"All British parties seem to compete within the ideological and political bounds set by New Labour" writes Lilia Giugni. Ross McKibbin agrees, saying Miliband is surrounded by neo-Blairites. So does Eunice Goes, who laments that many Labour backbenchers are living in the past.
Insofar as this is the case, it is to be regretted. Labour must move beyond New Labour. I don't say this because I'm a loony lefty who hated Blair's embrace of "neo-liberalism", but because the economy has changed. Our problems today are not those which New Labour sought to solve.
To see what I mean, let's remember what New Labour was. It was a coherent (if, I believe, flawed) response to serious problems.
It believed - rightly at the time - that a mix of globalization and technical change was raising demand for skilled labour and depressing that for unskilled work: between the 70s and 90s, there were rising wage and unemployment differentials between the skilled and unskilled.
Also, New Labour believed - again, with some justification - that the economic instability of the mid-70s to mid-90s had created so much uncertainty that it deterred business investment.
Its distinctive economic policies were a response to all this. The expansion of university education was an attempt to increase the supply of skilled workers to meet the demand created by globalization. The attempt to create macroeconomic stability - not just Brown's hubristic claim of "no return to boom and bust" but also central bank independence - was intended to reduce uncertainty and boost investment and growth. And tax credits and minimum wages were intended to both help out the losers from globalization whilst creating incentives for the unemployed to move into work.
All this was quite reasonable. But the world has changed. For example:
- The problem today is not just that unskilled workers face hard times, but that all workers do: real wages have fallen even in many skilled jobs.
- The dearth of investment opportunities means that macroeconomic stability is not sufficient to raise capital spending. And maybe the lesson of 2008 is that governments can't guarantee stability anyway.
- The inequality that New Labour worried about - the 90/10 ratio or that between skilled and unskilled workers - is not our main problem today. Instead, as Ed Miliband said this morning, the problem (if such it be) is the rising wealth and power of "the privileged few", the 1%.
- It's not at all clear that the constraint on growth is simply a lack of skills. There's also the problem of weak aggregate demand.
- New Labour was generally - and rightly - relaxed about immigration. Labour today at least needs to do something to placate voters' (misplaced) concerns.
- Productivity in the public sector stagnated under New Labour; improvements in outputs were due only to increased inputs. If Labour is committed to austerity - as, sadly, it seems to be - it must think more about changing this than New Labour did.
Now, I don't point out these differences to call for more Leftist policies: the last of these differences might justify greater use of markets in public services than even mainstream Labour would like. I do so merely to claim that our world is no longer New Labour's world. Whether you think New Labour was a good thing or not, it is no longer relevant to our problems today.