioned in the tales of spin doctors.
The self-styled 'iron chancellor', restoring prudence to the
finances of the country, Brown is presented as above that petty political
stuff. But if anyone can claim to be the master of spin it is Brown. For
despite a decade of first espousing and then implementing the age-old
economic policies of the banking world at home, and more recently striding
the world stage as the advocate of the virtues of American-style capitalism
(aka globalisation), Brown is still perceived by many as somehow a more
left-wing figure than Blair.
This perception is extremely odd for Brown's career in opposition
as Shadow Chancellor was a long courtship of multi-national capital and,
advised by figures from the City, the ditching of 'old Labour'
national economy and manufacturing-oriented, policies.
Of course Brown wouldn't see it this way. He would see his intellectual
trajectory since the late 1980s as simply facing up to the reality of
the power of the markets and the impotence of the nation state before
them. And if asked for an example Brown, I'm sure, would quote the
event which really got Labour elected in 1997 - Black Wednesday, the
ERM fiasco of 1992 which destroyed the Conservative Party's claim
to be the party of economic competence.
But Brown learned the wrong lesson from those events. What being forced
out of the ERM showed was that it was impossible to sustain an overvalued
currency. Nothing new here; the only difference between this and other
sterling crises before it was the scale of speculative onslaught and the
speed with which events unfolded. No matter: like John Smith, Brown drew
the conclusion that to get elected Labour had to do the bidding of multi-national
capital - 'the markets'.
By the time Labour took office Brown and Blair had promised to toe the
conservative (and Conservative) line on economic policy: no income tax
rises, no increased public spending, no attempts to use government to
direct the economy; and no renationalisation. They had learned the mantra:
private good, public bad.
Taking office in 1997, there was only one tool left in the new Chancellor's
hands but it was the critical one: the control of interest rates. Interest
rates influence the domestic economy directly - think of Mrs Thatcher's
great recession of 1980-83 caused by high interest rates - and via
their impact on the exchange rate: high pound, imports cost less; exports
cost more. This last, essential lever, was duly surrendered to the Bank
of England on Brown's first day in office. He couldn't wait
to show willing. And so - absurdly, incredibly - Labour set out,
like Mrs Thatcher in the early 1980s, to run the British economy with
neither an interest rate policy nor an exchange rate policy: these would
be left to the Bank of England who would use interest rates solely to
control inflation. Cue an over-valued pound and another wave of manufacturing
Brown was carefully shepherded into the views he now holds. In the decade
before becoming Chancellor, his personal office was managed by Sue Nye
, the wife of Gavyn Davies, a partner in the US multi-national bank, Goldman
Sachs. The late John Smith, when Labour leader, took him to the heart
of the globalising lobby, the secretive Bilderberg group. Unknown to his
party, his colleagues, or his biographer, Andy McSmith, John Smith had
been on the Bilderberg inner circle, the steering committee. It was thus
not surprising that when Brown, qua Shadow Chancellor, chose someone to
give him economic advice he picked Ed Balls, leader writer at The Economist,
the leading British advocate of globalisation. (Two writers at The
Economist are the so-called rapporteurs - i.e. minute-takers - for
Bilderberg.) It was Balls who arranged meetings with government economists
in America in 1993 when Brown and Blair visited the Democrats.
'Whatever works' say New Labour; but it's a lie. They are
not interested in anything happening on mainland Europe. If they were
they would be studying Holland, Denmark, Sweden for social policies; virtually
any of the EU countries for how to run a railway; France for its health
care system; Germany for how to be a middle ranking power without much
of an army or intelligence service; Portugal, Ireland, Italy or Spain
for how to get EU money without implementing its more ridiculous legislation.
None of this is happening. 'Whatever works' actually means 'whatever
the Americans are doing'. Matthew d'Ancona in the Sunday
Telegraph reported on January 14: '[Brown's] preoccupation
with best practice across the Atlantic is all-consuming: one Cabinet minister
told me that 'the only sure way to get Gordon to listen to a policy
idea is to produce an American who believes in it.'
Brown looks at the vast, mineral-rich, largely empty continent of America
and sees things we should copy here on this over-crowded island. He apparently
doesn't see the 3 million in jail, the 25,000 gunshot deaths every
year, the hundreds of thousands living on the streets, the most obnoxious
foreign policy since Joseph Stalin and the most corrupt political system
since Britain in the days of the 'rotten boroughs' in the 18th
Most of all Gordon Brown is naive. He believes that the multinational
drug companies are just itching to sell their products at cost price to
the Third World. He believes that the West's bankers are willing
to write off the debts owed them by the Third World. He believes that
the British bankers feel duty bound to invest in the infrastructure of
None of these beliefs are true. And in pursuing them Brown looks foolish.
He has had it easy so far but the American recession just beginning will
create unemployment over here as the multinationals start cutting-back.
We may then discover if Gordon Brown is to be remembered as anything more
than the last dribble of Thatcherism down the leg of British politics.