New Labour politicians love the phrase “Politics is the art of the possible.” The full quote is “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best” said by Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor (1862–1890) to Wilhelm I of the Kingdom of Prussia, an advocate of Realpolitik.

I am always irritated and puzzled by this use of the phrase by the Labour right because it implies that they think people like me on the left, are trying to achieve the impossible… and are thus irrational.

Corbyn’s modestly left, social-democratic, reforms were regarded by the PLP and the party bureaucracy as completely beyond the pale and not even anywhere near the so-called ‘Overton Window’!

So I would ask what is it the new, New Labourites actually want to achieve… other than being in power for its own sake? Because they do seem to be driven ONLY by the desire to win elections, with no vision of what they would actually do with such political power if they did win it?

The idea seems to be that all we need to do to improve the lives of British people is to replace the Tories as the government in parliament and that this in and of itself is the only political objective. That having a Labour government is ALWAYS better than having a Tory government, regardless of what the parties actually do when in power.

To me this idea is irrational. To me it is self-evident that a political party is not good or bad because of the name on it’s banners and rosettes but because of what it DOES when in power. However, my idea of what is politically valuable and rational is just as much driven by what I think is politically possible.

Thatcher herself proclaimed, there is in fact no alternative to the global neoliberal economic and political systems introduced over the last 40 years. And perhaps this is the idea at the heart of the current split in the Labour Movement?

IF you are a member of the LP but you believe that Thatcher was correct and that there is no alternative to neoliberalism, then New Labour does actually make sense.

And there are good reasons for believing that there is no alternative to neoliberalism. For example you could rationally believe that:

(a) Neoliberalism is supported by the rich and powerful – especially the owners and operators of our media, thus to openly oppose neoliberalism is to launch an unwindable culture war that will result in inevitable defeat.

(b) Neoliberal ideas are today accepted as ‘common sense’ by the majority of the electorate, thus to argue against them is to appear idealistically irrational to the electorate.

(c) The overwhelming power of International Capital now makes effective economic intervention by national governments impossible, thus a national government can do nothing effective to challenge neoliberalism and thus shouldn’t try to do so.

IF you do actually believe that ‘there is no alternative’ to the current neoliberal world-order, and that even a modest, mixed-economy, social democracy, is now a political and economic impossibility, then a party with the conservative (with a small c) economic and political ambitions of New Labour does sort of make sense.

If you are interested in a career in politics or the trade unions, either behind the scenes or as a potential leader and/or as a candidate for election, and IF you believe that ONLY a conservative party (with a small c) can ever win a UK General Election, then yes, New Labour makes sense.

Because IF you believe there is no alternative to the neoliberal world order, then even if you genuinely wished to represent the social, political and economic interests of the labouring classes in the parliamentary system, the very best you could EVER hope to achieve is to ‘pragmatically’ work with the rich and powerful to protect their interests, in return for some crumbs from their table that you can redistribute to the labouring classes by tinkering with the rules of the benefit/tax system.

IF you believe there is no alternative to the neoliberal world order, then the privatisation of the NHS and the BBC are in fact inevitable, and it would indeed make some sort of nihilistic sense to embark on that process even though you theoretically oppose such privatisation.

Capitalist Tories (as opposed to Nationalist Tories) believe in the global neoliberal order. They also believe that there is no alternative… it’s just they think that lack of an alternative is a good thing.

Some members of the new, New Labour party may not like the global neoliberal order, indeed some I know oppose it vehemently, BUT if they believe ‘there is no alternative’ to it, then the much-touted ‘pragmatism’ of New Labour makes absolute sense. What is the point of being ideologically attached to the idea of a better world if such a world is simply impossible to achieve?

Two people could agree 100% on what future would be desirable in an ideal world, but could vehemently disagree on whether such a future is achievable and/or how to achieve it. (Historically, that might describe the divisions in the post-war, ‘broad chrch’ LP.)

Some in New Labour (Mandelson, Blair etc) were/are actually neoliberal ideologues and have more in common with liberal Tories like Cameron and Osborne than with most of the LP membership, but many (most?) members are mixed-economy, social democrats and democratic socialists.

Thus the point of disagreement between myself and a supporter of Starmer’s new, New Labour, may not be about what type of social, political and economic future would be desireable but about whether such a future is possible.

A new, New Labourite may genuinely believe that the best ANY political party can ever achieve these days in terms of representing the interests of the labouring classes, is to tinker with the regulatory/benefit/tax system and that it is important to do that even while acknowledging that it is not ideal.

IF a person believes there is no alternative to neoliberalism then maybe it is rational to believe that “the next best” thing to do is to manage neoliberalism with as much sympathy to the labouring classes as is possible.

