The word that is missing from the New Language of New Labour

NEW Labour seems permanently afflicted with verbal dysentery, splattering out terms such as "targeting", "best value", "dynamic market economy", "reform", "service delivery", "new" as a prefix to just about everything - "New Labour", "New Politics", "New Britain", "New World" - then "the end of boom and bust", "core values", "no more tax and spend", "traditional values in a modern setting", "modernisation", "standing up to the enemies of change", "tough decisions", "crackdown", "ending social ex

Ronald Englefield, in his Critique of Pure Verbiage, describes such language as "vaguely associated with certain general emotional situations but not linked to any clear idea". Thatcher wanted to privatise public services and called it "privatisation". The Tories advocated the privatisation of the actual fabric of hospitals and schools and called it Private Finance Initiatives. New Labour calls it Public Private Partnerships. "Public" was introduced and brought up front to obscure the reality that the fabric of hospitals and schools was still being privatised. It was intended to obtain acceptance of a political ideology that people opposed.

This is what New Labour and its New Language is all about. It seeks to manipulate the language of politics in a way that helps it control the thinking of the electorate.

Search the vocabulary of New Labour and you find that one word has completely disappeared: equality - a precise word in economic terms. It can only be sought through government intervention to achieve a more equable distribution of wealth. But New Labour believes in the "dynamic market economy", which in ordinary English means an economy where market forces rule supreme. This excludes governments from intervening in pursuit of social justice. Thatcher responded to this criticism by talking of the "trickle down effect". What she was really talking about was Adam Smith’s "Invisible Hand" theory, which sounds like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and just as fictional. Smith believed that if every one behaves selfishly in a perfectly free market their competitive interactions would ensure the greatest happiness for all.

The first major trial for his theory was in the industrial revolution. The bosses certainly behaved selfishly. Fortunes were made. The social price? Women forced down pits, children chained to machines, sent up chimneys. A hellish life for the working class and the Invisible Hand didn’t do a thing for the poor. Sensitive men and women from the middle class and a few from the upper class, nauseated by the plight of the poor, campaigned for legislation to safeguard them from the cruel depredations of the bosses. Then workers came together in trade unions and at last a visible hand of redistribution came into play.

About a century later, my parents lived in the disease-ridden slums of the Gorbals. Of their seven children, three died in infancy from respiratory diseases. The infant mortality rate in Glasgow was then the highest in Western Europe. At that time, Glasgow was also the second city of the richest empire in the world. Smith’s Invisible Hand never reached us, and the only thing that trickled down our street was the Means Test Man.

The 1945-50 Labour government did change our lives for the better. Rickets and other physical deformities, products of chronic under-nourishment, disappeared and working-class youths walked taller. The Attlee government set the political and social agenda for the next 30 years until it was abandoned by the Tories under Thatcher and by New Labour under Blair.

The gap between the rich and the poor in Britain has widened enormously and more so since New Labour came to power in 1997. In Opposition, Blair went on pilgrimages to Washington to sit at the feet of Dick Morris, the mastermind of Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign. Morris is no political philosopher. He’s only interested in winning elections, by hook or by crook. He says a left-wing party can neutralise political opposition by fast-forwarding the right-wing agenda. But if a left-wing party fast-forwards a right-wing agenda it ceases to be a left-wing party. Morris wants governments to be weak in relation to markets but to act strong abroad to create at home an image of toughness. He was reported as saying: "Yeah, well, they’re slaughtering the Bosnians but so what? I want to bomb the shit out of the Serbians to make the President look strong."

All this explains New Labour’s infatuation with right-wing conservative policies, love affairs with the mega-rich, and Blair’s pathetic strutting on the world stage as a tough, uncompromising man o’ war. Yuck.