Issue 195 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 1996 Copyright Socialist Review

Stack on the back

Opposites attract

'It is much recorded that people are very cynical about politicians, and the Mowlam law of opposition may partly explain why'

I just can't make up my mind--are the New Labour coterie around Blair genuinely loathsome right wing ratbags who believe all the awful crap they keep coming out with, or are they so scared of not winning the election that they will say anything they think people want to hear?

I only ask the question because I was struck by something Mo Mowlam, Labour's spokesperson on Ireland, said on television following Major's (ultimately life costing) response to the Mitchell report.

Mo was clearly uneasy. You could tell that she thought Major had made a terrible decision, but no way was Mo going to say so. 'We are committed', she said, 'to not making a party political issue out of this question.'

Two thoughts occurred to me, one immediately, the other more slowly. Mowlam is a leading member of the opposition. The opposition's job is to oppose the government, particularly where it believes the government has got it wrong. Here was clearly a crucially important issue which the government had got disastrously wrong, yet the opposition is committed not to oppose. Ah, how brilliant is the British parliamentary system.

The second thought that occurred to me, though, was that the logic of Mowlam's statement was that, when the Labour Party does oppose the government, it does so, at least some of the time, not from some great principle, but in the hope of gaining party political advantage.

It is much recorded that people are very cynical about politicians, and the Mowlam law of opposition may partly explain why.

So how, for instance, can people take Labour's (absolutely correct) criticism of Tory elitist and privileged education policy seriously, when Blair, and even more spectacularly Harriet Harman, take full advantage of it? How can anybody really believe Labour is committed to full educational opportunities for all, when Blair and Harman have chosen to let their children gain opportunities available to a privileged few?

Of course there are many in the Labour Party, indeed many Labour MPs, who are absolutely sincere in their commitment to fully comprehensive education. One only has to read the writings of Roy Hattersley, or to have seen the angry, stony face of John Prescott in parliament while the debate on Harman's son going to grammar school was going on, to know this to be the case. Blair and Harman, however, stand conspicuously apart. Actions, as they say, speak louder than words.

So the answer to my original quandary would seem to be that the Blair coterie really are just loathsome. Yet I'm still not sure that that tells the whole story. I watched Question Time recently. The obnoxious right wing nutter Peter Lilley was on it. He had just announced huge redundancies at the Department of Social Security, and was defending them.

How did Labour's representative, Tessa Jowell, deal with the cuts? Her first response was to say how gravely concerned she was that this would mean a reduced ability at the DSS to deal with social security fraud.

Of all the things she could have said! She could have talked about the large numbers of workers who would be losing their jobs, the vital role the DSS plays in keeping those most desperately in need in society afloat, the need for more staff to help track down those entitled to benefits they don't receive.

It was left to an ageing QC, and to television pundit Mavis Nicholson, to say that they didn't give a stuff about fraud, and that far more money was lost to the country through tax evasion.

What I kept wondering was, can Tessa Jowell really mean this? Surely she didn't join the Labour Party out of a great desire to harass people on benefits? If I was right then either she chose to go down this horrible route to merely try and score a petty party political point off Lilley, the arch hater of claimants, or she said it because she thought it was what we, the viewers, wanted to hear. Either way it was abominable.

So is it just point scoring, or do they really have complete contempt for workers? Did Jack Straw just think attacks on beggars and squeegee merchants would win him votes, or do groups of Blairites sit around dinner tables chomping at hors-d'oeuvres, complaining how unsightly the poor are, and how they are spoiling the neighbourhood?

Do they really believe in comprehensive education, or do they sip their aperitifs whilst explaining that they wouldn't dream of sending their children to a school full of mixed race oiks?

Do they think attacking the dole queue fraudsters is a popular cause, or do they, between bites on the lobster thermidor, complain about the taxes they have to pay to keep scroungers going?

1 have never been invited to one of their dinner parties, so I guess I'll never know for sure. I believe, though, it is probably a very unhealthy mixture of both. Either way they emerge with little credit.

One last thought--Blair apparently said in the meeting of Labour MPs during the Harman crisis that he wouldn't sacrifice a single member of his shadow cabinet to those 'Tory bastards'. What a shame he was willing to sacrifice Northern Ireland to those same Tory bastards and their Unionist friends. His willingness to do so has cost far more than the career of one revoltingly ambitious woman. What price principles?
Pat Stack


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