Issue 234 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
The joke goes that when the Tories were looking for a successor to John Major they could find nobody, and nobody took the form of William Hague.
The joke had a serious edge to it. The Tory Party is a party in complete disarray. It is led by a talentless munchkin who is still probably best remembered for his young nerd of the year award when he spoke at the Tory Party conference while still a schoolboy.
So bad is the munchkin that there have been several efforts to make him over. There was 'casual man' when all the Tories gathered together at some retreat in slacks and cardigans in what looked like an ill thought out Val Doonican tribute evening.
There was 'working class, street cool Yorkshire man' when he appeared at the Notting Hill Carnival wearing a baseball hat. He reminded you of everyone's embarrassing uncle, who hasn't cottoned on that he doesn't look with it, just plain stupid.
There was married (pre-marital sex) man sporting an attractive young wife with lots of Fs in her name. No good though. Selling Hague as sex on legs was never a runner.
Now we are told he is going to be remade as action man: martial arts, potholing, abseiling, that sort of thing. Personally I think he should start out with bungee jumping. Never would the title 'dope on a rope' be more appropriately apportioned.
It says much about the state of this party that someone like Ann Widdecombe can be put forward as its saviour. How Doris Karloff, responsible for the chaining of pregnant women prisoners, can be reinvented as the Joan of Arc of Toryism leaves much to be explained.
One glimpse at the House of Commons seems to confirm this perilous state of affairs for the Tories. Across from the munchkin, the woman chainer and the bedraggled rabble of has beens and never will bes, sit the sharp suited all vanquishing popinjays of New labour. They sit in their splendour, with a huge majority, a great public image, pagers pressed to their bodies to ensure they never stray offline. They are bright, young, hopeful, ambitious. They can afford to dismiss the munchkin and his sad band with a sneer of contempt. They are the government. They call the shots, and completely outnumber the opposition.
All this is so obviously true that it leads to one confusing question; why then, throughout the summer, has the political agenda been set by the discredited rabble opposite?
As I wrote last month, the Tories have broken consensus over Northern Ireland, seeking the head of Mo Mowlam, and smashing the peace process, thus putting an end to the ceasefire. How does Labour respond? Mowlam appears to go into hiding, Blair is said to be privately angry, yet neither they nor anyone else in the New Labour ranks face down these bellicose nincompoops and tell them they are playing games with people's lives and with any hope for peace. Instead it's accommodation, appeasement and appeals to Tory better nature (as if such a thing existed) all the way.
Then there is the question of the refugee yo-yo. Before the Balkan War broke out, there had been a nasty squalid little campaign against refugees arriving in Dover. The local rag, the Sun and the usual racist suspects were behind it. Then the war came, and suddenly refugees were nice cuddly people, people if not to die for, then at least to kill for. Why, eventually even the Sun fell in love with them, taking pictures of new arrivees and welcoming them warmly.
That was done, of course, to sell a war. Now the war has gone and asylum seekers are the main scourge in society. Scroungers, job takers, stealers of council flats, occupiers of closed hospitals--these are just some of the insults being hurled in their direction. The local rag in Dover and the Sun set the tone, and much of the rest of the media joins in. Who provides them with the lead they need? Why none other then the manacling maniac herself, Widdecombe.
Once more New labour has the chance to put the racist Tory rabble in its place. Instead, having let the Tories set the agenda, New Labour in the shape of Jack Straw decides he will out-Widdecombe Widdecombe.
So we have Straw pedalling myths about fake Gypsies. We have tales reminiscent of Enoch Powell about defecating in the street. We have widescale capitulation to racism which can only encourage that racism to grow.
Utterly disgusting! Again you have to ask, how can it be that one of the most hated members of a hated and discredited party can become the role model that New Labour feels it has to imitate?
Yet there is a simple enough explanation. The truth is New Labour never understood why it overwhelmingly won the last election. It believes it did so by out-Torying the Tories. It fell for the line that we had all become Thatcherite in outlook: selfish, mean spirited, prejudiced and greedy.
Labour has never grasped just how radical and anti-Tory the mood was at the time of the general election. Of course it is true that Labour's record on Ireland and racism has always left much to be desired, but to see this lot kowtowing to a miserable bunch of right wing dross is to beggar belief. To know Labour ministers are doing so because they believe they will keep middle England on board is galling.
Worst of all though is to know they are doing it because they think that's what the vast majority of us want to hear. That is the most disgusting slur on us and a true indication of what a bunch of shysters they are.