Found myself last night at a standing-room-only packed to the rafters meeting hosted by the Guardian and the esteemed journal Soundings at a swanky location round the back of Kings Cross with the question “After New Labour” up for debate.
The figure that loomed largest was actually Thactcher followed by Keynes as a close second. Chuka Umuna (Labour PPC for Streatham) said that the Thatcher years were summed up by De La Soul’s fab “Me, Myself and I”. Jeremy Gilbert, UEL academic and expert in dance culture and radical politics called Thatcher’s selling off of council houses “genius” for creating a market of small-time property speculators with their own homes to fill with Chinese manufactured goods. Jezza was the only speaker to recieve a round of appluase from the audience for his lively analysis b efore the Q and A kicked in.
A 22 year old asked Harriet Harman what exaxctly Labour values were as all her political consciousness had been under Thatcher. The questioner quite rightly made the point that it was no longer any good to keep lambasting the Tory years as an increasing proprtion of the electorate have no memory of the era. In my day it was footage of the unburied dead and rats running around on heaps of rubbish duriung the Winter of Discontent that used to be used to scare voters in Conservative broadcasts. Only when the memories of that receeded by a younger electorate in 97 was New Labour elected.
Harman declared that Labour values were “not set out in tablets of stone” but listed government achievements. The other word that kept recurring was “radical”, with the audience accusing New Labour in power of not being bold enough. Harman admitted that despite their monster majority in 1997 Labour lacked confidence, reminding us that in the prior 18 years “we were grade-A election losers”.
Cruddas talked about the choice between the “better world is possible/ currency of hope” view versus the “shrill sour language of nationalism, authoritarianism and demonisation of minority groups”. Let’s hope that the former wins out tonight in the US election results. Some good early indications from the quaintly named Dixville Notch where the votes have been counted and Obama has wiped the floor with McCain. Fingers crossed for the rest of the country.