I’ve recently returned from a month in coalition Britain, and I’ve been trying to figure out how, if at all, the general ideological tenor of the country has changed. Certainly Radio 1 is much more reactionary than it used to be; I think it’s managed to get worse every time I go back to the UK, but, now, with a new Tory government, it seems to be on a full-bore rush back to the DLT-days of the 80s. Well, actually, that’s not quite right, and the truth is possibly more disturbing: the Radio 1 of the 80s was about DJs in their 40s and 50s broadcasting for their patronizingly imagined younger audience, but today’s Radio 1 is built around young people patronizing themselves (and I know pop music isn’t that exciting at the moment, but surely there’s no excuse for Biffy Clyro).
Even as emotionally invested as I am in Radio 1, though, the reactionaryness of the coalition is obviously more worrying, although it does occur to me that there is a way in which New Labour was more neoliberal than the coalition are. It’s an often-remarked paradox that the transition to neoliberalism under Thatcher didn’t involve a movement of power away from the state, but rather a centralization of power in order to allow for the dismantling of local state structures and the imposition of market mechanisms. The marketization of society, that is, required that the state increase its separate and sovereign political character. But the state under New Labour was anything but a unified sovereign; it frequently seemed to have no idea what it was doing at all. Think of higher education policy, in which the government was obsessed with the idea that everyone should attend university, while seeming to give no thought to what the distinctive value of university education might be (thus the policy managed to be both elitist and philistine at the same time).
This kind of incoherence isn’t a mistake or a weakness, though (it’s not that the state under New Labour acted less than before, but that it acted less coherently and autonomously); it’s an extension of neoliberalization to the state itself. The new government does seem more ideologically coherent, however, and I’m not sure how this will end up manifesting itself. Where next for the state in neoliberalism? A recentralization to impose a new mode of neoliberal accumulation (but the coalition seems to have no more idea than anyone else what this would be)? Or a neoliberalism that finally really does try and do without the state, rather than reconfiguring or redeploying it (an idea which is both terrifying and insane)?