About Gaye Johnston’s book: “New Labour: was the gain worth the continuing pain?”
Stop Press: Gaye Johnston’s book will now be published on the internet in May 2016.
“Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader of the Labour Party with the support of more than 59% of the Labour Party electorate should signal the first green shoots of the Labour Party’s return to democratic socialism. New Labour is now, or should be, a thing of the past belonging to the Party’s history. However a large section of the Parliamentary Labour Party remains loyal to New Labour, are opposing the Corbyn leadership. They are resisting Labour’s return to being a social democratic Party as the vast majority of Labours grass roots members wish. These MPs are the products of New Labour’s handling of most Parliamentary candidate selections up until the 2010 general election and to the activities of the Blairite Progress Group. This book examines how these selections were “manipulated” by the Party Machine. The Foreword to the book was written by the late Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher shortly before his recent death.
What is this book about?
The book also analyses the faults of New Labour and documents its relatively minor achievements (apart from winning elections). These are compared with the superior work of earlier Labour Governments and of the contemporary Australian Labor Party.
This book is timely. It offers much fresh information about how New Labour really operated in order to entrench its power base and bury the Party’s long held values and aims. Other results are a dedicated New Labour Party secretariat and persisting damage to Labour’s relationships with the trade unions and with working class people generally.
This work is original and different. Many books have been written about the New Labour era. Virtually all have been memoirs of lone members of the New Labour elite (including Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson ) alternatively they have been written by journalists outside the Labour Party. Currently it is more vital than ever that New Labour’s mistakes are considered and lessons are taken. It is also important that the Party learns from New Labour’s , albeit minimal, achievements .
This book contains fascinating material offered in exclusive interviews, conducted by the author, with more than eighty people who were significant actors in the Labour Party and Labour movement between 1994 and 2010. There are exclusive interviews with MPs including Jeremy Corbyn, the late Michael Meacher, Jon Cruddas, John McDonnell, former MPs Frank Dobson and Clare Short and 21 others. The work offers analyses by other people holding crucial positions within the movement: including trade union leaders: Len McLuskey (UNITE) and Billy Hayes (Communication Workers). In addition questions were put to twenty seven Constituency Labour Party Secretaries, from all regions of England, Scotland and Wales, conference delegates and other party activists.
Interviews were also held with former Labour Party staff and grass roots Party members who had been delegates to the Labour Conference and who reported undemocratic practices there. Others were interviewed who had been involved in, what they considered to be, questionable selections of Parliamentary candidates and in other suspect internal Party ballots. There is reference to supporting material from other publications.
In addition 13 aspiring national politicians were interviewed; these had allegedly been obstructed by the New Labour machine when applying for Parliamentary candidatures. This was usually done because they were democratic socialists or working class. The book provides extensive direct testimony given by participants.
Analysis of the New labour phenomenon.
New Labour was an authoritarian power project managed, on a top down basis, by a small elite. None of the interviewees had belonged to that elite since around the Millennium. Most had never joined the charmed circle.
The book offers a penetrating analysis of the failures and achievements of New Labour. First it assesses the New Labour Project itself and how it came to dominate the Party. It examines how New Labour changed the values, aims, rules and structure of the Party. The outcome was that that the Party was transformed into a very different type of organisation. It became hollowed out: losing 62% of its individual members between 1997 and 2010. Several Unions, including the Rail and Maritime Workers and Fire Fighters, terminated their Party affiliation.
The Labour record in winning elections, albeit with diminishing returns from the early 21st century, is appraised. So is improvement in the Party’s public relations and its controversial relationship with the right wing media. This is followed by an evaluation of the policy record of New Labour Governments. That assessment covers the whole gamut of policies: domestic and foreign.
The book then turns its attention to a more detailed examination of the emasculation of Party and Parliamentary democracy under New Labour. New Labour disciples have often tried to discredit the record of ‘Old’, or rather ‘Principled’, Labour. Therefore the book also compares the former’s record in the above fields with that of previous Labour administrations. It frequently finds the ‘New’ regime wanting. Readers may recall the considerable achievements of Labour Governments led by Attlee and Wilson. The book examines the deteriorating relationship between New Labour and the trade unions; whom contemporary TUC General Secretary John Monks said were being treated by the Party as “embarrassing elderly relations”.
Next interviewees, and the author, offer their overall assessments of the New Labour’s record and speak about their vision for the future of Labour Government and the Labour Party in Britain. The author draws comparisons with the achievements of the contemporary Australian Labor Party and Government which she investigated locally. She interviewed contemporary Australian Federal Labor Minister Gary Gray. These comparisons are significant because of the close relationship and similar history, political and social environment of the two Labour(or) parties.
Finally participants discuss what can be learnt from the New Labour experience to help develop the future of Labour Government and Party. How can contemporary Labour avoid repeating New Labour’s mistakes and failures in future? What positive things can be learnt from the 1994-2010 period that would improve future Labour Government and Opposition? How vital is returning Labour to many of its traditional aims and values? Should Labour now be focussing on effectively representing all working class people in Britain in addition to the seemingly inevitable courting of middle class people living in marginal constituencies? How can Labour return to being a really effective democratic socialist and democratically run party? It is hoped that Jeremy Corbyn will be able to lead Labour towards those aims without suffering continual obstruction from New Labour fossils in the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Who this book is for: This book will appeal to all who have a lively and informed interest in contemporary British (and Australian) politics. Although it is not an academic book it will be of interest to people who study politics.
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This page was last updated on: 07/05/16