We need an honest, clear-eyed appraisal of the last Labour government if Labour wants to move forward. The Blair Government did a lot of great things, increasing spending on public services, advancing equality through civil partnerships, introducing the minimum wage and environmental protections to name just a few.
But many of these steps were superficial in the sense of being reversible over time. Spending and the minimum wage have been eaten up by inflation, so that the Conservatives can boast about spending more than ever on the NHS when this is a real terms decrease. Working poverty has increased despite rises in the minimum wage.
New Labour also failed to turn back damaging trends. Labour favoured light touch financial regulation following Thatcher’s “Big Bang”, leaving us unprepared for the global financial crash which was weathered better by other countries. Blair didn’t touch the Conservative Trade Union Act and bragged that our unions were the weakest in Europe, making us more globally competitive.
In some respects New Labour built on Thatcherism, as Blair himself noted. PFI contracts increased (Which will cost the public £200 billion), and house prices shot up while housing stock decreased and council house building remained miniscule. The trade off of unleashing the private sector while spending to alleviate inequality has proven unsustainable and allowed the Tories to argue that spending was the problem and austerity the solution.
New Labour’s economic record has been partially overshadowed by the tragic disaster of Iraq, but it needs to be understood so that we don’t make the same mistakes while in power