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By jingo, Labour is the true patriotic party!

A party of true patriotism, making tough decisions in the “national interest”, hiring top business figures as advisers and a party that will stand up to the trade unions. Tories? Lib Dems? Wrong, just wrong!

New Labour Mark II is on show in Manchester this week, with messages that many a Tory would be happy to embrace. On Sunday, leader Ed Miliband hit back at Len McCluskey, the leader of the Unite union, by defending Labour's commitment to a public sector pay freeze. The party, he said, was not in thrall to “sectional interests”.

Yesterday, shadow chancellor Ed Balls told delegates that there would be “tough choices in the years ahead” and that “we cannot make any commitments now that the next Labour government will be able to reverse particular tax rises or spending cuts”. (In the meantime, naturally, Labour councils will keep on implementing ConDem austerity budgets.)

Balls has no political memory to speak of. So there were no references to the disastrous policies that he and Gordon Brown were responsible for when in office. Balls was unable to say how giving the banks an essentially free, unregulated hand had helped fuel the build-up of fictitious credit that played a role in bringing the financial system to its knees and precipitating the recession.

He would not have wanted to recall, of course, the speeches extolling the virtues of the City of London on the eve of the crash, like the one in September 2006 when he told a Hong Kong business audience:

The FSA [Financial Services Authority] … has confounded those who feared the FSA might become a heavy-handed and inflexible regulator. Today our system of light-touch and risk-based regulation is regularly cited – alongside the City’s internationalism and the skills of those who work here – as one of our chief attractions. It has provided us with a huge competitive advantage and is regarded as the best in the world.

And brushing aside Labour’s “public finance initiative” leaseback funding of new hospitals and schools – which have left many of them struggling to pay exorbitant charges to the private sector – Balls announced that the party was going to employ Sir John Armitt. He would advise on how to manage and fund infrastructure projects.

Armitt, who chaired the Olympic Delivery Authority, was before that top dog at a number of major construction companies and, under New Labour, chief executive of Railtrack and its successor, Network Rail. A 2006 survey made Armitt the highest-paid public-sector employee in the UK, with a salary and bonus of £878,000 – rising to more than £1m when pension contributions were included. A Labour-sponsored fat cat.

Today, shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne indicated that Labour would make cuts in the welfare budget should it win an election. You have to ask what would be the point in voting Labour? This hardly constitutes a sharp difference with the Tories, unless Labour is trying to put clear blue water between the two parties.

If, however, you favour a touch of crude patriotism with your breakfast, then Labour is the party for you. The conference slogan is “rebuilding Britain”. Balls himself pledged to “rebuild Britain anew in the long term national interest”, a phrase which sends shivers down your spine. Miliband will no doubt repeat the mantra in his speech.

The political system is dying on its feet, tied inextricably to corporate and financial power that is itself in a deep crisis. The Labour leadership is simply a variant of the corporatocracy that rules over us, full of smooth operators and shallow thinkers. We must be able to do better than this.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
2 October 2012

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