The Instrument

  • David Coates

Abstract

The Labour government that picked up Will Hutton’s challenge on that May morning in 1997 came to its moment of power down a long and troubled history of its own. The arrival of a new government is always of this fashion. New governments invariably enter office engaged in a dialogue with more than the opportunities of the moment. They also enter office engaged in a dialogue with moments from their own past. Electorates tend to see just the novelty of the hour. Their thoughts, as well as their hopes, are predominantly directed towards the future. Politicians, by contrast, are obliged to read that novelty through a party lens of their own. Their hopes are also directed to the future, but they read that future as a moment in a longer story.1 New Labour certainly came to power in 1997 in that mental condition. It entered office conscious that throughout the party’s entire history, Labour governments had never managed to survive through more than two full electoral cycles. It entered office also conscious that from the previous four general elections no Labour government had emerged at all. Tony Blair and his colleagues came to their moment of power, that is, poised to make a new history for themselves and their party, but they did so against the background of an ‘old’ party history that was littered with the ghosts of governmental and electoral failure.

Keywords

Europe Income Coherence Ghost Ethos 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    For a more general discussion of political parties as living traditions, see D. Coates, ‘Strategic choices in the study of New Labour’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, vol. 4(3), 2002, pp. 479–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 9.
    How genuinely novel New Labour was, or would be, quickly became a matter of intense academic dispute. Partly it was a dispute about the relative elements of continuity and discontinuity in the policies proposed, a dispute that often turned on the period of the party’s history singled out as the comparator. Partly it was a dispute on the extent to which New Labour was, or was not, Thatcherite beneath the surface. For the argument on continuity with Old Labour, see S. Fielding, The Labour Party, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 1996; andGoogle Scholar
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  7. 10.
    Harold Wilson, The New Britain: Labour’s Plan Outlined, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1964, pp. 21, 9–10.Google Scholar
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    Labour Party, Let Us Work Together — Labour’s Way Out of the Crisis, February 1974.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    By, among others, N. Thompson, Political Economy and the Labour Party, UCL Press 1996;Google Scholar
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    On this, see D. Coates and C. Hay, ‘The internal and external face of New Labour’s political economy’, Government and Opposition, vol. 36(4), 2001, pp. 442–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 4, 15. The case for the importance of ‘new growth theory’ to New Labour politics is fully laid out in D. P. Dolowitz, ‘Prosperity and fairness? Can New Labour bring fairness to the 21st century by following the dictates of endogenous growth?’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, vol. 6(2), 2004, pp. 213–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    On capitalist models and UK politics, see D. Coates, ‘Models of capitalism in the new world order: the UK case’, Political Studies, vol. 47(1), September 1999, pp. 77–96; andGoogle Scholar
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    N. Thompson, ‘Supply side socialism: the political economy of New Labour’, New Left Review, 215, 1996, p. 39.Google Scholar
  17. 33.
    On Blair’s January 1996 Singapore speech, with its radical stakeholder moment and its rapid abandonment, see Ibid., pp. 38, 50–2; D. Coates, ‘Placing New Labour’, in B. Jones (ed.), Political Issues in Britain Today (fifth edition), Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1999, pp. 357–8; andGoogle Scholar
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  19. 39.
    In intellectual matters, impact and quality are not the same thing. Nor is one necessarily the guarantor of the other. Whatever this emerging ‘third way’ argument was, it was not rocket science. It was always nearer to cliché and platitude than that, often building its claims for newness by over-generalizing contemporary economic and social trends, and polarizing simplistic and historically misleading alternatives: left against right, state against market, public against private, and so on. We will have occasion later to reflect on the real dilemmas to which the best of the ‘third way’ thinking was an important response, but for more general critiques of what was weak and misleading in this new centre-left orthodoxy, see A. Callinicos, Against the Third Way, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2001, and J. Petras, ‘The third way: myth and reality’, Monthly Review, March 2000.Google Scholar
  20. 40.
    Stuart White, ‘The Ambiguities of the Third Way’, in his edited collection, New Labour and the Progressive Future, London, Palgrave, 2001, p. 14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 47.
    Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder, Europe: The Third Way/Die Neue Mitte, London, Labour Party, June 1999.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Coates 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Coates
    • 1
  1. 1.Wake Forest UniversityUSA

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