This bank holiday Aunty Beeb decided to apologise for their current output, by giving us the election coverage from 1992. I settled in to watch a bit of political nostalgia. It was strange to watch an election I remembered as a young teenager. I remember this election clearly, because this was the election I truly believed would bring the end to ‘Tory government’ that never materialised.
Watching the Ken Livingstone campaign unite the most toxic aspects of what the Labour Party turned into that night, and project it nationally, I now understand why.
If you listen to the Labour left, the true representatives of the working class were defeated that night in 1992. The party was stolen from them just in time for credit to be given to Tony Blair in 1997. They are now resurrected within their factions, to save our kids from Chavdom by not challenging Labour. The offspring of left wing politicos from the past three decades have patiently waited through their Oxbridge educations and years as parliamentary researchers, for their chance to lead the proles in this glorious dormant class struggle. The ghosts of Thatcher are personified in Downing Street waiting for a dream battle reenactment.
Neil Kinnocks moving and prescient speech, could never acknowledge what the the country told Labour that day. Old Labour was unelectable. Not because of the strength of their argument(both Blair and Kinnock understood politics would be redefined from then as rejection or acceptance of the orthodoxy of the market). The culture of the old left, what they personified and their complete oblivion to anything outside their own dogma was rejected. Clause 4, whetever the good sense that underpinned it, was dropped under the pretext that that THAT culture could be distanced from the Labour brand.
When the events of 1992 unfolded, I was a young teenager. 13 or 14. I was living in Essex, having moved from Longsight a year earlier. I was brought up moving from place to place mainly around Greater Manchester and Rochdale. Like the tabloids I blamed my mother blamed my mother’s wrong moral choices for this. My perspective of the 1980s is skewed. The trajectory that is currently the subject of renewed political consensus was trialled throughout my childhood. Politically speaking, as long as you stayed away from those the left fetishised government could act with impunity.
This managed decline was yet to be glossed over with added shopping centres, desirable housing, pieces of town centre art or so called urban regeneration. Succeeding in anything meant going away to university or the army. Being anywhere but where you grew up. Everyone had the same choice. …we never wanted to work in the factories or mills but staying meant benefits, not factories. It was our choices and futures. We knew we had to eventually lose all trace of those communities. The relics of the old left with their ‘could have beens’ moralising at our generation for not caring, rather than address their own failure. Inequality could be repeatedly and visibly exploited for economic aims and only a veneer of social conservatism to argue over was required.
The housing boom that would signify the liberalisation of credit markets that made us feel like we had never had it so good, was just starting to be evident in that part of Essex in 1992. A kid at school finding out his mum and dad’s house was worth £125k, that number seeming as alien as the fat cat salaries discussed in the newspapers of a similar amount. The house, one of any number of similar houses constructed in that New Town, and ex council. There were still kids living in bed and breakfasts as a result of the last bust before the boom fully geared into action.
The changing labour market
The disappearance of skilled work came alongside an opening up and professionalisation of public sector work, and the insecure ‘flexible” low paid work that spanned the new growth “industries”. The lines between employment and welfare dependence had not yet blurred, although family credit had long subsided very low wages. Entire teams existing solely to manage the claims of just low level female civil servants and public sector workers in 1997. The demonisation of and continued attacks on working class communities and those services became the bread and butter newspaper filler of our political age. No replacement came for that skilled male work, but those complex communities and those professionals had no value to a nostalgic left wing political pride which understood only what disappeared. Unions like Unison much preferred to hang on to tatters of an archaic toxic culture than represent the members at the consequence end of this. The expansion of message managing in lieu of democracy ensured the “new left” could become a very fertile and closed politics-media entry ground.
Shoots of a credit boom
David Cameron was yet to stand behind Normal Lamont as we exited the ERM. The lost struggles of those who paid the price for this expansion were safely encased in aspic should the left ever need to rise again, and were recited in university bedrooms. While communities ignored developed entirely predictably and tried to weather sustained deliberate erosion of everything upholding them. By 1992, I assume the memory of the 1986 big bang fusion of Wall Street and the City of London had long been incorporated into the mythologised history shared by those responsible for perpetuating the results. We were yet to hear fairy stories of unlimited liquidity. The Community Care legislation that laid the groundwork for what is now happening to our local authority services, had been passed, but not yet enacted. Levels of commodification of our public services after this point, correlating with their invisibility to a message managed political debate decided centrally.
