Martin Jacques sounds last orders for New Labour
The former Editor of Marxism Today and in more recent times theorist on China Martin Jacques has written an interesting comment piece in The Observer (21.8). In it he sounds the last orders bell for both neo-liberalism and New Labour.
He writes a line that will have most spin doctors and simplifiers heading for a rest. Talking of what is called political ‘populism’ he notes that ‘it can be progressive or reactionary but more usually both’. It is the kind of nuance that doesn’t go down well in what passes for much political discussion today. Reality is complex, messy and not straightforward. Who knew?
Jacques is probably still best known as Editor of Marxism Today in its New Times period when he provided much of the theoretical justification for what became New Labour. I appeared quite regularly in its pages, I’m prepared to admit, but not because I was agreeing with them.
Many of those associated with the MT project have long since made clear that New Labour didn’t really turn out as they had thought it would.
Jacques Observer piece takes this further.
He argues that a key issue now across the world is rising inequality and that when in Office New Labour did little to turn that around. That means that a party that is certainly in part designed to protect and where possible advance the interests of the poorest in society is divorced from them politically.
He also looks at the rise of support for Trump and Sanders in the US and while arguing that New Labour is finished does not as many social media obsessives do fixate on Labour. He underlines that the Tories too are in crisis after Brexit.
Jacques argues that we are seeing a return of class and particularly the working class to politics but that this only weakly relates to left politics. Perhaps so but that is far too vague. What is the relation and how might it be strengthened to head off the right is the key point. Certainly not on Jacques analysis by pursuing the old New Labour or Neo-Liberal agendas.
I’m not sure either that Jacques is right to compare the present period to the 1930s, although it is of course a frame of reference that comes to my mind too (I’m 60). Comparing historical periods is fraught with problems and needs to be done with care.
But all that being said Jacques piece suggests directions of thought that are too little discussed. Perhaps he should revive Marxism Today.