Ten years dead

First, have a look at this table; it represents some highlights from the voting records of two MPs in the 2001-5 parliament. Neither of them’s particularly far to the Left or Right – they both voted for the Iraq war and for a lower age of consent for gays, for example. But there are some definite differences, most of them pointing in one direction.

Policy MP 1 MP 2
Control Orders 100% 0%
Foundation hospitals 100% 30%
Fox hunting ban 100% 0%
Liberalised gambling 100% 25%
Elected House of Lords 100% 38%
Iraq Investigation 3% 97%
Restrictions on protest near Parliament 98% 46%
Legalise recreational drugs 50% 16%
Smoking ban 42% 4%
Terrorism laws 100% 13%
University education fees 93% 1%

Some pretty consistent differences, I think you’ll agree. I’ll come back to that later.

I wanted to tell you about this letter we got today. It was very exciting, it didn’t have a stamp on but both our names were on the envelope, handwritten in blue biro. There was a single sheet of blue notepaper inside, also handwritten in blue biro but opening “Dear Neighbour”. Apparently our Liberal Democrat candidate “just wanted to write to say thank you for the warm welcome”. So not only has he forgotten our names between the envelope and the letter itself, he’s forgotten that he’s never actually met us. All very odd.

Closer inspection revealed a “Printed by…” rubric along the bottom of the sheet, leading me to suspect that the note wasn’t actually written by a human hand. Even closer inspection suggested that it wasn’t composed by a human brain. One paragraph reads as follows:

Across our city the Liberal Democrats have pledged to put more police on the beat to tackle rising crime levels. It was an honour to take more than 5,000 petition signatures for more police on the beat to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing St. The Conservatives and Greens are losing support and cannot possibly win in our area.

RACTER, is that you?

The letter came with a leaflet which reminded us that the candidate’s a local lad and that the Lib Dems are the only party that can beat Labour, in this area. Apparently the council election in this particular ward is a “two-horse race”, which sounds quite unusual. And there was a bar graph showing the relative support of Labour and the Lib Dems at the last election, although I’m not entirely sure it was to scale, and…

enough already. What Kerron Cross said in answer to the question “Why do you take such a dislike of the Lib Dems?” has been widely quoted around the Web, and rightly so. They’re a bunch of unprincipled, opportunistic chancers – or rather, they’re a bunch of opportunistic chancers on principle, cheerfully committed to offering the people whatever the people tell them they want. In practice they’re still rather to the Left of Labour on most things (at least in this area), which might mean that one more Liberal Democrat councillor would do some good – but actually voting for them would stick in the craw.

Labour, then? I don’t think so. As I wrote in comments at Bill’s this morning, Voting Labour means voting for Best Value, for PFI and for the evisceration of local democracy through elected mayors and salaried ‘cabinets’ – these are the things Labour has actually done, and if we endorse them they’ll do more of the same. And that’s just some of the local issues. Then there’s Iraq. And then there’s everything else. The idea that Blair was a great Prime Minister and a popular hero right up until Iraq has been mooted recently – notably on the ITV News last night, which floated the word ‘IRAQ’, Mysteron-style, across tableaux intended to represent New Labour’s successes. In today’s Indie, Mark Steel gave this idea a well-deserved kicking:

perhaps there’s another explanation for the decline of Blair and his project. The joy felt by so many at the fall of the Conservatives was a sense of a new atmosphere; an end to an era in which greed triumphed over all. At least to some extent, there’d now be a challenge to the rule of excessive wealth. And here we are. As one newspaper fumed with rage yesterday that “this has been the greatest decade in British history for the very, very wealthy. Under New Labour the worth of the 1,000 richest people in the country has soared by 263 per cent. It has indeed been their platinum age.” And the newspaper complaining about this was the Daily Mail. The Daily Bastard Mail.

It wasn’t one mistake or one flawed policy that eroded all that initial optimism, it was New Labour’s very meaning. In fact, Blair’s support for Bush was a result of that adoration for the wealthy and powerful. Iraq wasn’t an aberration, it was a consequence of all he stood for.

I disagree with Steel on one thing, though.

Ten years ago today was brilliant. It was a euphoric sunny optimistic morning. It’s hard to remember it like that, just as it’s hard to recall you had a wonderful romantic wedding day, if it turned out you’d married a junkie who then sold your furniture and smoked your hamster.

But that shouldn’t rob of us of that night of joy – Mellor, Hamilton, the ones you’ve forgotten like Waldegrave – then that glorious awesome sight, containing an inner transcendental beauty like a majestic sunset over the Pacific: the demise of Portillo.

I remember that; I was still up for Portillo, as they say. I remember Portillo looking rather dignified in defeat, and Stephen Twigg looking like a smirk in a suit. I’ve learnt since that the candidates already know the result when it’s announced; Twigg did a very bad job of hiding it. It didn’t bode well.

Policy MP 1 MP 2
Control Orders 100% 0%
Foundation hospitals 100% 30%
Fox hunting ban 100% 0%
Liberalised gambling 100% 25%
Elected House of Lords 100% 38%
Iraq Investigation 3% 97%
Restrictions on protest near Parliament 98% 46%
Legalise recreational drugs 50% 16%
Smoking ban 42% 4%
Terrorism laws 100% 13%
University education fees 93% 1%

It’s that table again. MP 1 is Twigg; MP 2 is Portillo, who was re-elected in 2001.

So, if you support university tuition fees, control orders, PFI, more casinos and a clamp-down on protest, vote Labour. If you don’t, then… well, I’m certainly not going to suggest that you vote Tory, even if Michael Portillo is standing in your ward. But think about who you’re voting for and what they’re going to do with that mandate. Voting Green (say) may seem useless or unrealistic, but voting Labour because of what the party used to be or what it ought to be is just as unrealistic – and it’s worse than useless, because your vote will go to support the party as it is now.

The party could change; the very fact that the Lib Dems are using such a left-wing pitch shows that there’s a constituency for policies well to the left of New Labour. And perhaps, after Blair, the party can change. I’ll believe it when I see it – but it’s hard not to feel some hope at the prospect of a post-Blair era. I’ll give the last word to Tessa Jowell, of all people:

There will, of course, be sadness when Tony departs. He has led this party to historic victory after historic victory. But we have to take a lesson from the American songwriter, activist and trade unionist Joe Hill, whose last words to his supporters were: ‘Don’t mourn, organise’. And that is exactly what we must all do together.

I think she might be right.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted 3 May 2007 at 14:10 | Permalink | Reply

    Of course, the problem with voting figures is the irresponsibility of opposition – i.e. opposition parties vote against policies from the government that they wiould vote for themselves were they in power – it’s another one of them there paradoxes of stats thing, really.

  2. Phil
    Posted 3 May 2007 at 21:13 | Permalink | Reply

    Good point, and it works both ways – presumably Twiggy wouldn’t have supported all those policies if they’d been put forward by a Tory government. But my point wasn’t that the Tories are Left, but that New Labour policies should be resisted – and that even a Tory is more likely to resist them than a New Labour loyalist like Twigg.

  3. Posted 22 May 2007 at 09:14 | Permalink | Reply

    God, I’d managed to miss that Jowell quoted Joe Hill. Was it in a press conference? Did anybody laugh?

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