I try my best to disagree with Polly Toynbee, but frankly I can't help agreeing with virtually everything she says. Her latest article is once again spot on, summing up the last days of Blair in one word - cowardice.
The failure of Blair to implement the promise on proportional representation that would have as Polly puts it "ensured the future against any unrepresentative government in a nation by nature left of centre", is a tragedy. I couldn't have put it better myself.
Then she mentions the political courage of Ken Livingstone and the congestion charge as an example of what Labour initially fought against and then embraced when they were proved wrong about public opinion. Banning public indoor smoking is another example.
Governments sometimes have to lead public opinion not just try and follow it. Blair seems proud of his 'difficult decisions' in sucking up to Bush's America but less so in combating the lies of the tabloids that have made us back away from Europe and from more progressive politics.
So although it is obvious putting even more people in prison is not the answer, Labour embraces it just to appease the right-wing press. Sentencing has risen from a 20 month average to a 27 month average since 1997 and our prison population has ballooned to it's highest ever as a result. Yet crime has been falling across the Western World since the mid 1990's and has little to do with prison sentences.
New Labour's fondness for gambling is even more disconcerting, since public opinion and even the tabloids are firmly against.
So, I agree with Polly, something is rotten in the core of the new Labour project and I am as fed up with it as anyone on the Left might be. But the answer is to bring our party back to it's principles by campaiging even harder within the party. This government (as Polly points out) has managed to do an awful lot of good and anyone on the Left who deserts Labour and ends up with a Tory led government (and that is the only alternative under this electoral system) is voting against their own interests. Let me explain.
If you are a top rate of tax earner (and only 11% of earners are) or if you have substantial wealth then you will probably be slightly better off financially under the Tories (in the short term). But in the long term, the rise in crime and other problems of rising inequality will make you much worse off both financially and in your quality of life, as the education of the workforce declines and the efficiency of the economy is affected.
However, if you are in the vast majority of people who do not pay the top rate of tax then Labour is your best bet. The problem for the Left under this system is that although it is in the majority, it is much more split between parties and it is this split that has allowed the Tories to dominate government with a right wing agenda. It has also meant that when Labour does get it's chance, it has had to water down it's radical agenda to such a point that we end up with New Labour. This will continue to get worse if we don't change this electoral system.
So it is not just New Labour that are cowards. Progressives need to find the strength and courage to push Labour in the right direction and keep out the Tories. It is the only way forward.