Labour must stop attacking the government from the rightJuly 2, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Posted in New Labour | 11 Comments
Were it just an isolated incident, I suppose we could just dismiss Jack Straw’s attack on prison reform as that of a grumpy ex-minister grasping for success stories from his time in government. We could even forgive him one last grumble as he adjusts to opposition and find his ‘prison works’ mantra consigned to the dustbin of social policy.
But then when you look around at how other ex-ministers have attacked coalition policies you’ll see a rather unsightly pattern emerge.
First, here’s Alan Johnson’s view of the coalition approach to crime:
The Home Secretary’s primary duty is to keep the public safe. She can do that or pursue the half-baked libertarian agenda cooked up with the Lib Dems. She can’t do both.
Then there’s immigration. After hearing that Britain won’t insist on an English test for asylum seekers who’re fleeing for their lives, Phil Woolas reacts with disgust and warns of Afghans on the back of lorries:
Former Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: ‘This ruling means that a British man who marries, say, a Brazilian girl who can’t speak English will not be able to bring her into this country.
‘But an Afghan who gets here on the back of a lorry and successfully claims asylum can bring his Afghan wife, children and grandparents in – even if they don’t speak English.
Then, if you’re not already angry and afraid, here’s Johnson again to double down on the fear factor:
The coalition Government has been accused of “creeping complacency” in the face of the threat of terrorism, by former Home Secretary Alan Johnson.
The Labour MP said he is concerned a shake up of police powers and counter terrorism laws could leave the public more vulnerable to extremists.
See the pattern yet? Whether it’s on prison reform, crime, immigration or terrorism, the approach of Labour’s ex-ministers is to attack the government from the right. Now, maybe this can all be excused as tactical point-scoring and an attempt to cause mischief among a discontented Tory back bench. Maybe it’ll shave some of the varnish off the coalition’s credibility and win a few easy headlines with the usual suspects. But, as Sunny rightly points out, all it says to the rest of us is that the Labour Party hasn’t changed at all.
For those of us who might once have been inclined to support the party – even join it – Labour still has an awful lot for which it should atone. We haven’t forgotten the threats to make the unemployed homeless if they don’t get a job, using breathalisers to check they’re not too tanked-up to work or lie detectors to check they’re telling the truth. We haven’t forgotten 42 day detention, ID cards, Yarl’s Wood or the ‘hit squads‘ of supernannies who were meant to sort out our ‘feckless ‘unemployed. We haven’t forgotten how cynical, punitive and populist Labour’s social policy could be, and these desperate attempts to attack the coalition from the right and just for the sake of it suggests that Labour is content to act exactly the same way in opposition.
Of course, this might all change with a new leader. Until the election is concluded, the shadow cabinet is acting less like a credible alternate government and more an attack dog without a head; a new leader could bring about a more empowering, less authoritarian approach to government. What it does show, however, is that Labour’s problems will not be solved just by changing the person who wishes to lead it; it will also require a significant change in the attitudes of some of its senior politicians.
In the wake of the deal between the Tories and Lib Dems, Labour activists began proclaiming that they were now the only left-wing alternative in Parliament. If they want us to believe that, it would help to stop attacking the government from the right.