US sceptical about visit of ‘socialist’ Prime Minister

Having beaten other hopefuls to the starting block, Gordon Brown has this week become the first European leader to visit the White House since Obama’s inauguration. He travelled with the hope of renewing the transatlantic ‘special relationship’, normally characterised by foreign policy, with talk of economic partnership. Key to this partnership is the setting up a ‘Global New Deal’, which provides an international regulatory framework for the world’s largest economies. If Brown has his way then the global financial system will have a common set of criteria by which to govern financial institutions.

Although Obama refrained from making any promises he has, at least in principle, backed Brown’s regulatory plan and seemed keen to liken his economic policies to those of the Prime Minister. His readiness to identify with Brown came as a surprise to many given the way the Labour Party is perceived in the US. This public perception seems to have been summed up fairly well by CNN anchor Lou Dobbs who described Brown, somewhat unfairly, as head of the “socialist Labour Party”. The images that the word “socialist” conjures up in a post-cold-war US will not be overly positive and, in fairness to New Labour, not even that accurate. Perhaps aware of the doubts of the American public Obama made sure to emphasise Brown’s “belief in the free market” and “government that is not overbearing”.

Brown will be pleased with the boost that Obama’s backing will give Labour who currently trail behind the Tories in opinion polls. After a particularly gloomy period for the Labour party this good news will be much welcomed. Their hope will be, however, that Obama’s backing is the thing that people remember about the trip rather Brown’s refusal to admit any responsibility for the financial crisis when reminded about this at a press conference in the Oval Office. Chancellor Alistair Darling has admitted that mistakes had been made but Brown maintains that his policies were “right for the times of 1997”. Despite this one doubts that the ‘Brownonomics’ of 1997 were intended to have such a short sell-by date.

The highlight of the visit was Brown’s address at a joint session of congress, arguably one of the most important speeches of his career. Through suitably Americanised rhetoric he praised the country and emphasised the need for global cooperation, radical response to climate change, and condemnation of protectionism which, he said, “in the end protects no one.” Needless to say Brown enjoyed the treatment that speechmakers are accustomed to in the US, among them the 19 standing ovations he received (conveniently the same number as his predecessor in 2003). But despite this apparent enthusiasm there was a noticeable lull following his advice on protectionism. Brown may have been preaching to the choir when speaking about the greatness of America but he has a lot more convincing to do on this particular economic issue, particularly among Republicans who were noticeably the more timid in their applause.

A mere hour after Brown boarded his plane back to boring old Britain, Obama was on the phone congratulating him on his congressional speech. No doubt the gunging of Lord Mandelson on Friday provided our Prime Minister with a reminder that this side of the Atlantic political life isn’t quite as glamorous. Somehow I doubt that there’ll be as many standing ovations tomorrow at Prime Minister’s questions. For now it remains to be seen whether the bond between the UK and the US will turn out to be one that, as Obama put it, “will only get stronger”. ‘Obama-Brown’ simply doesn’t have the same alliterative ring to it as ‘Bush-Blair’. Let’s hope that when Obama comes to visit us next month for the G20 conference we’ll be reassured.

3 comments

  1. To be fair, the very first sentance of the New Labour Constitution is: “The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party.” I daresay you didn’t read that before writing this somewhat disinformative article and calling Mr Dobbs’ description “somewhat unfair”. They are only a stones-throw away from becoming the ‘Peoples’ Labour Party.

    http://www.labour.org.uk/labour_policies

    Do you know much about socialism, Peter? It’s what we’re facing right at this moment as the oligarchy of the financial elite sink their fangs in deeper and deeper into us hard-working taxpayers.

    Socialism is parasitic and soulless, running countries into the ground: first the Soviet Union, (now the U.K so we adopt the Euro and join into their current focus:) the European Union, and I wonder how long it’ll be until Obama enacts the “Security and Prosperity Agreement” between the US, Canada and Mexico, as the dollar crashes so they can adopt the Amero, then we’ll see the North American Union. Open borders, amnesty, the desruction of the constitution overruled by the new constitution. Does that sound familiar with the UK now and all of our “European Regulations”?

    It’s only going to get worst as these greedy buerocratic megaliths grant themselves more power- we’re going to see the global Carbon Tax not to long from now: a tax for breathing the very air that we need!

    This isn’t communist China!

    “Obama made sure to emphasise Brown’s “belief in the free market””

    How ironic to say that after these bailouts and the direction of more government intervention in our economic system than this country has perhaps never seen the likes of before.

    This is yet more proof that politicians are paid to smile to the public and lie right to your face.

