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Marxists regroup to snipe at `Thatcherism in trousers'

Andrew Grice
Monday 19 October 1998 23:02 BST

TONY BLAIR'S government is labelled "Thatcherism in trousers" today by a left-wing journal run by people the Prime Minister used to count among his friends.

Deep disenchantment with the Labour administration dominates the pages of a one-off issue of Marxism Today magazine, which closed in1991 but returns for a final blast before Martin Jacques, its editor, leaves Britain for Hong Kong.

Once upon a time, Mr Blair was happy to use the journal's pages to expound his modernising zeal. He had a common agenda with Mr Jacques: that Labour had to come to terms with Thatcherism.

But that was in opposition, and today's attack on his government has infuriated Mr Blair's closest allies.

"These people have nothing to say," one said. "It's a tiny blast from the very distant past from those who seem to be still living in it."

Another Blairite hit back at the "Thatcherism in trousers" jibe by Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian, in the only way possible - by borrowing a quote from Lady Thatcher. "There is no alternative to New Labour," he said. None the less, the criticism in Marxism Today will find some echoes in the Labour Party.

A central line of attack is that Mr Blair's commitment to the global economy may return to haunt him, as people demand protection from their governments during the world economic crisis.

"What the current economic orthodoxy gives governments today is not a guide to policy but a marvellous bunch of excuses," writes Professor Hobsbawm. "They are being fully used in Downing Street."

He adds that "we don't want to do this" should not be disguised as "there is nothing we can do about it".

Another charge in the magazine is that Mr Blair, far from leading a revival of centre-left governments around the world, as Downing Street claims, is really to the right of Bill Clinton in the United States, Lionel Jospin in France and the new German government of Gerhard Schroder.

Mr Jacques writes: "The idea that, in the present climate, the Clinton- Blair axis is the way of the future seems most unlikely; Clinton has been humiliated and Blair is simply too conservative for the new anti-free- market era that is now unfolding."

He argues that Mr Blair's much-trumpeted "third way" philosophy has ceded far too much ground to the neo- liberals of the Thatcher age. But he predicts the global economic crisis will bring a "sea change in attitudes", which seriously threatens the laissez-faire mentality of the past 25 years.

The case for Mr Blair's defence is put by Geoff Mulgan, a member of the Downing Street policy unit and who, with Mr Jacques, helped to found the think-tank Demos.

Although he admits that the Government has made mistakes, Mr Mulgan accuses his Marxist critics of having "nothing to say", of "tilting at windmills" and of offering "little more than a jumble of assertions and woolly logic".

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