Editorial from the July 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
Last month, new Labour's credibility plummeted to new depths as they attempted to play the so-called “class card”. By focusing on the unsuccessful application by a comprehensive school pupil to Oxford University, one cabinet minister after another were trotted out to lambast the “forces of conservatism” which apparently lay behind this country's elitist educational institutions.
The fact that the aforementioned ministers were commenting on the specifics of a particular case to which they were not privy only underlines that this was a pathetic display of populist opportunism. Coupled with the fact that it is becoming increasingly more difficult for people from poorer backgrounds to attend university, New Labour could be charged with the more serious political crimes of cant and humbug with a large dash of hypocrisy. The politics of spin seems to have finally caught up with them.
And herein lies the rub. New Labour's honeymoon is clearly over. The Conservatives are closing the opinion poll gap as was proved by the local election results and grass-roots labour supporters increasingly cry that they have been forgotten as the government have played to the needs of “middle England”.
New Labour is well aware of this. The first two to three years has been characterised by financial orthodoxy, or “prudence” as Gordon Brown refers to it (sticking to Tory spending targets, the budget surplus, the cutting of the national debt, etc) much to the delight of the City and some sections of industry. However, this has meant that new Labour conceded ground over the NHS and education.
This is why the government may start to ease off the brakes and “left turn” slightly in the run up to the general election. This is the real context of the “class card”. Already the Chancellor has begun to earmark more money for hospitals and schools as Blair and co attempt to reposition themselves towards a more traditional populist approach.
In any case, this is all very cheeky. Not so long ago, Blair told us that the class war was over (although he never announced the winner) and that we were all on the same side. Indeed, this was the theoretical basis of the “Third Way”.
The class war is not over and will continue for as long as we have capitalism. By seeking to deny the class nature of capitalism, New Labour reveal themselves as one of the deadliest enemies of the working class. Such is the contradictory nature of capitalism that even they had to admit to the continued existence of class. But be under no illusions as to which side of the class struggle they are on.