Since New Labour abandoned being the party of social justice and social democracy its had a real difficulty distinguishing itself from the Tories. To use the old cliché - you can't squeeze a cigarette paper between the two parties. Gordon Brown's latest offering in the Guardian shows the dilemma. Brown talks about fairness and aspiration - two words much abused by politicians. Aspiration is the New Labour buzzword so I started by looking it up in my dictionary and found - usu. aspirations ) a hope or ambition of achieving something. So far so good - but which of us does that word not apply to? We all hope to achieve something and we do in our jobs, friendships and family life.
So what is Gordon on about? Well what he means is he wants you to aspire to be middle class - if you aren't already. Its the old chestnut. In a capitalist society people have to 'get on'. But what happens if someone doesn't want to buy in to all this? Does it make them worthless? No it doesn't. And if they want to - will they be able to? To 'get on' you have to have the opportunity. But after 13 years of New Labour and 30 years of Thatcherism inequality in society has increased. People have less opportunity to get on now than they did when I was growing up. The very people, Brown, Blair, Milburn et al, who benefited from that more equal society have pulled the ladder up after them with policies such as student fees, lower taxation for the rich, privatisation and deregulation of big business. No wonder the working class people feel abandoned and slighted by New Labour.
Brown says in his article that "we must create more skilled, well paid jobs". I couldn't agree more. But the free market policies pursued by New Labour and the Tories have failed to do this and they will continue to fail to do so. Free market capitalism takes wealth from workers and gives it to shareholders. We can expect to see less well paid jobs and poorer pensions if we continue with these failed economic policies. As usual Brown is saying one thing and doing the opposite.
At one time people felt comfortable with being working class. They didn't feel inferior to middle class people. New Labour (and the Tories) aspiration agenda is about a very narrow, individualistic, acquisitive version of social justice. There is nothing in here about raising up communities. In fact its not really social justice at all. John harris is his recent riposte on CiF summed it up nicely -
"But in its modern context, aspiration also has a more mendacious aspect: as the catch-all justification for politicians' refusal to do anything convincing about concentrations of wealth and privilege at the top"
In the 1960's when we lived in a more politically active and politically astute society. People understood that there were barriers to social advancement - that the children of the better off get the best jobs - not because they are more able but because they are better resourced and connected. Now - thanks to New Labour and the Tories - we have returned to those times. The only way we are going to get out of this mess is if people become more politically active and astute. We need a party in this country which will take the steps necessary to increase social and economic equality. The only party with that aspiration at the moment is the Green Party.