Labour in the labyrinth

Nearly half of Britons expect their living standards to be worse by 2015. A third think it will take another 4/5 years before recovery – and 15% either can’t see a recovery for at least a decade or believe it will never happen at all.

Half think that problems are now so deep seated that no government would be able to sort them out.

Stats like these are easy to dismiss as the tendency to extrapolate the current into the future, which all forecasters are warned against. They can also can be played into a negative story for Labour, since its fortunes depend on it being perceived as a party of hope. When hope  is in such short supply, better stick with a party that can at least be trusted not to mess things up further.

Indeed there does seem to be a sense abroad that the Tories – whether by default or design – are doing a necessary if unpleasant job. This is no longer the Conservative party of the intolerant – they have departed to UKIP – but of a more radical element. These modernizers  interest lie in localisation, the delegation of powers from professional elites, even the Big Society agenda.

In a way they are even delivering on their green pledges – through a flat-lining economy which – as this shows – is the best way of curtailing carbon emissions. Between 2005 and 2010, total CO2 emissions in the UK fell 10 percent, with the most dramatic shifts coming since the recession began in 2008, due in the most part to reductions in manufacturing and industrial activity.

Labour meanwhile (no longer New Labour) seems stuck in the rut of calling for growth at all costs – be that of more borrowing, of vested corporate interests, of the environment. Hence the NHS is there to support our leading Big Pharma companies – “Look at how the state-run NHS fosters our thriving pharmaceutical companies” said Polly Toynbee in the Guardian recently. And every opportunity is taken to promote the great success of Jaguar bloody Land Rover and our wonderfully re-invigorated car industry.

But the biggest test for Labour is whether the public has now lost faith with the welfare model of re-distribution. This again is easy to dismiss as the hollow victory of neo-liberal individualism over community. But it may be instead that people have run-ahead of politicians – who do have a vested interest after all – in the capabilities of a labyrinthine nation state to deliver fairness, and now want more local solutions and responsibilities.

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