An interesting synchronicity is presenting itself on either side of the anglophone Atlantic—New is looking pretty Old. In the UK, Gordon Brown’s New Labour (well, Blair’s New Labour and Gordon’s inheritance) has taken a blasting in local council elections. The highlight of this disaster has been the replacement of Red Ken as London’s mayor by Boris Johnson, an Etonian friend of the Tory leader and poster boy David Cameron. London is obviously highly visible politically, but also is hosting the 2012 Olympics, so Boris will be getting his hands on some lush greenery with which to ease the financial way of backers and constituents alike as London dolls up for the show.
The BBC’s analysis projects the local council results to a national vote share model, showing a result of 44% Conservative, 25% Liberal Democrat, and a paltry 24% Labour. While the relative balance of Conservative and Labour are reversed compared to the 1995 results, which presaged the 1997 rout that brought Blair and New Labour to power, the Conservative percentage lead over Labour where they do indeed lead is about a third of that of Labour over Tory in 1995. Still, it’s a huge blow for Brown.
It’s also a huge blow for New Labour. The party seems to have been deserted by its left and left/center base, not least over the Iraq War disaster and its concomitant lies. This despite the fact that Blair has been unquestionably the most telegenic and rhetorically adept PM in recent history. Desertion by the base is never an inevitable result of running to the center in the short term, but (I submit) it always is in the long.
And what’s up over here, in the US, with the New Democrats? The Democratic Leadership Council, or DLC, was founded in 1985 as a way of repositioning the Democratic party to somehow metabolize the apparent lessons of Ronald Reagan’s success. Bill Clinton left its chairmanship while the governor of Arkansas to run for president in the 1992 elections. At first he was just one of the so-called Seven Dwarves, a phrase which captured the esteem that year’s candidates were held in by the then-traditional-leadership of the party. But of course Bill broke away from the pack, and two terms and one impeachment later, his vice president lost in an election stolen by the Bushrovers with help from the Supremes.
This year, in synch with Gordon’s travails in the Motherland, the DLC is again running a candidate named Clinton. On the surface, she seems to be doing a bit better than Gordon, given the near impossibility of a Democrat losing after eight years of the worst president in modern history, and considering the current spin that she’s fighting back from a delegate deficit versus Obama. But really, this is just a fantasy narrative concocted by news reporters in order to stay with the campaign as a story, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Hillary is toast, and she hasn’t gone about getting toasted in a very constructive way, either. In fact, the comparison to Brown breaks down a bit because we really can’t say he’s pandered to traditional Tory postures the way Hillary has to Republican (even down to an Iran policy by that bomber extraordinaire, Curtis LeMay).
Looking underneath her supposed support, we can see that a new set of constituencies is forming within the Democratic party, out of disgust with the performance not only of the dominant Republican governments of the last decade or so, but also of the more recently bare majorities of Democrats as well. The kind of centrist trimming that has gone on for years now amongst Democrats in opposition, trying to keep the New Democrat/DLC formula alive, has fatally sapped the Democratic congressional party (just as it is the Parliamentary Labour Party). Only Obama can revive the Democrats for the future, and by building a new coalition that is unafraid to move left but is also determined to build a majority. We will see how Gordon attempts to do the same—there does not seem to be an Obama in the Labour Party.