There, I’ve said it.
I know this makes me look naïve and right-wing, but I can’t seem to help it. I don’t hark back to the old days, I don’t think that Blair has kidnapped Labour, and I don’t long for the day when he’s gone.
A lot of New Labour people, I know, are people scooped up when Labour moved into the political middle. Not so with me. From where I come from two things were mandatory – voting Labour and supporting West Bromwich Albion. Deviating from either carried the threat of being banished from the town and disowned by your entire family. We were big Kinnock fans in our house, Tory haters, and Labour diehards. Being left-wing was to truly be on the side of good against evil.
Part of me misses that. There’s no one to spa with these days. Until the last election the Tories were too pathetic to hate, and I have often over the last few years had a wander over to the Lib Dems to see what they have on offer. But Tony Blair’s conference speech made me realise that I am with Labour now perhaps more than ever. Twice in the last week I have declared myself a Labour voter, which even during the election I struggled to say.
But any difference between me and the party has not been over either its political shift towards the centre or over the war. I have felt most separate from Blair and Labour over civil liberties. I found their determination to lock people up without trial, refusing even to contemplate a sunset clause, quite frankly disgusting. The powers they are giving the police trouble me, even though I know the police need their hands untying with the new al-Qaeda threat. But it’s not just civil liberties. The whole faith school thing frustrates and angers me, and the whole flog schools off to Christian evangelists thing fills me with despair. We are sowing the seeds of something that is going to be reap us real trouble in the future.
And there is something managerial about a lot of New Labour politicians that is very off putting. Patricia Hewit for instance. A soulless automaton, barking out party speak like something out of an Orwell novel.
All of this nearly turned me away from voting Labour last May.
But I find that Labour’s core values still hold. They are the best hope for social justice that this country has had in a long while. New deal, Sure Start, the minimum wage. The culture down here in the bottom third of society is different. We are not disdained by the political elite for not living in the right postcode area, or earning enough, or falling sick. We are not made to feel a burden in society that can only be patronised and tolerated. We are now “hard working families” and “decent people”. Just as how during the 1980s I was witness in lots of small personal ways to the crushing hand of the Tories, I am now witness in lots of small personal ways to the breath of life from Labour.
I know there is still much inequality. Despite the minimum wage there still exists an underclass of people who are not paid a living wage. Tax credits are one answer, but let’s face it, the government should not be subsidising companies to exploit its workers. And tax credits do not help people without families. In their third term, this section of society who have benefited the least from the rise in living standards, must be the focus of good Labour work.
Because the unions won’t help them. Sharp intake of breath, but I don’t get all dewy-eyed over the unions. A small reason for this is that I can’t shake the image I associate them with of a bald man in a blue boiler-suit shouting “everybody out” across the factory floor to a groaning workforce. The unions did good obviously, but let’s not forget that they had massive failings. At the height of their power in the 70s, fuelled by the mass support of male workers in steel, mining, and manufacturing industry, they did not support the Equal Pay Act. In fact, I don’t think as organisations they liked women very much. And worried about a loss of power and control, they did not support the drive for a minimum wage.
And on a personal level they have been rubbish. In many a job certain benefits such as time-and-a-half payments, unsocial hours pay, entitlement to days in lieu for Bank Holidays worked, have all been taken away right under the noses of various unions. I know Thatcher broke their back, but they did nothing. And every union rep I have ever met on shop floor level, without exception, has been too filled with their own self-importance to care about anyone else but themselves. Many have seemed only to want to use the union job to bounce their status and thumb their nose at management. I have often paid my subs, and never felt a part of any union, although glossy magazines falling through my letter box told me I was.
Rather than only being able to gain protection from nasty companies through joining a club and paying, much better for all to have certain basic rights in law. This will reach the low-paid far better than the unions ever had a chance of doing.
And so Blair does it for me. How I will feel after a few more years we shall see. I’m keeping an eye on civil liberty issues, and also on the use of the private sector in our public services. In particular I don’t get this whole “choice” thing. But I’m happy that we have a government not content just to sit in power, but one that will stick its neck out time and time again in order to try and make things better. I like that Blair calls himself a changemaker. I like that he is utterly incapable of playing safe. I like his attitude – lead, follow, or get out of the way.
Perhaps now I’ve got that off my chest I can sleep. I’ve just heard the first twitterings of the dawn chorus.
Monday, October 03, 2005
There, I’ve said it.