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Labour's Troubles - only Just Beginning
EVEN THE New Labour government's most loyal supporters in the media were forced to admit last week that the Blair "magic has started to fade". With New Labour approaching its thousandth day in office, word went out from Downing Street not to celebrate the occasion.
The recent upheavals experienced by the Blair regime will no doubt be one factor behind the government planning for an election within the next 18 months, possibly even as early as this autumn.
The bad news for New Labour is that their problems are only just beginning. After a week of bad headlines: the NHS crisis; the inability to deliver on other election promises; Straw's decisions on Pinochet, Tyson and the right to trial by jury; the government's betrayal of its 'ethical' foreign policy and last but not least the cover-ups and spin that accompanied all these fiascos, New Labour then saw further catastrophes sailing over the horizon.
The Geoffrey Robinson/Transtec scandal could become New Labour's "cash for questions" - a scandal that could go all the way to the top as Blair and Brown have been heavily subsidised by Robinson. The London Mayoral Labour nomination has seen Blair and Brown tormented by the normally mute membership of the Labour Party.
But it is last week's massive jump in the public-sector borrowing requirement that will be causing the most anxious flutters in both 10 & 11 Downing Street.
The doubling of the expected figure - if continued - would mean that New Labour's projected £20 billion pre-election war chest would be wiped out. All its limited promises (very limited in most cases) would be unfulfilled.
Even before the economy hits the sands Blair has changed his NHS promises into "aspirations". You cannot live on or cure health problems with "aspirations".
Added to this more gloomy outlook is the increasingly sharp warnings - such as in last week's Economist - that the US economy is now more likely to suffer a hard landing of such a scale to send massive shockwaves throughout the world economy.
All the media commentators agreed that a feeling of crisis is starting to envelop the Blair government. They are also desperately searching for the root cause or fatal flaw that has led the Blair government to this point.
The government's bewildered media supporters argue that it has half implemented some 'decent' reforms - minimum wage, New Deal, union rights etc - but that these limited reforms are outweighed by the duplicity of the government or its inability to deliver in other matters.
All these things may cause the government's former friends much agony but regular readers of this paper will remember what we said even before New Labour came to power. We warned in May 1997 that under this government "the needs of big business and finance, the drive for profit will dominate over the needs of millions of ordinary people."
That is the 'fatal flaw' at the heart of this New Labour government. Blair thinks that he can run Britain as if he were the chief executive of a public limited company. But Britain PLC was not in particularly great shape after 18 years of Tory devastation.
That weakness will be underlined time and again as the world economy faces turbulence in the years ahead. Blair realises his best bet is to cut and runin the hope of winning an election against the discredited and divided Tories.
But the events of the last few weeks have fundamentally changed the perception of the New Labour government. Working-class people have seen it is weak and will not advance their interests.
That's why, even if Blair were to win a general election, it will be on a massively reduced turnout and with a slashed majority. Moreover, there will be increasing and bitter anger against it from amongst working-class people.
Such anger will give New Labour much bigger troubles in the years ahead.
In The Socialist 28 January 2000: