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The Labour Party

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Green
Party

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Dems

New Labour or Old?

Labour has been the dominant party locally since the mid-1980s. It won control of the then Brighton Borough Council in 1986, the first time ever. Even more astoundingly it won control of Hove Borough Council in 1995, the first time ever. And then it won control of the new unitary authority of Brighton & Hove, when the two towns merged, in 1996. And has held power since. It crowned its achievement in 1997 by winning all three parliamentary seats and holding on to them in the two successive general elections. The true blue Tory towns had gone red - New Labour red. But since 1997 its grip on local power has been slipping.

Between 1987 and 1997 Labour nationally had changed profoundly, even if locally many of the same political actors remained in post. The change can be summed up like this: in the 1980s Labour's former deputy leader, Roy Hattersley, was a leading figure on the right-wing of the party. By 1997 he was an outsider on the left of the party!

Of course, many books have been written about Blair, Blairism, and New Labour. Put simply, they can be expalined thus: equality is not a part of Blair's political lexicon. Tony Blair is a meritocrat, maybe, but he is not an egalitarian. The only leverage he offers working people in the capitalist system is the promise of a better education to aid their employment search in the labour market. Hence his oft-repeated mantra "Education, Education, Education".

The belief in a publicly-owned and publicly-accountable sector of the economy has been abandoned, and with it the egalitarian ideals of Old Labour.

Undoubtedly, a good education improves a person's opportunities in society, but education is only one determinant of opportunity. Income and wealth and also critically important, and unfortunately but predictably - given New Labour's worldview and policies - the wealth gap has grown during the Blair years, and has not diminished.

Party in Decline

As the direction of New Labour has become clearer and more entrenched through its years in government, party membership has tumbled as disillusionement has set in. This did not weaken the New Labour electoral machine, because of the stream of money to the national party which Blair secured from 'millionaire socialists'. This meant that New Labour could professionalise its electoral machine, buying in campaigners and activists - in much the same way that charities sub-contract fundraising these days.

This also gave a top-down, centralised control over the Party's message to the electorate.

However, the scandal over peerages for paymemt has threatened this source of funding, and may have weakened New Labour's professionalisation of the Labour Party. What impact that will have on next May's local election results is uncertain, given that all parties are short of active members in these days of political apathy.

 

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