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Year 2005 No. 121, October 20, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Tony Blair Redefines Renewal and Progress:

Consolidating Reaction in the Name of Renewal and Progress

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Tony Blair Redefines Renewal and Progress:
Consolidating Reaction in the Name of Renewal and Progress

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Tony Blair Redefines Renewal and Progress:

Consolidating Reaction in the Name of Renewal and Progress

In a world where residual illusions about the progressive nature of Tony Blair’s Labour government have been shattered, where society and the political system desperately stand in need of renewal in order to smash the blocks to progress, a particular mission of the Prime Minister is to recreate the world in his own pragmatic image and convince the working class and people that this phantasm is the real thing, not the world they experience every day in their lives, in their struggles.

            Last Saturday, October 15, Tony Blair gave a speech entitled “Renewing the party in government” to the annual Progress conference, held at the TUC in London. Progress, in this case, is an organisation for Labour Party members and trade unionists, seeking to “promote open debate and discussion of progressive ideas and policies”. It aims to “promote a radical and progressive politics for the 21st century”. This year’s annual conference was held under the theme of “What’s left for Labour? – Reviving progressive politics”. Evidently fond of a play on words, Progress is an avowedly “centre-left” organisation, and the aim of the conference was to discuss “how Labour addresses the challenges of inequality, reforming public services, democratic renewal, Britain’s place in Europe and maintaining a strong economy”. Tony Blair was the first on the agenda with his keynote address.

            The genesis of New Labour came through the first phase of the struggle of Tony Blair to “modernise” the party, to openly disavow any connection with socialism and to distance itself from the labour movement and the left, in the name of making New Labour electable and bringing into being a new Britain. It might be said that the second phase of “modernising” was to adopt its programme of attack on social programmes under the signboard of “investment with reform”, and to align itself with the policy of war and aggression of the Bush administration, the tearing up of all the progressive norms of the 20th century. The Blair project at present consists in attempting to put in place the structures of the corporate fascist state, and while claiming the highest of ideals impose the values of neo-liberalism wherever it can throughout the globe, utilising the arsenal of “divide and rule” and a “civilising mission” developed through centuries as a colonial power. In other words, it is to consolidate retrogression all along the line and attempt to neutralise progressive opinion and crush those taking a stand against this project.

            In this context, Tony Blair’s speech focused on “renewal by completing the process of Party reform”. His target audience in this respect were the progressives, those who still maintain that the Labour Party should be a party of the left, those who maintain that a programme should be based on principles, those who (in Blair’s words) “fall for some modern version of the old left delusion: that the problem with a progressive government is that it isn’t left enough and if only its leadership rediscovered its true principles, all would be well”. In addressing them, he does not deal with real problems and real solutions that humanity faces. The issue Tony Blair presents is that of electability. He avoids the question of the principles that the “left” represents, what the aims of progressive movements are, what the causes of the problems in society are. His argument is that things are basically ok (“on any basis this has been a successful government and a progressive one”), and that with a bit more tinkering things will get even better.

            Tony Blair would like to write off the aspirations of the people for a better world as a delusion, along with the entire history of the 20th century as a struggle for progress and to eliminate world reaction. And why? “This delusion is the reason why up to now we basically had 100 years of habitual opposition and only intermittent government.” The “we” in this case is the self-serving “we” of New Labour. And what does being in government mean? Tony Blair answers his question by saying, “It means tough decisions that offend people … It means aiming for respect rather than affection … It means decisions weighed not in argument and counter-argument, but in pounds, shillings and pence in people’s pockets.” This is about as crass as a politician can get. As long as the centre ground is occupied, humanity can go to hell. For Tony Blair, “principles” come with inverted commas.

            So that is his redefinition of “progressive”. The end justifies the means. So if there were no WMDs in Iraq, not to worry, we got rid of Saddam and occupied Iraq. If the right to conscience is violated, not to worry because the rules of the game are changing. If minority rights are attacked, not to worry because we have our way of life to protect. Tony Blair is explicit: “Policy is just a means to an end. It’s the end that is important.” This anti-social agenda is called the centre-ground, to which New Labour lays claim, casting as enemies and extremists not primarily the “right”, but the “left”, those who take a stand on principles.

            In Blair’s “modernising” project for the Labour Party, to recast it as a “modern party unafraid to take difficult decisions”, along with his crusade to remove Labour from its association with the left goes his mission to end its existence as a party of the workers, as (as used to be said) the political wing of the labour movement (the trade unions in this definition being the economic wing). Blair wants the relationship with the trade unions “modernised for today’s world”.

            In Tony Blair’s self-constructed world, classes have been erased. There are only individuals making choices (which the government allegedly presents to them to grasp). In his world, there is no such thing as the dignity of labour, as the militant traditions of the working class, as the workers as the creators of social product. If it ever crossed his mind, the programme to constitute the working class as the nation and vest sovereignty in the people would be the greatest anathema. And, of course, to wipe out this programme is the essence of the New Labour project.

            Any vestige of vesting decision-making in the people is in fact anathema to Tony Blair. One of his themes was that it is not even applicable to his own party. The Labour leadership was defeated four times at this year’s Labour Party conference. But there is no pretence that decision-making lies in the hands of conference or of the party membership, and Blair is seeking to consolidate this de facto state of affairs. He began his denigration of the old arrangements by asking “how many people today can give up a week, unpaid, to go to a Conference?” He makes no pretence of defending some political line of the Labour Party, but as though a conference was some circus said that although ways should be found to make it “more attractive for people to participate in and watch”, "don't let us kid ourselves it could or should be the way we decide often complex and difficult issues”.

            In taking up the truism that in a changing world no force can act in the old way, Tony Blair’s project is not to remove the blocks to progress but the opposite; it is to impose retrogression on the situation. In particular, his Progress address was to justify the depoliticisation of the Labour Party in the context of redefining progress and renewal as retrogression and ending the old arrangements of social democracy. So, this is the meaning of: “Reform of our Party has brought us to this point.” The point to which the Labour Party has been brought is as part of the archaic arrangements of representative democracy which Tony Blair now wishes to consolidate, as part of the “challenge” facing the party, as the arrangements of a ruling elite; where the party system does not politicise the people but on the contrary builds a system of government to promote a politics and ideology of subordination to authority. This is the significance of his approving quote from David Miliband regarding a strategic state, “geared to pushing power down to people, to sharing the responsibility of governing with them”. The Prime Minister is on shaky ground when he concludes his address with the question: “Do we say the challenge is the product of time in government and a changing world; or the consequence of principles betrayed and traditions suborned?” He has the only confidence of faith in saying, “I am sure we will renew as progressives should.”

            The people are demanding their rights as decision-makers, as the results of the General Election demonstrated. They are opposed to the government’s programme of war, violation of democratic rights and creating a psychosis of fear. The working class and people must rise to their own challenge of bringing about democratic renewal and removing the blocks to the progress of society, to bringing about a society in which the rights of all are recognised by virtue of their humanity alone and no other criterion. We also have confidence, but it is a confidence in the working class and people in rising to this challenge worthy of progressive humanity.

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