Party in a corner
Election 92 didn’t give the Labour Party a choice. They failed to attract those voters who were starting to benefit from the credit boom, and the left of the party had completely abandoned critique of what had occured, to preserve their own factions within the party and nostalgic history. MTV had emerged. Global youth brands had shot out of the grip of a long and painful period of recession and redefined the word ‘youth market’ to incorporate global. My political education from growing awareness of the effect of these brands, and work within those public services, not Westminster. The Westminster neo-liberal consensus with the left a happily functioning wheel within it was born that night in 1992.
The politics of managing a message could be used to hide the toxic left echochamber within the party. Dimblebob explained to Election 1992 viewers who Peter Mandelson and the other baby faced shysters with modern young man hair were, as they took their places for this new age. The desire for a future not defined by left or right wing cartoons was so strong that the new blood in the party could use the Party to detoxify neo liberalism, under the pretext of abandoning its worst excesses and simultaneously utilising the left.
This could be painted as a country embracing the economic orthodoxy they were bridling from their first encounteres with. Labour could ride the wave of the upcoming credit boom. The expanding power of the media and an expansion of welare spending to protect a new middle class from the reality of a credit based economy, meant anything was possible. People were tired. 1997 was possible. The dysfunction this increasingly sealed little bubble projected onto us met with less and less challenge.
The role of the left of the party in a neo liberal consensus
Those whose identity is formed around nostalgic left wing dogma will never address why it was so offensive, and so the left of the party were assigned the task of keeping their nostalgia fresh enough that they would continue to deliver leaflets and bully and lie on the behalf of the newborn neo liberal consensus. Sure they were lying in waiting to represent the working class they preserved in their heads, and the glorious party of old. The bedraggled subculture of the old and radical left, reinforcing its position as a cautionary tale, not a place on the political spectrum.
The country as a whole, scarred and rejecting the political facade that had been presented along with the first wave of neo liberalism, while the first benefit of the expansion of credit markets into the lower middle class was beginning to be felt. Neo-liberalism needed to be detoxified, as the boom of globalisation was starting to visibly unfold. Politically, the social conservatism and sheer nastiness and hypocrisy of of a Conservative brand yet to detoxify was turned into a handy cartoon on which to base future political discourse. The modern Labour party was born.
Now and Ken, Boris and Ed
Unfortunately in 2010, the Labour Party moved into the chatroom that is twitter. By 2011 they were basing strategy on it. I had always been somewhat perplexed by the fear of the factionalism of the Labour Party, and the influence of a left whose ideas I agreed with. I was always confused about why Neil Kinnock was so unelectable when the ideas underpinning that 1992 speech were continually validated over the course of my lifetime. Until that chatroom landed on my head and Labour tried to use it to manage the message around me.
What Ed Milibands silly wee guppies just tried to do, was manufacture the appearance of the progressives and the left meeting up, in the hope that that somehow avoided the need to examine the consequences of the market orthodoxy that is the only solid ideological ground Labour has left dissolving. What Ed misunderstands is that in doing so, he has visibly united the most toxic aspects of the Labour brand. Vacuous progessive guppies, schooled only in triangulating an untenable message teamed up with a toxic emblem of old left dogma. Willing to tell everyone that theirs is the only way, in a contest which is clearly a joke. Projecting that message nationally as a symbol of what the Labour party has become, while they act out the ridiculousness of their tribal culture in living detail on twitter. Completely oblivious to the fact that people who vote may see it. Creating the delicious farce of twittermob outrage that someone should fail to endorse Ken Livingston, on the grounds that Labour members do not endorse candidates from outside the Labour Party and Labour tribalism is desirable.
In 1992, factionalism and triangulation to accomodate neo liberalism was decided as the best route to prevent anyone addressing Labours failure so they could move forward with the party intact. The neo liberal consensus was born, and then it died in 2008. In 2012,the Ken Livingston campaign demonstrates the consequences of that.
In the meantime the rest of us have no political party to address the consequences of our changing economic and political landscape, but we do have the panto of the Labour party imploding as comic tragedy. That they don’t understand the implications of this, at a time when people’s social policy and economic history is consolidating and highlighting the absurdity of political debate for a lifetime is quite frightening.
Added later: Never be told different to this, we wanted the credit boom as a nation. Were tired. This was not flung onto an entirely unsuspecting population. Newly found piety does not erase memories or reality. That is an exercise in self deception on anyones part.