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Compass [1] amongst others are proclaiming the death of New Labour. They, amongst others, claim that a shopping list of new policies (or rather reheated old policies) such as more redistribution via punitive tax rates and renationalisation of the railways are what is needed to get Labour back on track towards winning a fourth term. They say that we should accept the fact that the South East is naturally Tory and go back to energising our core who seem to being peeled off by parties to the left (if the success of numerous socialist parties in Wales is anything to go by). We may not have liked New Labour, they say, but we could stomach it as long as it was winning elections. Now it doesn’t even do that, it’s time to return to a full-blooded socialist agenda.

There are several things about this argument that are wrong: firstly, New Labour wasn’t just about winning elections, important as that is. Besides, even if it was this argument tends to be based on the fallacy that New Labour targetted the middle and aspirational working classes at the expense of the core vote. It didn’t: it had policies that appealed to both. The need to maintain our position on the radical centre is as important today as it was in 1997 if we want to hold off the Tories in the south and the various attacks from the left elsewhere. Ulimately, disunity now will lead us back into opposition for a generation and that will be a disaster for the people we all entered politics to help.

However, as I say, my point isn’t about elections alone. New Labour was born out of a reading of the history of previous Labour governments: you only have to look at this history to see how, even with the best of intentions, Labour ultimately let down those people we entered politics to help. Whether this was done by having unrealistic policies or plain irresponsible attitudes towards the management of the economy, the fact remains tht Labour acquired a reputation for being an economic disaster zone.

So, where does this leave us today? As the title of the blog suggest, I think that New Labour is still absolutely necessary. It’s necessary for people who want low and stable interest rates; necessary for the people who need help to find work; necessary for the people struggling to raise a family on a low income; necessary for those who are sick, or infirm; necessary for those people who need a good local school for their child. We abandon these people if we think for one minute that ideological purity is more important than getting things done on the ground. We abandon them by wallowing in self-indulgence rather than trying to rebuild a progressive, election-winning, coalition.

The lesson of New Labour is that social justice and economic efficiency are compatible: the trick is to find new policies that are both popular and don’t undermine confidence in our ability to run the economy. The thing about modernising is that it never stops: the needs of 2008 are different from the needs of 1997. We have to reflect that in policies that recognise the hopes and aspirations of people here and now. I for one entered politics to make life better for the vast majoirty of people, not to prove my left-wing virilty.