BOOKS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
The triumph of spin over substance
, September 9, 2000
THE UNFINISHED REVOLUTION
by Philip Gould
Rec. price: $24.95
THE CENTRE IS MINE
by Jim Claven
Rec. price: $27.95
These two recently-published books examine the election of Tony Blair’s New Labour in 1997, from complementary perspectives:
Philip Gould is an advertising executive and British Labour man who played a key role in the transformation of the British Labour Party from a traditional left-wing socialist (but non-Marxist) Party into a pragmatic, poll-driven party dominated by intellectuals.
Jim Claven is a long time Australian labor movement activist and official of a large Australian trade union.
Their books describe how British Labour was transformed structurally and in its policies, under the influence of the Hawke/Keating Labor Party in Australia, and the Democratic Party of the US.
From being a party driven by a platform with an election manifesto hammered out at a faction-ridden Conference, the British Labour Party has been tranformed into a party driven by PR men, opinion polls and advertising agencies.
In Britain, as in Australia and the USA, the trade unions were co-opted as the willing accomplices in this transformation, becoming malleable tools in the hands of the party’s spin doctors, mobilising the needed poll workers, and galvanising the traditional support base to continue to support a party that no longer represents the working class.
Despite the views of both authors that this is the way that modern politics should be conducted, there is growing evidence that turning Labour into a mirror image of the Conservatives — particularly on economic issues — ultimately leaves a policy vacuum in the system.
In Great Britain, Australia and the US, social democratic parties have been transformed into parties which support economic and social libertarianism — to the extent permitted by public opinion pollsters.
When one notices how British Labour’s standing has fallen in the opinion polls in Britain over recent months, this is arguably a formula for electoral oblivion, rather than success.
The US Presidential election in November will be the next test for the politics of spin, rather than substance.