We’ve had Brown as PM for a bit now, what do we think so far? What can we expect? My impressions so far are mostly bad but not all bad. On the good side, he seems more intelligent than Blair for one thing, and he’s at least making some good noises on constitutional reform and civil liberties (amongst some bad ones too). On the bad side, he’s still a right-winger and a technocrat.
In more detail.
I never really believed that Blair was intelligent. I know he went to Oxford and all that, but I’m sure plenty of dim people found their way there. I don’t really believe it, but he came across as sufficiently dim that it was almost possible he really thought he was doing the right thing in Iraq. Brown surely knew it wasn’t and supported it anyway. That makes him possibly an even more frightening prospect. On the other hand, all things being equal I’d probably prefer someone competent in charge than an idiot. (Is that true if their ideology is basically wrong I wonder?)
Brown’s decision to reconsider the ban on protest outside parliament has led Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty and Henry Porter both to say some good things about Brown on civil liberties. They both also have some bad things to say on the same subject. SpyBlog isn’t convinced and nor is Chris Marsden, and both for good reasons. My feeling is we’re going to have more of the same, possibly not with quite the intensity of the Blair years, and some gestures towards liberty. We’ll have to see though.
Tony Benn and Henry Porter have both written cautiously optimistic things about Brown’s statements on constitutional reform. On the other hand, I find myself somewhat agreeing with Julie Hyland’s view that these amount to “largely cosmetic changes”. Despite that, there are some potentially good and democratic things in there: giving power back to parliament; the possibility of lowering the voting age, and of participatory budgeting.
Democracy is a tricky point for Brown though, because he is clearly a technocrat, and technocracy is at odds with democracy. He believes that in politics there is a correct thing to do, and that good politics is about finding out what that is and doing it. This is the New Labour “what works” concept, the idea that there is no ideological component to politics, just the correct management of affairs. The problem is that this is just wrong. There is an ideological component, and pretending there isn’t is just a cover for your ideology.
Take the PFI/PPP schemes for example. These were sold as doing “what works” because companies are more efficient than the state. The problem with this is that the mechanism which makes companies efficient is the free market and the fact that companies that aren’t efficient go out of business, and not something intrinsic about organisations that aren’t run by the state. Most PFI/PPP schemes didn’t involve a market, the risks were underwritten by the state and the profits were given to the companies. What was sold as “what works” was actually an ideological commitment to private enterprise that amounted to a transfer of wealth to the private sector, and in many cases ended up costing considerably more and working less well than when it was in the public sector.
Technocracy is anti-democratic because it pretends that there are no specifically political problems, that is, that there are no conflicts of interest. People can plainly see this isn’t the case, and it makes participating in the democratic process seem rather worthless. This must in part account for the fact that between 1997 and 2005, New Labour lost 3.9m votes. In contrast, between the 1974 and 1979 elections, the Labour party actually gained votes (albeit much less than the Tories). In the 2005 elections, New Labour got less votes than the Tories did in 1997 (but obviously still more than they did in 2005).
The biggest cover-up of New Labour though is very much to do with Brown, that the party is now a right wing party. Lenin’s Tomb explains with precision:
Brown brought Digby fucking Jones into the government to be a trade minister. That’s right, the union-bashing, war-supporting, pensions-busting, right-wing former tub-thumping tub of lard for the CBI. He isn’t a member of the Labour Party, doesn’t support it, and has often led the charge against it from the right.
As far as I can see, on the basis of the last 10 years of government, there’s no reason to expect Brown to cease being a right-winger, nor to give up his technocratic tendencies. This weakens any claims he might make about democratic reforms, and should make us wary. It’s not impossible though that he might be better than Blair.