I have an essay, 'Beyond Communitarianism and Consumerism', in the new edition of Renewal. The piece argues that New Labour has built its policy programme upon two mutually contradictory notions of individual action and self-fulfillment. Communitarian policies aim to reign in our freedom, to embed us in local norms, while consumerism is deemed an unchallengeable force for erratic individual self-expression:
Everywhere one looks in Blair’s Britain, one sees these dual sovereignties battling it out, with the State offering its support to both sides. Undesirable behaviour is to be defied by the will of the community and technology of the State, while individuals demand more choice for themselves and their families. Government’s role swings constantly between enforcer and provider, seeking new forms of restraint for one segment of society, while feverishly removing restraints from another. Between the communitarian appeal for respect and community, and the consumer demand for flexibility and self expression, New Labour lacks its own account of what an ethical and sustainable model of freedom might actually look like, that depended on neither CCTV on the one hand, nor credit cards on the other.
For anyone who missed John Humphreys discussing the new Conservative Party mission statement with David Cameron this morning, I heartily recommend it (here's the MP3). Humprheys completely failed to disguise his disgust for the whole enterprise, in the great tradition of Paxman and, er, Humphreys.
What sort of anti-political motif is Cameron engaged in? Humphreys was accusing him of making up slogans that few people could disagree with, either because they contradict themselves or are just too vague. This is something New Labour has been good at in recent years, but perhaps the defining Blairite rhetorical tactic was to talk of 'old values in a modern setting', something which creates an illusion that what you stand for and what you legislate for are two separate things, because the first is amorphous and the latter is merely technical.
But listening to Cameron, he seems to have invented his own more radical way of bi-passing politics. His mantra is to introduce 'a new approach'. Where Blair can claim the ghost of Keir Hardie and the strategic acumen of McKinseys, Cameron has adopted a view from nowhere at all. All he wants is a 'new approach', which could potentially exclude everything we've ever thought was politics, from policies, to media interviews, to empirical consensus on social problems. Asked whether his commitment to the environment might lead him towards policies to cut air travel, Cameron answered that this would not be the right 'approach' to the problem. Not only does this keep his policies hidden, it obscures a priori questions as to what the hell he's doing in public life. Is he even a politician at all?