Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More on the Project Mk II

Mat has responded to my previous blog here. So I will try to do the whole idea a little more justice.

This project is talked of in some corners as a negative anti-New Labour project, and in others as a positive campaign for liberty and consitutional reform. First some background: New Labour, what is it?

We all know about the abandonment of clause 4 and the embrace of privatisation and PFI. That's not what we were talking about. But the second plank to regaining electability for Labour was this: Be tougher on crime than the Conservatives, no matter how irrationally vicious they become; never stop doing this. This was well underway in the mid 90s, driving Michael Howard to the right, Howard presumably expecting Labour to bottle at some point. If only.

Labour had to be tougher, not just matching the Conservatives, to overcome the suspicion that they were instinctively a load of bleeding hearts. Clinton had successfully done much the same. Labour activists largely went along with it even if they didn't like it because it was a small enough price to pay to win, and to make some progress in other areas with greater popular appeal.

Terrorism today is an extension of crime then. This government will seek to be and appear tougher than the Conservatives on terror. Measures such as "glorification" may be more appearance than actuality, legislation as press release, but where there is substance it is just as irrational. This leaves Cameron with the same problem that Howard had in the 90s. He could play a game of chicken with liberty by pitching right, or he can leave the issue alone. The Tories do not have the same intrinsic weakness on crime, so don't need to pursue the same strategy. I don't see any particular advantage in their pursuing a more rational crime or terror policy, like Oaten's. So I don't expect them to do it - they are nothing if not the Daily Mail brigade. They could pitch right, but I expect them to play it safe and focus on other issues. Either way, Cameron's overtures to the Lib Dems are a ploy.

That understood, what are we talking about? A campaign for liberty and constitutional reform? Liberty meets Charter 88. Sure, go for it. An electoral campaign? Yes, of course, Liberty/C88 should get stuck in at election time. But it will need more popluar support, not just a majority, but enough to outweigh the strength of feeling that the politics of fear can deploy. Support beyond "the chattering classes" - which I think is beginning to happen, but has some way to go. Is this a campaign to defeat "New Labour" in the sense of the crime and terror part of the project to make Labour electable? Sure, but let's be clear: That aspect of New Labour is a normal ingredient of the Conservative Party. Labour may be giving the executive all sorts of dangerous powers, but I still fear the Conservatives getting the chance to use them.

We are faced with suggestions like this:

1. Getting Labour out (campaigning methods and tactics)
2. Keeping the next lot in order (Constitutional stuff, what are we after?)

What are we after!? Are Lib Dems short of policy on constitutional "stuff"? Do the Tories support ANY of it? Have I woken up on a different planet? And having policy for how to keep the next lot in order is a long way from actually having a constitution and bill of rights in place.

So, the idea that Cameron may be willing (!) and able (!) to deliver Tory lobby fodder in favour of measures to undo some of Labour's spin-motivated idiocy and entrench democracy and civil rights is provoking. But it is up to him to convince me of it, I am not going to start convincing myself of it by making plans for it.

Of course there are liberals within the Conservative Party, and in the Labour Party. It would be nice if we could work together in a common cause, but guess what? Other issues matter to people too. People are in other parties despite their illiberalism presumably because of these other issues, or because they like bigger parties with greater immediate prospects of power. I see no compelling reason for a campaign that is specifically anti-Labour, as opposed to pro-liberal and pro-Liberal Democrat. So what should this campaign be for? For all these bloody liberals to join the Liberal Bloody Democrats!

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