I however, still believe there are achievable alternatives to neoliberalism. Indeed, the 2017 election result demonstrated to me that a Labour Party fully committed to Corbyn and the 2017 manifesto could have overcome the media biases and won an outright (if narrow) victory and formed the government.

I see a mixed-economy, social democratic, government as not only desirable but crucially necessary and also as absolutely achievable. But for the social democratic alternative to become possible it has to be at the very least expressed in the public domain and people of good faith have to be seen to fight for it.

It seems to me that to accept Thatcher’s TINA narrative is to prematurely surrender and by managing neoliberalism according to the values of neoliberalism is to participate in the strengthening of the neoliberal order.

The new, New Labourites may regard my as ‘idealism’ as self-defeating but I regard their pessimistic, nihilism, as a form of entirely unnecessary surrender.

In fact I would go so far as to say that the depth of the crisis in neoliberalism means that there is in fact no alternative other than a social democratic, mixed-economy and that this is now inevitable.

The Tories are in effect introducing and overseeing mixed-economy, Keynsian policies, while trying to maintain their neoliberal, market economy, ideology. This makes their management of the economy disastrously incoherent and ineffective.

Today, the ONLY chance for the Labour Party to win an election is if it puts forward a coherent Keynsian, social democratic, alternative to Tory neoliberalism and firmly places the blame for the current crisis on neoliberalism. The small c conservatism of New Labour was clearly effective in the 90’s and naughties but today it is entirely misplaced.

About Chris Jury

I Am Not A Number is written by Chris Jury. For 30 years Chris Jury was a TV actor, director and writer best known for playing Eric Catchpole in over 60 episodes of the BBC’s antique classic, Lovejoy, and for directing over 50 episodes of Eastenders.
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  1. Bill Malcolm says:

    Well, I will say that the Stormer has nice hair. Other than that, pfft, as you say.

    I look at the country of my birth these days as an utter and complete waste of time, the lap poodle of the USA, with blurts of irrationality and pining for lost empire and influence. It has fully succumbed to financial capitalism, the real name for neoliberalism of the Chicago school, which has led to the de-industrialization of a once mighty real economic manufacturing sector except for weapons, real estate landlords gettig rich on unearned income, free trade pacts where disputes are handled by supranational boards with authority beyond national law, and real producing economies for the citizenry replaced by people running around in circles attempting to get by on selling each other thin air services and speculative tech stocks. All powered by fake unbacked currency for an unfortunately real outcome of declining prosperity. Fatuously initially called the information society to excuse exporting productive jobs to principally China, but now to anywhere where people will work for two bowls of rice and two quid a day because they have no choice in order to merely survive. There our rulers make goods on the cheap for Western capitalists to flog to their subjects who finally now haven’t the money left over after rent and food to buy the stuff anyway. All foreseen as the race to the bottom and warned about, but ignored because it made corporate balance sheets look good in the here and now. Completely without any social mores whatsoever, the ultrarich have filled their pockets and now rule relative paupers. Where to strike out next to make some real loot? That’s the concern of the really rich. Opportunities are scarce.

    So to set the stage for one last giant gasp, jingoism and patriotic chest-beating is reaching epic proportions these days. Hate is preached against any country that resists the neoliberal tide. The great landmass of Asia has untold natural wealth, well, twenty or thirty years worth of full scale messianic extraction activity anyway, to exploit in the manner the rest of the world has already been treated, particularly over the last forty or so years since Thatcher and Reagan appeared fully on scene. Not that those two goofs had the brainpower to really understand what they were up to, but were pushed by their innate anti-unionism bents and the burgeoning financial sector to put down the masses, proclaim the virtues of the rugged individual standing proud and free (to get rid of unions), and to end the welfare state for those incapable of looking after themselves in the new deeper rat race they promoted. Society? What’s that? it doesn’t exist, proclaimed the woman with the sprayed-in-place hair.

    Austerity politics for the citizenry was enabled because “we were living beyond our means”, and without the public’s permission or even understanding, national resources in the form of public utilities like electricity and water and train travel and the Post Office were flogged off to private financial vultures for pennies on the pound. This, we were informed, would make things more efficient, because who ever thought “government” was efficient? I did, working at a Crown corporation, but the powers that be knew it would be easy to use popular prejudice for their real action to hoover up wealth on the cheap for themselves.

    And so it has proved as big a ripoff as initially feared. There has been a distinct lack of investment in rail travel, for example, since the rich boys took over. The citizens known as the General Public were fleeced every which way to Sunday, and didn’t really raise a murmur. Various nitwit bought-and-paid-for pundits arose in the media to espouse the line: “the free market solves everything!” As if. Jackals of the Blair type arose to have their glory power days in the sun, while lying away like troopers on WMD. Iraq was the stand-in for Western wrath at high oil prices set by foreigners who should be bowing down in fealty, and were Muslims and Arabs like OPEC that prejudice could dun easily. Millions died for nothing but shock and awe criminality.

