spiked-geist: Day Seven

Real Labour; Hard Labour; Never mind the bollards; Sketchy future; Scotland - out of kilter?; Geri for PM; Islington's cash-for-votes policy; Politics Hertz.

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Topics Politics

Real Labour

If you think New Labour is just an elaborate advertising slogan, think again. Events over the past week demonstrate two things:

most people see politics as irrelevant to their lives

but there are dangers ahead if we give politicians a free hand just to get on with it.

The gap between what happens in Whitehall/Westminster and most people’s lives and concerns is bigger than ever. Indeed, the views of the electorate seem to exist on a different plane to those discussed by politicians and the media. So during the first week of electioneering, newspapers were full of claims that the Tories had got off to a better start than New Labour – despite all the polls showing that New Labour had a clear lead, and including one poll in which 60 percent of respondents said they thought the Tories could never win under Hague.

While voters are being shunted out of the political arena (apart from being wheeled in on 7 June to cast our votes, of course), we cannot afford to give up on politics. Accepting that we can’t have much influence on political life means allowing New Labour to run the country as it sees fit.

Some people see New Labour as media puff, an advertising slogan, the PR campaign to end all PR campaigns. With the demise of New Labour architect Peter Mandelson earlier this year, some reckoned the gloss would fall away and reveal Old Labour lurking behind the spin. ‘New Labour may not exist for much longer’, Tribune editor Mark Seddon told spiked in February 2001. ‘Peter Mandelson was probably the only true believer in New Labour – his departure has weakened the whole project that he was pushing.’

But how much of an impact did Mandelson’s exit have on New Labour? The party is still obsessed with getting good PR. And as Blair’s speech at the weekend reveals, the New Labour project is more than just talk.

‘I want our campaign to be unremittingly New Labour….I want this to be a campaign about and on New Labour’, said Blair, before setting out his stall for a new Britain. The election discussion will be used to show, once and for all, that New Labour was not just a rebranding exercise to get into power, but a real force designed to reorganise British politics and society, and to consolidate a new political elite.

Just look at how the business class has come out in support of New Labour, with 58 leading businessmen and women signing a letter to The Times in support of Labour’s role as the ‘party of business and enterprise’. That New Labour has taken the support of the business class from the Tories – traditionally the ‘party of business’ – is a clear indication of how successful the New Labour project has been.

What should worry us about New Labour is precisely that it is not just a shallow advertising slogan, but that it has an agenda it wants to put into place over the next four years. While we might feel that politics has little relevance to us today, the last thing we should do is leave it to the politicians alone. BON

(1) Me and my vote: Mark Seddon, by Brendan O’Neill

Hard Labour

Chancellor Gordon Brown this morning set out Labour’s plan to ‘build a British enterprise culture’. ‘In the twenty-first century, the more enterprising our people are, the more prosperous our country will be’, he told the Labour press conference.

Indeed. If only people would get up earlier and be keener at work, the British economy would be invigorated. The problems of poor communities are, apparently, not due to lack of investment and opportunities so much as they are to do with the fact that the ‘work ethic’ has been ‘destroyed’.

While Calvin preached the work ethic from the pulpits, threatening the idle with eternal damnation, New Labour takes the more prosaic approach of the New Deal. This is the simple exchange of ‘something for something’ – providing education and opportunity, while ‘expecting individuals to accept their responsibility to look for work’: ‘There is no fifth option of staying on welfare.’

If New Labour has a pulpit, it is the classroom: ‘I want every young person to learn about business and enterprise in school…every teacher to be fluent in the language of enterprise and able to communicate the value and potential of British business.’ Is nothing sacred? Next they’ll be introducing government-sponsored board games in customer care, for use in nurseries.

Even Thatcher never went so far as to turn history lessons into lectures about getting a job, or to make religious education classes into sermons about the economic potential of British business. Once upon a time, it was enough for a teacher to be adept in French, without forcing them to learn and teach ‘the language of enterprise’. Unless you count the obligatory ‘un kilo de pommes’…. JA

Never mind the bollards

The Conservatives’ latest campaign pledge is to promote the ‘right to drive’. This initiative brings together their policies on cutting petrol prices, reducing the number of roadworks by making contractors pay by the day, and allowing drivers to turn left at red lights when it is ‘safe to do so’.

