It's not often that I find myself agreeing with anything Peter Hitchens says, so I was taken aback when I stumbled across an old article of his in the Daily Mail calling for the renationalisation of British Rail, in which he described rail privatisation as "a huge con that left us with delays, antique trains and a vast bill", admitted that he'd stopped believing in free-trade and asked "What on earth is the point of the Labour Party if it cannot even oppose the mad disaster of railway privatisation?"
Once I got over the shock of agreeing with something this right-wing blowhard had said (by telling myself that even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day), I got to thinking about the answer to the question: What is the point of the Labour Party?
I know what the point of the Labour Party used to be before Blair and Brown took over in 1994 and replaced the principle ideologies of the party with a Rupert Murdoch approved version of neoliberalism-lite (Thatcherite economic policy with a sprinkling of pseudo-socialist window dressing). The point of the Old Labour party was to maintain a social democratic system in which the public are provided with a social safety net and enough opportunities in life to stop them from rising up and overthrowing the establishment.
In my view the achievements of the post-war Labour Party were the great political legacy of the 20th Century. The NHS, full employment, decent housing, and a more equitable share of the wealth for the bottom 90% of society. The truly incredible thing is that as all of this was being built and maintained, the national debt fell from 238% of GDP in 1947 to just 43% of GDP in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher tore up the post-war consensus in favour of ideologically driven right-wing neoliberalism, since when the national debt has sky-rocketed back up again (especially if you include the deliberately hidden costs of PFI debt legacies and the bankers' bailouts).The privatisation of British Rail has been the most visible failure all of the crony capitalist privatisations enforced by the 1979-97 Tory government. As a result of this ludicrous ideologically driven sell-off, Network Rail (the bit that runs the actual railway lines) has amassed a staggering £34 billion worth of public debt; the UK rail engineering and manufacturing sectors have been annihilated; ticket prices have risen above inflation year, after year, after year; overcrowding has got ridiculous and extremely dangerous on many commuter lines; and the private rail operators and rolling stock companies have got rich on £billions worth of taxpayer funded subsidies.
The subsidies handed out to private rail companies amount to far more than the entire cost of British Rail before it was carved up for privatisation, and where we were once global leaders in advanced rail technology, we now buy our tilting trains from Italy!
PFI was introduced by the Tory party in the early 1990s, but Gordon Brown oversaw a huge expansion in these ridiculous one-sided contracts, that have been described by the Treasury Select Committee as "an extremely inefficient method of funding [public infrastructure] projects". The debt legacies from these absurd economic alchemy schemes have already driven numerous NHS Trusts into severe financial difficulties, and will remain an enormous burden on future generations of taxpayers.
Hundreds of billions in outstanding PFI debt legacies may be the most expensive privatisation burden left by New Labour, but the most ludicrous of all must be the Mapeley Steps deal to privatise the Inland Revenue property portfolio. Anyone suffering under the delusion that New Labour was a socialist government, should think long and hard about how on earth privatising our tax collection offices into the hands of a company basing themselves in Bermuda for the purposes of avoiding tax, is in any way compatible with socialism (an economic system based on social ownership).
Labour's track record in office is proof that the party ceased to be any kind of socialist party when it was usurped by Blair and Brown in 1994. Of course there are still good people within the Labour party (John McDonnell, Dennis Skinner, Michael Meacher, Ian Mearns, Stella Creasy, Grahame Morris ...), and a significant percentage of Labour supporters still identify as socialists. However it is absolutely clear that Labour will never go back to promoting social democracy, as long as adherents of the right-wing economic orthodoxy like Ed Balls retain key positions within the party.
The current Labour party energy policy is a perfect illustration that the party is intent on remaining a neoliberal party, but disguising the fact with a dollop of pseudo-socialist tinkering. The vast majority of the UK public want to see the energy companies renationalised, but all "Red Ed" is prepared to offer is the continuation of private ownership of our vital energy infrastructure, just with a short-term energy price freeze as a bribe to the electorate.
Another indicator that Labour offer no real alternative to the Tories is the ludicrous pledge to stick to George Osborne's spending plans, despite the fact that George Osborne's economic plans have been a colossal failure so far. In 2010 he pledged to completely eliminate the budget deficit by 2014-15, but we're on track to borrow an extra £100 billion this year. In fact George Osborne has borrowed more in four years than New Labour did in thirteen. If George Osborne's economic plans have been such an appalling failure so far, why on earth are Labour pledging to stick to them if they win power in 2015?
Another indicator of the fact that the Labour party are more concerned with grabbing political power by whatever means is the way they focus their attacks on the Green Party and the SNP, rather than focusing their efforts on overthrowing the Tory led coalition. The fact that Caroline Lucas' Brighton Pavillion constituency is one of their top target seats for the 2015 General Election tells us everything we need to know. Labour are more concerned with rubbing out parties that promote the social democratic policies they discarded in the 1990s, than they are with actually fighting the Tories.
Labour fear the growth of a viable left-wing alternative party just as much as the Tories fear UKIP. The Labour leadership seem to think that attacking genuine left-wing parties and offering the electorate nothing more than "not quite as bad as the Tories" will be enough convince the public to vote them back into power in 2015. Even though they've experienced an opinion poll boost on the rare occasions they have offered anything even remotely radical, they're still intent on pushing a Thatcherism-lite agenda in the vain hope that the Tabloid press will take it easy on them. They haven't realised that the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail will attack Labour whatever they offer, as long as Ed Miliband is leader of the party, and that by attempting to suck up to the right-wing press, they're simply driving more and more left-wing people away from the Labour Party in exasperation.
So in answer to the question of what the Labour Party is for? The Labour Party has become nothing more than an empty power structure, so far divorced from its founding principles that it exists only to seek and maintain political power. The party leadership isn't driven by any objective other than the pursuit of power for its own sake. The Labour party strategists imagine that the only path to achieve this political power is through eschewing any kind of radical, progressive or left-wing policies, in favour of promoting a Thatcherism-lite agenda designed to appease the right-wing press, and by conning the public into voting for them with a few lame bits of pseudo-socialist window dressing.
Written by Thomas G Clark who blogs regularly here