Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Worst Government in living memory…

…applied to Blair and Brown’s tenure in Government, might be a title that sticks in the craw of us lefties; we remember Thatcher’s destruction of the miners, her attacks on manufacturing, Major’s ERM debacle, Tory sleaze, their moral crusades, their little-Englishness; no government, even one that we had some doubts about, could be worse than the previous 18 years…and yet; when we look back at the 12 years of incompetence, arrogance, and gross mismanagement that have characterised the Labour government - hopefully, soon to draw ignominiously to its end - it’s one we can’t ignore. We should have another glance at a selection of the lowlights, lest we forget…

First up has to be the war in Iraq. The illegality, lying – to Parliament and the people, the hundreds of thousands of dead – and look here if you can, to see some images of what this Government have reaped, particularly if you were one of the head-in-the-sands who still voted for Labour in 2004, and feel ashamed that it was in our name and with our blessing - the enmity engendered across the world, the financial cost, have all been well-documented and analysed; we should just remind ourselves that we had a Prime Minister who would have, by his own admission, used any means to prosecute that war; equally we have a current Prime Minister who supinely, and quietly, agreed with and financed everything, either because he agreed with the action or, infinitely worse, was keeping quiet in order to ensure his climb to power.

The economy;
even by Labour’s figures, it was healthy and growing when they took it over in 1997; now it is the worst in peacetime history. Whilst Gordon still bleats that it’s ‘not his fault’, we remember
• a Chancellor who used light-touch regulation – much lighter than the previous Government – with the aim that the UK become the financial centre of the world; thus extremely attractive to sharp practice and short-term gain, we’re now the last major economy to emerge from recession, and with the greatest debt as a proportion of GDP.
• PFI and Public Private Partnership initiatives that have cost billions more than if they were funded via the public purse alone, and which will cripple taxpayers for 30 years; they have recently been declared ‘off-balance sheet’, so that they don’t appear in the country’s debt figures.
• that Brown talked up, hundreds of times, a housing bubble that was widely predicted to be unsustainable, and claimed, against all historical precedent, that growth would continue in perpetuity under his guidance, from "Under this Government, Britain will not return to the boom and bust of the past." (Pre-Budget Report, 9th November 1999)…right through to "And we will never return to the old boom and bust." (Budget Statement, 21 March 2007).
• a Chancellor who took around 100 billion out of the retirement funds of hundreds of firms when he removed tax credits on share dividends, forcing them to wind up their final-salary schemes. It took two years of Freedom of Information requests to find out that the Treasury Advisers were telling him at the time that *The lower paid would be worse off under the new rules *Pensioners due to retire would lose out immediately *It would cost pension providers £4 billion a year *Pension benefits would be cut *The value of existing pension funds could fall immediately by £50 billion *Local authority schemes would need topping up, leading to higher public spending. He ignored them, now hundreds of thousands will retire to live in penury. Good luck.
• that Brown sold off the gold reserves – again, against Bank of England advice - at a knock-down price in 1999, to fund short-term growth; since 2000 the value of gold has quadrupled, losing us just under £5bn, and the UK is horribly exposed to the gilt markets, hovering in the wings to take us down sometime next year.

If the spend has ever been justified, it’s been in the pursuit of social equality, righting the disparities of the Tories; however, we have actually experienced a rise in inequality between the rich and the poor, widening all the time, and set to increase in the austere times ahead – so, that didn’t work. The investment in education and health has been real, but misguided and ineffective; for example, around £950million has been spent on anti-truancy initiatives since 1997 with targets continuously set and missed, yet the number of actual truants now totals the highest since 1997 (for a lovely summation of the debacle, see this BBC site); a vast increase in middle management across all sectors, target-setting, initiatives (the latest is ‘transformational Government, see my blog below, now being rolled out across the departments), with a minimal impact on outcomes – which will anyway now be nullified by the forthcoming swingeing cuts. Even if some figures are exaggerated, it’s worth reading this book to fully appreciate the hundreds of billions wasted. That’s hundreds of billions.