    The essence of a productive economy that is lean and spare and competitive and pays a decent wage to workers is the provision of “free” public infrastructure and education. It seems to me that was the general if unspoken or understood plan about 125 years ago, both in the UK and USA. The extant capitalists of the time believed they were getting a free ride on the backs of citizens and so they were, but the rising tide of beneficial infrastructure lifted all boats. Plus in the US Teddy Roosevelt led the trustbusters, knocking over a few monopolies in his wake. Industrial capitalism it’s called these days — society at large provides the infrastructure which is relatively free for all to use, and the chief proponent of it is now China, which has also knocked down a few of its own billionaires like Jack Ma. So our own “betters” now call industrial capitalism communism to tar it with a barf brush as they now impose fees on the use of everything because they own it. Free roads and education? Perish the thought when you can charge for it!

    To puff up our chests with righteousness, we’re told we all live in freedom-loving democracies concerned with human rights and the promotion of niche politics for the selected fad vulnerable of the month, which won’t affect the general tide of big brother’s hand in your pocket, so we can vehemently argue the toss about the latest caterwauling of some minor injustice without upsetting the true applecart of the real rulers’ greed. Deflection.

    Hell, Orwell had worked out pre WW2 that the word democracy now stood for capitalism, and that patting ourselves on the back for being such wonderful fair people in our colonial treatment of third world countries was a complete joke. Bringing “enlightenment” to “savages” was the general line of nonsense we were all led to believe — I know that was how I was taught in the 1950s living in Portsmouth. And proselytizing missionaries spread the by-then highly modified original religion of Christianity on the back of the obviously stronger foreign militaries occupying countries — believe this dogma and thus be strong like us. Not now, later. Nobody from the West asked the subjected peoples whether they liked being ruled by foreigners, and we gave ourselves props for bringing modern thought and ways to them — it was for their own good. What a load of complete cobblers it all was, but it sold to the average punter at home, while resources were taken, shipped home and turned into manufactured goods. Gradually, average standards of living rose in what we now call the West, so in general the uninformed citizenry backed the policies of looting foreign lands; the Mrs Bucket kind of Tory flourished, along with retired grumpy Army colonels on half-pay who wrote to The Telegraph harumphing about low moral standards. But now in 2022, “stuff” is running out and the natural environment is reacting to the fast depletion of its own wealth.

    I believe your focus is perhaps too narrow when you go on about the parochial UK Labour Party. Democratic socialism where government competes with business and provides infrastructure for all from our own tax base won’t occur with things set up the way they are now, no matter how many real Left people inhabit the hulk of Labour. Not that I disagree with your general viewpoint, but the way Labour has become just a philosophy-free political party is emblematic of Western society in general. All opposition to “free” markets has been methodically stamped out, we’ve cynically anointed ourselves as damn fine people whose way of life is incomparably and philosophically pure and wonderful, and watch out — the Asian hordes are coming to get us unless we’re damn careful to repel them or let them organize to become really powerful. This attitude presupposes they’re jealous of us and our supposed wealth and freedom and want to conquer us and steal our “treasure”. The paranoia of the super-rich knows no bounds. We’re not far off the days of yore in remote one-horse company towns where workers got paid in scrip instead of coin of the realm, and could only redeem the scrip at the company store at outrageous “prices”. Get ’em coming and going. The meme now is to make everything a per month rental fee to provide a nice even revenue stream to the big boys, and where nobody really ever gets ahead except for the odd genius here and there, or raises a word of opposition to “the way things are”.

    I’d recommend you read some Michael Hudson on the way economics actually applies to the West, the scam involving lending third world countries or Greece more than enough paper credit so they are incapable of paying back the interest imposed, let alone the capital, and then ensues the private vultures moving in and buying up the country’s physical assets on the cheap to pay the “debt”. Having practised this form of economic colonialism on the world for decades, there’s nothing much left for financial capitalism to mine for quick profit but the citizen members of the marauding capitalist societies themselves. So homelessness, ripoff pricing, fines for not paying up on time on a myriad of gotcha who knew they existed fees and regulations, prohibition of mass demonstrations against the rulers, well it all portends the end of independent thought, really.

    Not to worry, the environment has gone to the dogs, so the end of the world as we know it is knocking on our doorsteps anyway. Fire and flooding and famine is our immediate future. Well, I suppose it was enjoyable for some while it lasted. No wonder Musk wants to escape to Mars and drink his own recycled piss in a stately pressurized pleasure dome.

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