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Home > Politics

New Labour and Linda Barker: giving success a bad name

9 January 2004

The conspiracy theory, if it can be described as such, behind the plan to re-admit Ken Livingstone to the Labour party is that Labour is worried about fielding its own candidate against Ken and suffering a humiliating defeat.

Plausible enough. But could it also be the result of New Labour's unceasing desire to associate itself with success?

Bizarrely, cuddly Ken Livingstone is a success. Partly this shows how fickle the public is: not so long ago Red Ken was the embodiment of the Loony Left, an IRA sympathiser, and, worst of all, a sadistic paedophile who ate human flesh. Sorry, that last bit should read 'member of the GLC'.

But a success is what Ken is - and success is exactly what New Labour craves. When England won the rugby, Blair was there, trying to share the glory. When Brit Pop was the big thing, Blair was schmoozing with Noel Gallagher.

The problem is that success has become totally divorced from considerations of whether someone or something is actually worthwhile.

Pop Idol is successful. Forget the fact that all it's really produced is a glut of second-rate cover versions. The Big Read was a success, even though all it really proved was that if you keep reminding people how great Sense and Sensibility is, they'll go out and buy the video. Linda Barker - possibly the patron saint of empty success - is successful, purely because she was the least offensive participant in a reality TV show.

And it's not restricted to the vapid world of showbiz. Arbitrary success is particularly prevalent in the world of business, where corporate communications departments routinely say things like 'FireCarp: The UK's Third Largest Supplier of Fire Retardant Carpeting' as though it's really something to be proud of, and offices are awash with cheap'n'nasty perspex awards for things like 'Microwaveable Carton Supplier of the Year, East Anglia region'.

(Job-hunting Guardian readers might this week have noticed a job advert with a prominent quote saying 'Success is a choice'. The jobs on offer? Dreary 'B2B' communications wank. Hey, you're producing corporate brochures for an IT firm whose activities are so dull they'd make stones weep? You've arrived!)

Maybe Tony and New Labour have got their fingers on the pulse. Empty success - it's the thing to have.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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