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  2. “Do you know much about socialism, Peter? It’s what we’re facing right at this moment as the oligarchy of the financial elite sink their fangs in deeper and deeper into us hard-working taxpayers.”

    Yes, this is exactly what socialism is about – ultra-rich folk exploiting the poor, and government bail-outs of giant capitalist corporations. Spot on.

    Do you know much about socialism, Mike? I would honestly hate to come across as condescending, but you seem to be very confused.

    Allow me to clarify a few things.

    In theory, socialism’s goal is very simple. You see, what many political theorists have pointed out is that democracy (‘the rule of the people’) inherently implies a system in which the central institutions in society are under popular control.

    Now, under capitalism (or any other past, present or future form of class domination, including the self-styled ‘socialist’ dictatorships) we can’t have democracy by definition. By virtue of its own name, capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control – that of large capital and of the few who own it. So, until the major institutions of society come under the popular control of their participants and communities, it’s pointless to even talk about democracy.

    A corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fundamentally undemocratic. That is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level – there’s a little bargaining, a little give and take, but the line of authority is perfectly straightforward.

    And in social terms, as long as some specialized class is in a position of authority, it is going to set policy in the special interests that it serves. But the conditions of survival, let alone justice, require rational social planning in the interests of the community as a whole, and by now that means the global community.

    So the real question in politics is whether a privileged elite should dominate mass communication and should use this power as they tell us they must – namely to impose necessary illusions, to manipulate and deceive the majority and remove them from the public arena. The question in brief, is whether democracy and freedom are values to be preserved or threats to be avoided.

    To sum up, the term ‘socialism’ is meant to describe a society which is in control of its own self, where the means of production are commonly owned and independently organised, and where the economy is planned through direct democracy.

    If you can name a state in world history that has ever reached that phase, or ever got anywhere near it, then I would be pleased to learn more about it. But given that you probably can’t name one, please don’t make false assumptions about what socialism is about.

    As Orwell put it on the preface of Animal Farm:

    “In my opinion, nothing has contributed so much to the corruption of the original idea of socialism as the belief that Soviet Russia is a socialist country and that every act of its rulers must be excused, if not imitated. And so for the last ten years, I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the socialist movement.”

    Also, read this, you may find it interesting: http://www.monthlyreview.org/598einstein.php

    “They [the Labour] are only a stones-throw away from becoming the ‘Peoples’ Labour Party.”

    Several stone throws I dare say, and only if they hit the right people.

    Only a radical reactionist would ever call the Labour party ‘socialist’. It is common knowledge that after Blair, this party is ‘democratic socialist’ in name only. I will not even start on Iraq, top-up fees, wage inequalities etc. etc. etc. as I am sure we will not get anywhere with this.

    “Socialism is parasitic and soulless, running countries into the ground”

    You forgot your reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism


    “now the U.K so we adopt the Euro and join into their current focus: the European Union”

    Let me just clarify that the European Union is, in fact, not part of our secret plot for world domination. In truth, the EU evolved out of trade agreements between some of the most powerful capitalist nations on earth – quite far from the kind of socialist conspiracy that you seem to be having in mind.

    Also, the overwhelming majority of socialist parties within the EU voted AGAINST Maastricht, they were AGAINST the Lisbon Treaty, and are generally AGAINST the EU as a whole – at least in its current form.

    Britain is the only nation that I know of where it is the Conservative right and not the socialist left that opposes the EU. This is of course partly because of the traditional anti-European sentiments among some parts of the British society, and partly because there is no socialist movement in this nation – but those are both different stories.

    The point is that the belief that the EU is in any way pushing a ‘socialist’ agenda is pure nonsense, and it is the kind of nonsense that is only meant for internal consumption.

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  3. 19 Mar ’09 at 11:55 am

    Democratic Socialists' Treasurer

    Just to point out that there is a massive difference between Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy.

    The Democratic Socialists believe in changing the capitalist system in which we live by democratic means. This could be by use of Co-operatives, which are a fantastic financial model. It could be in a number of other ways.

    Social Democrats believe in using the capitalist system to redistribute wealth, improve the quality of life of the poor etc. This could be done by progressive taxes or other ways.

    Labour is most definitely not democratic socialist. They are labeled as social democratic – and arguably they’re barely even that. The increase in the rich-poor divide, tuition fees, further privatisation of things like education and health –> these are most definitely not signs of socialism!

    But such is life. We’ll just have to keep trying to push them back to their core values and away from selling lordships to the most corrupt people on the planet.

    /exaggeration

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