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Not New Labour but new…Labour.

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Has Ed Miliband’s election as Labour leader and immediate eschewing of the ‘New Labour’ tag caused a bit of a problem for him, and those writing about him?

Ed has made plain that his leadership is a break with New Labour and that he will usher in a new generation.

He can still, after four days, fairly be called the new (lower case) Labour leader, but has spent a great deal of time since his election at pains to point out that he is not the leader of New Labour. New Labour is a ‘project’ (for want of a less nauseating word) from which Ed would rather distance himself, and he did this to great effect in his campaign.

That’s all fair enough. But, as I say, he is the new Labour leader. And news organisations have quite understandably led with headlines such as ‘Ed Miliband is new Labour leader’ (BBC website), and, at the risk of repetition: ‘Ed Miliband is new Labour leader’ (Mirror website). Does that make Eddie wince? Or is he, at this special time, able to forget the unfortunate confusion over the ‘New Labour’/new Labour thing, just as he might forget the crippling blow he has dealt to his brother, whom he loves so much?

Okay, you might say, it’s all still fine and clear because of the lower case ‘n’ on new. Who’s getting confused? Well, what about when the ‘new’ comes at the start of the headline or sentence, as it did on the Daily Record‘s website on Monday? There, the news story might end up being ‘New Labour leader Ed Miliband’ is getting throughly cheesed off that no one seems to have noticed he doesn’t want to be associated with ‘New Labour’. Perhaps SuperEd will soon propose a new ‘Commission for the Clarification of Capital Letters at the Beginning of a Sentence’ to form part of a new (not New) Labour policy platform?

But that’s nothing. Think of the radio… There’s absolutely no way that even John Humphrys can intone a captial letter when reading out the day’s headlines. All we hear is: ‘New Labour leader Ed Miliband will today tell his party….’ Ed must be hitting the bloody ceiling listening to this. “How many times do I have to say that it’s not New, Fuckface Labour!?” he must wonder.

But here’s the problem. Politicians are eternally using the language of renewal, of regeneration. Our kid Eddie is no different: he wants to lead a ‘new generation’. Indeed, so new is Ed, that he’s not even the same generation as David Cameron, only three years his senior. He is newer than the new Prime Minister, who himself is only 43, so no wonder he’s newer than New Labour!

The thing is, Blair and Brown and Mandelson and Campbell played a dirty trick back in the 90s – by actually using the ‘New’ tag as the party name (at least until their second term in office) they stole the word from their party’s future leaders.  So-called ‘New Labour’ could not stay new forever, but the word would always be tainted; never again could the word ‘new’ quite carry that clear and uncomplicatedly positive rhetorical significance.

And so it is that the Labour Party’s new leader is at pains to remove himself from the taint of New Labour whilst emphasising his own apparently embryonic newness as leader of a new generation in a new era.

Get your head round that.

New Labour is dead. Long live new Labour…

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Categories: Politics