So now it’s official: the Opposition’s main vote-winner is six pence off a litre of fuel. In their desperation, the Tories are rapidly turning into a single-issue party reminiscent of the Pothole Party that stood in the Irish elections a few years ago. (As if to prove the point, Bernard Jenkin, Tory transport spokesman, has commented previously on how ‘Pothole Britain is getting worse. We need action, not words’ (1)).

It would be bad enough if the Tories limited their campaigns to holes in the road – but that they insist on talking about the ‘right to drive’ shows how little they understand about liberties. Did you ever hear of someone dying for the right to ‘turn left at a red light when it is safe to do so’? Forward to the barricades! They’ll never take us alive! RL

(1) See Gillingham Conservatives website

Sketchy future

Times parliamentary sketchwriter Matthew Parris thinks it is a ‘foregone conclusion’ that New Labour will win the election – but wishes it wasn’t so. Pointing to New Labour’s ‘news management, party management, hatred of public criticism, and anti-libertarian approach to criminal justice’, Parris told spiked that the future for parliamentary diarists like himself under a second New Labour term could be ‘bleak’: ‘I’m just awaiting the Suppression of Sketchwriters Act (2003)….’ BON

Scotland – out of kilter?

The prime minister goes north of the border today, to convince Scottish voters that, despite devolution, the general election is still ‘vitally important’ to those up north. In doing so, he will remind them of Westminster’s key powers, not least over tax and the economy.

Quite right, Tony. Having amputated Scotland from the rest of the country, just remind those voters what devolution really means to you – the promotion of narrow, regional politics, with no control over anything important (unless you really do count foxhunting and student tuition fees). JB

Geri for PM

After last week’s schoolgirls debacle, Tony Blair may well be thinking twice about the wisdom of choosing former Spice Girl Geri ‘I used to love Thatcher but now I’m all Blair’ Halliwell in a New Labour election broadcast tonight. But the question is not, why has Tony gone for Geri, so much as: what is a nice girl like Geri doing in a dirty game like politics?

Ms Halliwell has already gone through Nelson Mandela and Prince Charles, and put herself up for adoption by the UN. Just as it seems that everybody wants to gravitate away from politics and towards pop, Geri’s going the other way. You know what they say about big fish in ever-shrinking ponds….

But maybe there’s more to it than that, considering Blair’s second thoughts about handing the legacy of Number 10 over to Gordon Brown. Is Geri to be the first beneficiary of the lively-young-women-only shortlist that will no doubt govern selection of the next PM? You might think Hear’Say’s Kym would be more appropriate, as at least she could talk about her kids. Yet as Geri says, we are all ultimately Blair’s babies: ‘We all need good parenting with love and guidance, and Tony and Cherie are great examples to us.’ JB

Read on:

Party politics: it’s only rock’n’roll, by Andrew Calcutt

Islington’s cash-for-votes policy

Islington Borough Council is currently sending out ballot papers for a referendum on what kind of structure the authority should have in future. As an incentive to the less-than-interested electorate, it is offering to place returned ballot papers into a draw to win £200.

What is so shocking is not that they need to bribe us to vote on an issue that might otherwise induce coma. It’s that they don’t realise that in Islington, urban playground of New Labour, nobody is supposed to get out of bed for less than a grand. RL

Politics Hertz

Anybody who watched The End of Politics on Sunday night, hosted by the ubiquitous Noreena Hertz and part of Channel 4’s radical-man series on Politics Isn’t Working, could have been forgiven for thinking they were watching an episode of the US cult series Ally McBeal. Not only does the simpering Hertz resemble the neurotic Ally in the looks department – even the hallucination trick (last copy-catted on Channel 4’s Teachers) came in to play, as Noreena magicked up everybody from Honduran children to British university students to endorse her message ‘multinationals = evil, state regulation = good’.

The closing scene showed our heroine standing on a street gazing perplexedly at an election campaign poster, as the camera pulled back to make her seem like an ever-decreasing lost child in a sea of disengaged voters. Surreal. JB

Read on:

TV UK, by Dolan Cummings

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Topics Politics

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