Hopi hopes that New Labour will rise from the dead. I half-hope he's right. New Labour was not just empty slogans, infighting and invading Iraq. It was a serious supply-side economic project - an attempt to answer big problems. For example:
- The emphasis upon education, including Sure Start, was intended to address the fact that demand for lower and middlingly-skilled workers was falling, whilst that for more skilled ones is rising.
- Brown's attempt to provide a stable policy framework - for example through Bank of England indepedence - was intended to reduce some of the uncertainty that businesses face, and thus stimulate investment.
- Public sector reform was intended to ensure that taxpayers get more bangs for their buck.
I would rate New Labour a failure. It had far too much faith in managerialism and not enough in bottom-up workers control, and thus was blind to the damage done by arrogant management. It under-estimated the importance of the dearth of investment opportunities in the west and thus over-estimated the underlying vigour of capitalism. And public sector reform requires a more delicate touch than some New Labourites imagine, to ensure that the right incentives are created without impairing the knightly (pdf) motives of public sector workers.
Nevertheless, its policies were not wholly without good intellectual (pdf) foundations. And the questions it raised are still important: what to do about falling demand for less skilled workers? How to raise investment? How to raise public sector productivity?
Like Hopi, I fear that the left's opposition to austerity is distracting it from the fact that there must be more to economic policy than just Keynesianism. Yes, New Labour got the answers wrong. But it got the questions right. The problem is, a lot of the left aren't even asking those questions.