09 July 2007

Some Myths about New Labour dispelled.

1. Soft on Crime: Lower sentencing and less chance of being sent down!

In fact our prison population is the highest in Europe. We have the highest number of police ever at 141,000, 11,000 more than 1997. Detection rates are up and we have an extra 16,000 in jail since 1997. The number in jail has risen at its fastest rate ever. In my opinion, this is wrongheaded because prisons are universities of crime but what you can't say is that this government has been soft on sentencing and sending people to jail.

2. Blair is responsible for the Iraq War and the civilians who have died there.

With or without Blair's decision to support Bush over Iraq, the Iraq War was going to happen. In fact there is an argument that British involvement has reduced casualties, because UK soldiers had a much better relationship (at least at first) with the Iraqi civilians than did the more trigger happy US soldiers.

Blair does bear responsibility for the deaths of British soldiers but these were volunteer soldiers not conscripts. You shouldn't join the army if you don't want to fight in wars. Any soldier could have refused to go, it was their decision.

My personal position is that I have always thought the war would exacerbate rather than diminish terrorism and I never believed that Saddam had WMD. Anyone who had read the weapons inspectors' report and knew about the damage to Saddam's capabilities inflicted by the first Gulf War and the continued bombing that followed, would have known that.

I however, hoped that Blair had some hidden reason to justify his support of Bush (I still hope this will come out in the future) and that his support would garner some influence in other policy areas like climate change and debt cancellation. We do know that Blair stopped Bush bombing Al Jazeera, which would have been a terrible inflamation of the conflict and has probably saved many lives there, so that is some comfort. Blair's success in getting other concessions out of Bush's regime seems scant to say the least. We will have to wait and see to judge whether Blair's decision will have saved lives in the long term.

3. The NHS is getting worse despite the extra money.

I can't believe I actually have to answer this, but some people do actually manage to believe this ridiculous claim, so dismiss it I must.

The NHS has seen unprecedented increases in funding under this government from £34bn to £92bn. The increase in funding has also seen a decrease in productivity (this means 'getting better at a diminishing rate' not 'getting worse' as claimed). This is unsurprising. It would be amazing if the expansion in services came without any drop in productivity. Think about it.

A lot of extra funding has been taken up by the biggest hospital building programme ever, by wage increases for nurses, doctors and other staff and also by rampant price inflation in the drugs and medical equipment markets. Maybe some of the price inflation is a result of NHS demand, but not many would argue that building more hospitals and increasing wages amongst core NHS staff is a bad thing. This is part of the reason why the NHS has attracted over 80,000 more nurses and 20,000 more doctors.

The real question is; are we getting value for money out of the NHS?

According to the latest WHO report, the UK is 26th in terms of per-capita funding and 18th in terms of health performance (measured over a range of health indicators). By comparison, the US is 1st in per-capita funding and 37th in terms of health performance. This suggests that the NHS is by far more efficient than the free market US model. France came top of health performance and was 4th in terms of per-capita funding. So if we want to have as good a health service as France, it is clear the NHS needs more money, it is still underfunded in comparison to the French health system.

Another fatuous claim is that the NHS is over-burdened with managers. In fact managers make up just 2.8% of the total NHS staff and overall management costs have been falling from 5% of budget in 1998 to 4% in 2003. Not only this, but the proportion of staff who are managers is 20% higher in private health, 27% higher in all public industries and nearly 3 times higher in private industry than in the NHS.

4. No different from the Tories.

Tell that to the millions of workers who haved benefited from the introduction of a Minimun Wage and have seen their wages increased by 45% since it's introduction as it has been increased year on year well above the rise in average earnings. Then there is 4 weeks paid holiday guaranteed, much more money for the poorest pensioners and families, massive increases in spending on health, education, public transport and other services that benefit the poorest the most, Sure Start, Education Maintenance Allowance etc. Even student tuition fees distribute from the rich to the poor (who now get grants). Some of Labour's achievements are listed here.

Then there is the ban on handguns that has halved gun deaths (gun crime has risen because of use of legal weapons such as replica, imitation, airguns etc.). Then the raft of laws outlawing discrimination in adoption laws, the armed forces and public functions and also the equalisation of the age of consent. Then there is the human rights act, freedom of information act, transparent party funding, devolution, proportional representation for these new devolved bodies etc. All these things were opposed by the Tories. No Tory government would have provided these things, in fact their last manifesto promised a reduction in the abortion limit, a scrapping of human rights legislation and a relaxation of gun laws.

If by 'no difference between the parties', people mean that the Labour party no longer nationalises everything and hasn't reversed Thatcher's laws curtailing the unions and her tax cuts for the rich, then there are two reasons why this is so, one is about rejecting outdated dogma and the other one is a more difficult realisation.

The rejection of dogma is that nationalisation has been universally discredited as an efficient provider of most services and the difficult realisation is that globalisation has severely restricted the 'policy space' of national governments as rich individuals and multinationals can easily get around national laws. Ignoring the realities of globalisation is like as Tony Blair puts it 'acting like King Canute trying to turn back the tide'.

