Labour Party plc: New Labour as a Party of Business

Submitted by on 20 November, 2002 - 12:00

by David Osler, Mainstream Publishing

Exposing New Labour's business

This book examines the "institutionally corrupt" New Labour leadership. Osler charts a dodgy decade since the birth of Blairism in 1994 to the first year of a second-term Labour Government. He starts with Labour's attempts to woo the City before the 1997 election, and goes on to describe the various scandals that have befallen New Labour while in government: the Ecclestone affair, the "Drapergate" lobbying scandal, Mittal, the Dome, nepotism in Scottish Labour circles.

While the right of the Labour Party has always encouraged business connections (and with that has come previous scandals - remember the Poulson affair?), Osler brings out the quantitative and qualitative difference in New Labour's approach.

Labour's money raising from individual and corporate rich is now huge. It is estimated that Lord Sainsbury alone has contributed £9 million to the Labour Party - equivalent to two years of ordinary members' party fees.
It is clear that business people are courted by Blair and his inner circle not only for their money but for their political opinions. Much of the money from rich individuals does not go to fund the Party, its organisations or its campaigns.

Donations are used to finance Blair's own office and that of other Cabinet Ministers. The Blairites are, as a result, open to direct political lobbying by particular business interests.

New Labour has difficulty competing with the more established Tory networks in business. As Osler points out, New Labour has been much more successful at attracting the support of idiosyncratic "self-made" millionaires such as Michael Levy, Bernie Ecclestone, and Mathew Harding. They have not made serious inroads into the FTSE 100. New Labour has not made organic links with the ruling class that can compare with the centuries of Tory links. But they have done fairly well from a standing start.

One of the most interesting chapters of the book describes the activities of the "Labour Finance and Industry Group". The history of this group shows the tensions within the right of the Party.
Originally a traditional right-leaning business person's network, it was subject to a coup by the Brownites in the 1990s, eager for control of the Party's economic agenda. However the Blairites have tended to bypass such groupings, even ones with such elite members, and go straight for direct links with particular business people - hence "Tony's Cronies".

Osler believes that the Labour Party can still - just - be described as a workers' party, because of its links with the trade unions, but that we are rapidly heading towards a US-style political system with two parties of business.

The problem with New Labour is not only its adoption of Thatcherite policies but its utter contempt for any semblance of democracy within the Party, and between the Party and Government. Can such crony-ism really endure and support a political party formally committed to expressing the hopes and aspirations of the people? When will the trumpets sound, the people shout and the walls come tumbling down?

A useful, fact-rich book.

Score: 8/10
Reviewer: Martha Evan

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