Owen Jones wants to tell us that Labour’s grand promise to nationalise broadband provision is a great idea, up there with the glories of past election victories. There being just the very slight problem with this, he’s talking about the promises people make before an election, not what they actually provide after one:
“Let us face the future”: this is how Labour’s 1945 manifesto rallied voters in the aftermath of cataclysmic war. There would be “no depressed areas in the New Britain”, it boldly declared, while the nation required “a tremendous overhaul, a great programme of modernisation and re-equipment of its homes, its factories and machinery, its schools, its social services”. It was a vision rewarded with a landslide victory by a nation which, after the vast sacrifices of war, had no appetite to return to the depressed, hungry 1930s.
Nearly two decades later, Harold Wilson’s Labour promised a “New Britain” which harnessed the “white heat of technology”, using “socialist planning” to “modernise the economy; to change its structure and to develop with all possible speed the advanced technology and the new science-based industries with which our future lies”.
And while Tony Blair’s New Labour offered only modest tinkering – rather than the unapologetically transformative agendas of his predecessors – his party’s rhetoric in 1997, too, was shrouded in the rhetoric of modernity and the future: of delivering a “new Britain”, of “modernising Britain”, of a country “that does not shuffle into the new millennium afraid of the future, but strides into it with confidence”.
These are Labour’s three great victories, all bound together by an audacious claim on the future, even if the substance did not always match the promise. Labour’s new policy on broadband should be notable not because the party is committing to delivering a service for free – but because it represents a return to the tradition of 1945, 1964 and 1997, unleashing the shackles holding the country back from modernisation.
What’s the bit being missed? That all of those grand promises turned to cack, didn’t they? For getting the British government to do something is an excellent method of making sure the thing is done badly, slowly and expensively. Quite possibly because British government is actually done by the sort of people that Owen Jones knows and likes.