From an ideological point of view the gap between Tory and Labour has closed, but is it more left wing to stick to a discredited ideology or is it more left wing to actually improve people's lives? Imagine what the last 10 years would have been like under the Tories and then say there is no difference in having a Labour government.

I vote and support Labour because even if I only support 50% of their policies and actively oppose 10-20%, it is the opposite for the Tories' policies, of which I might support 10% but oppose the vast majority. No matter how much I support of the Green manifesto or Lib Dem manifesto, it is irrelevant if voting for them means helping elect a Tory, as it does in the majority of seats under this stupid electoral system. People don't join the Tories to reduce poverty, they join to reduce their tax bills (and unless you are in the top 10% of earners they don't even do that), 'less tax, less blacks' as Rory Bremner famously summed up Tory philosophy.

For the first time this Tory philosophy failed to win them an election. They pushed this philosophy as hard as they could (with their insiduously racist posters the worst example). Now David Cameron is trying to move away from this image by talking about poverty and inequality but he wrote the 2005 manifesto and hopefully few are fooled by this wolf in sheep's clothing.

5. Authoritarian Party Structure.

The image of Walter Wolfgang being ejected from conference was a public relations disaster for Labour and for many has signified the decline of democracy in the Labour party. But this image is actually far from the truth. Labour party members have not actually had much in the way of direct democratic control of the party's policies for over two decades now.

Until 1981, party members solely elected leaders now they have a 30% say but party members now have much more influence in conference as union affilates have been reduced from 80% of delegates to 50%. Compared to Tory party members who have never had any direct influence on policy this is democratic.

This total lack of democracy in the Tory party is why the Tories have always been much better at running their conferences like the Nuremberg rallies that the media demands to demonstrate 'unity'. This is something the media have forced on political parties and has been detrimental to democratic openness.

Imagine the party conferences that Labour used to have, debate was loud and open and vociferous. The problem is that electorally this open debate was exploited by the media to emphasise a dis-united party and cost Labour electorally. So on the one hand Labour are criticised for being divided and then on the other they are criticised for being authoritarian in not allowing hecklers who disrupt speakers.

First let's clear up a few pointers about the Walter Wolfgang incident. The security who manhandled him were out of order, they didn't use common sense on an elderly guy, but they were nervous because the previous year had seen fox hunters set off rape alarms and security had been slow to react. This nervousness caused the over-reaction.

Also, Walter was NEVER arrested and certainly not arrested under the Terrorism Act. All that happened was, when he tried to re-enter conference the next day, he was told he had to wait while a new pass was issued because his last pass had been taken off him when he was ejected the day before. At this point a police officer may have quoted the Terrorism Act as a reason why he couldn't be allowed back in straight away. A sharp eyed journalist sensed a way of manipulating this into a story. At no point was Walter detained or arrested. In fact he is now on the NEC. If you want to show your support for Walter, join the party he believes in - the Labour Party.


  1. "Also, Walter was NEVER arrested and certainly not arrested under the Terrorism Act. All that happened was, when he tried to re-enter conference the next day, he was told he had to wait while a new pass was issued because his last pass had been taken off him when he was ejected the day before. At this point a police officer may have quoted the Terrorism Act as a reason why he couldn't be allowed back in straight away."

    Yes, he was stopped by a policeman quoting the Terrorism Act, and he shouldn't have been. Sussex Police have apologised for this "genuine mistake".

    You may be interested to know what Mr Wolfgang says about the quality of debate in today's Labour Party.

    Then you may be interested to read what Oliver Kamm says about casting the first stone!

  2. What a boring and self justifying post.


  3. Neil, I agree with much of your post and I think you make some good points. But (there's always a but eh) the reference to their insiduously racist posters the worst example - I'm not sure what you're making reference to here, but you seem to have forgotten the Labour posters depicting Michael Howard as Shylock and as pig.

    Hardly a high point in the political process.

  4. UkLiberty: Thanks for the link on Walter Wolfgang - interesting reading.

  5. Urko: 'Are you thinking what we are thinking' was nothing short of 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink we are on your [BNP] side. There was no mistaking what the Tory party were up to.

    The Labour - Michael Howard poster in contrast - was clumsy but there was no intent at anti-semitism, it was only circulated to Labour members to gauge their reaction, and was withdrawn immediately with a full apology from the Labour party for any offence caused. It is not the same thing at all. There was no electoral reason or precedent for Labour to use such anti-semitism and with many prominent Labour Jewish MPs it is extremely unlikely that that was their intent (although I admit it was wrongheaded). The Tories however have a long history of playing the race card at elections (shamelessly).

  6. Anon: Boring is subjective. Most people find Will Young being attacked by a gorilla interesting - I find that boring.

    As boring articles go, I think I have written much more boring ones than this.

  7. Thats very true.