Labour is currently undergoing an ideological crisis, similar to the one the Conservative party went through between its overwhelming defeat in 1997, and the election of David Cameron as leader at the end of 2005. It has no idea what it stands for or how to persuade people to vote for it. It is haemorrhaging its core working class voters to apathy, UKIP or worse. Its leader, Ed Miliband, is a catastrophe: vilified as a union puppet by right-wing commentators, but simultaneously, completely incapable of speaking for working people or earning their trust and confidence. The fact that Labour sympathisers now wistfully imagine how much better things would have been if David Miliband had won the leadership – even though the criticisms of Ed (out-of-touch, middle-class, London, Oxbridge, career politician / policy wonk with unfortunate ties to the Blair/Brown years) apply equally well to David – shows how poor and uninspiring the potential Labour leadership pool is.
In the 1960s, Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell declared the ‘end of ideology’. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had been a time of big, competing ideas about how to organise human society, but these were exhausted; centrist free-market democracy had won.
The concept took a few decades to come to fruition. The world was still divided by the Cold War, a real and dangerous instantiation of competing ideologies. Even within UK politics, ideology was still alive in the 1980s, when Thatcherite free-market economics faced off against a diverse but identifiable left wing, comprising a mixture of militant Trotskyists, restless unions and mainstream social democrats.
In the 1990s, Bell’s prediction was proven correct by global events, with the USSR swept away and replaced by free market democracy. It was further vindicated within British politics later in the decade, with Tony Blair’s reform of the Labour party. By dropping Clause IV from the party’s constitution, its commitment to an ideology of nationalisation was removed, and the party was rebranded as ‘New Labour’, a centrist free-market party occupying roughly the same political territory as moderate Conservatives.