TUC GENERAL secretary Brendan Barber last Saturday told the annual Progress conference at TUC Congress House in London that “it’s time to ditch New Labour”.
His speech marked a distinct leftward shift for the TUC. It did not reach the point of raising awareness of basic class conflicts and the nature of capitalism but nevertheless indicated a complete rejection of the free market concepts that have dominated Labour and Tory governments for three decades now.
He said the global financial crisis had put “the right on the intellectual back foot”. He said: “This autumn, the world has changed. We’ve witnessed a global financial crisis unprecedented in our lifetimes.
“In the past few months we have seen the collapse of the dominant neo-liberal consensus of the past three decades.
“All over the world, the right is on the intellectual back foot. Its most cherished nostrums – a minimal state, deregulation, privatisation, liberalisation – have been brought into disrepute.
“It’s up to us on the progressive left to articulate a compelling alternative.
“The TUC welcomes much of what Labour has done since September – a genuinely radical, imaginative response to the downturn.
“In particular we applaud the hugely symbolic pledge announced in Monday’s [24th Nov] Pre-Budget Report to introduce a new 45 per cent tax for the richest one per cent of our society.
“This is evidence of how far the terms of the political debate have shifted in the past year. Indeed we’ve nothing to fear from being bold – thinking what was once the unthinkable.
“Events this autumn have reminded us that where the market has failed, the state can be a powerful force for good. This has profound implications across the policy spectrum; from the way we deliver public services to the way we respond to the housing challenge.
“And the election of Barack Obama suggests there is a huge clamour for change among ordinary people.
“We believe there is a burning desire for fairness: for fair tax – where everyone pays their fair share; for fair rewards – where hard work takes precedence over speculation. And for fair chances – where everybody is given the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
“And at the heart of all of this – what kind of economic settlement we build out of the wreckage of our broken financial system.
“Indeed, I believe the single most pressing challenge for progressives is to set out an alternative vision of the global economy.
“Avoiding the false security of protectionism, and instead showing how globalisation can deliver for the many not the few. Addressing the real insecurities felt by ordinary people in their workplaces and their communities.
“The centre-left should be confident about taking the lead on this – it is natural territory for us.We are freed from having to make an uncomfortable accommodation with neo-liberalism. The new ideological terrain is ours to forge.
“So let’s find the ideas to capture people’s imagination and let’s find the language to get our vision across.
“Because if there’s one outstanding lesson from the American election, then it’s surely this - people can be inspired by change.
“It’s time to ditch the New Labour discourse – of stakeholder partnerships, joined-up Government, outcome-driven policy and all the rest of it – and get our message across by using altogether more inspiring language.
“The language of equality, fairness and social justice.”
Other speakers at the conference included James Purnell MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; Lord Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform; and Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
Also speaking were Hazel Blears, Martin Bright, Chris Bryant, Andy Burnham, Liam Byrne, Charles Clarke, Derek Draper, Caroline Flint, Kate Green, Peter Hain, Tristram Hunt, Tessa Jowell, Peter Kellner, David Lammy, Tony McNulty, Fiona Mactaggart, Alan Milburn, Ed Miliband, Trevor Phillips, plus many more.