New Labour began as an ill-advised facsimile of the center-right shift of U.S. politics.
In the aftermath of the dreadful Dukakis campaign in 1988, Bill Clinton headed the ‘New Democrat’ movement to Reaganize the Democratic Party by tilting it to the right. Richard Gephardt, Bruce Babbitt, Lawton Chiles and Sam Nunn all gave the Democratic Leadership Council their backing. Al From became the founder and CEO of the party-within-a-party to drive public opinion to the right and displace the liberal paradigm that had sustained the Democrats since the days of FDR and JFK.
In Britain, Neil Kinnock succeeded Michael Foot who represented the final phase of Old Labour. Kinnock did yeoman duty to move the Labour Party to the center during the era of Reagan and Thatcher. After losing two elections – that last one very narrowly – Kinnock resigned as party leader. John Smith presided over a strong comeback for Labour, but he died suddenly at the height of his popularity in 1994.
After Smith’s shocking demise, Tony Blair won out over Gordon Brown and proceeded to move even further to the right rebranding his movement, “New Labour,” as a British version of the Reaganite, “New Democrat,” movement in the USA.
In 1997, New Labour swept to an overwhelming victory toppling eighteen years of Tory rule. In the flush of victory, New Labour was able to establish a minimum wage and devolution for the local governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The creation of the Greater London Authority was another important achievement.
While Blair had been closely allied with Bill Clinton, for obvious reasons, the two leaders waged war in the Balkans and made peace in Northern Ireland.
However, the clear turning point for New Labour came upon the “election” of George W. Bush to the American presidency. At that point, Blair swiftly became the vassal to the senior partner in the historic “special” transatlantic relationship. Against fierce opposition from the rank and file of his own party, Blair willingly followed Bush into the disastrous wars in the Middle East. The progressive era of New Labour closed, and a dark period of deterioration settled on Number Ten Downing Street as Blair became ever more thoroughly indoctrinated with neoconservatism. The lingering termination of Blair’s premiership haunted New Labour, and Gordon Brown inherited a toxic brand by the time he moved into Number Ten Downing Street.
Labour’s collapse at the last election presaged the formal end of New Labour as a politically viable brand, and the ensuing battle over party leadership came down to a classic contest between the two brilliant brothers Miliband. David Miliband is senior to his brother, Ed. While David clung to the centrist mantle of Blair, Ed promised a progressive reincarnation of Labour that would deliberately steer to the left for the first time in a quarter of a century.
The leadership contest lasted months with David perceived to be well ahead and in the lead from the outset. While the senior Miliband led comfortably, he subtly requested that Tony Blair should not announce his support, but the story broke to his detriment. Unwittingly, Blair then torpedoed David Miliband and sealed his fate by warning the party that any minute shift to the left would be a political disaster for Labour.
Early on, Labour’s most respected elder statesman, Tony Benn, backed Ed Miliband signaling to the rank and file that it was time for a return to Labour’s core progressive principles and her political base in the working class. Ed Miliband accomplished a few very deft and subtle maneuvers (SMS texting) that established his personal brand as the leader of the next generation rather than the heir-apparent of the last. Ed Miliband articulated his progressive vision by advocating, “a living wage,” the “greening” of the British economy and the introduction of, “windfall taxes.”
While Big Brother David’s lead seemed to be well-established, the race became neck-and-neck in the last week. Only days ago, a telltale sign of a potential upset emerged when the bookmakers shifted the odds to favor Little Brother Ed.
In the event, the lead see-sawed back and forth, but with the backing of the trade unions Ed Miliband won on the fourth ballot by a slender but palpable margin over his elder sibling.
In a gracious victory statement, Ed Miliband said, “David, I love you so much as a brother and I have such extraordinary respect for the campaign that you ran — the strength and eloquence that you showed… I have to unify this party and I will… Today the work of the new generation begins.”
The election of 40-year-old Ed Miliband to lead the UK’s Labour Party proves the existence of a vibrant progressive movement in Britain that mirrors Barack Obama’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2008. In 2006, I met Ed Miliband at a Young Fabians seminar in the House of Commons. At that point, I felt that he was moving swiftly toward great things.
Michael Carmichael is the founder of Planetary. Carmichael’s political commentary has appeared on many websites including: The Huffington Post, Global Research; Information Clearing House; Scoop; Counterpunch; Progressive Democrats of America; Dandelion Salad; Tea Break (Pakistan); Vijayvaani (New Delhi, India) and the Baltimore Chronicle.
© Copyright Michael Carmichael, PlanetaryMovement.org, 2010