There has been massive mismanagement of the public purse, with my favourite recent example, because it’s so beautifully emblematic of the many others, being the NHS IT programme. Despite been told at the outset that it would be costly and ineffective – enriching private companies and consultants, whilst delivering negligible benefits for the patient - the original 2.3billion estimated cost has, six years later, risen to 12billion. Brown said 11 months ago, in response to a Tory criticism of it, ‘it is essential; you may not care about the health service - I do’; and so…it’s just been quietly abandoned, with Darling saying that in the light of the present economic situation, it is no longer essential. So, we can only conclude that Brown is either a liar, or a charlatan, or that he now doesn’t ‘care about the Health Service’ – there is no other conclusion.

The Post Office and Royal Mail
, profitable when Labour came to power; now, due to a policy of market liberalisation under an appointed cabal of ex-supermarket managers and, I kid you not, ex-premier league executives, it’s an absolute basketcase; its social purpose destroyed through ‘streamlining’, closures, exorbitant pay for said executives, and political undermining. Just to underline, this was a successful state service for over 150 years, offering a truly country-wide service, now buggered.

If that was one of the social services, one of the other – rail – has been fully ‘set free’ to compete in the marketplace; a 1997 manifesto commitment to renationalise the railways was dropped soon after, and massive investment has since been used to bolster the shareholder dividends, and underwrite the losses, of largely foreign-owned corporations. One example; FirstGroup Rail made £51m profit in the first six months of 2009 -10. This was entirely funded by the taxpayer.

We can look at the international dimension again – Afghanistan; I was against the original invasion, but more importantly there were experts – and of course an entire history – who counselled against the ‘unwinnable war’. By a combination of a supine public – even the left largely failed to see that ‘imposing democracy’ was just another bloody imperialist adventure – and a gung-ho government, we now have a corrupt administration in Afghanistan, supported by those poor fuckers who are returning home, in bits, in increasing numbers.

Family breakdown
, now endemically tragic for so many struggling on estates across the land; the promotion of an entirely correct drive for equality unfortunately manifested itself into a push to get women out to work – to have worth, one had to be working, aspirational, not a ‘burden’ - to be replaced by an army of childminders. Every study shows that children grow up more stable, and loved, by the close presence of at least one parent (Leo Abse, an ex-Labour MP who bravely fought for the legalisation of homosexuality and against illiberal divorce laws, brilliantly dissects the disastrous impact that Labour has had on the family unit in his book ‘Fellatio, Politics, Masochism and Love’), yet there are now hundreds of agencies and thousands of people employed to engage with and help ‘problem families’; unfortunately, but predictably, for the latter - and unlike the alternatives on offer across Europe, yet sadly so like the economic model that Blair and Brown subscribed to, imported from the United States - unfettered capitalism and laissez-faire economics have offered us a poignant example of how to utterly cock something up, and then spend billions, and decades, trying to cope with the fallout.

Do you remember the ‘war on drugs’? We’ve spent – yes, you’ve guessed it – billions trying to police people’s habits, rather than adopt a sensible legalisation policy. As a result we have increasing use of all drugs across all sectors of society, a high acquisitive crime rate that exists to feed the habits (themselves a reaction to the atomisation of family and society) of desperate individuals – and how can we begin to accumulate the misery for perpetrators and victims alike – and – at once hilarious and profoundly depressing - the sacking of a Government Adviser for stating the bleedin’ obvious.

The expenses scandal; all parties had many individuals who were coining it in – although rather lost in the hubbub, as it broke just previously, was the fact that Labour had four Lords who were prepared to act as secret paid advisers to lobbying groups, for up to £120,000 a time. They were Lord Truscott, a former energy minister, Lord Moonie, a former defence minister, Lord Snape, a former Labour whip, and Lord Taylor of Blackburn, who claimed he had changed the law to help his client Experian, the credit check company. It was Gordon, Jack Straw and Harriet Harman who spent years fighting disclosure of the expenses claims, despite having many Lib Dem-inspired parliamentary opportunities to come clean. Beyond the sometimes petty and even humorous abuses of the regulations, what the scandal shone a light upon was the creation of a political and managerial superclass – because here, without going all Daily Mail on yo’ ass, we have to include the higher-paid public sector workers and the BBC – utterly divorced from the public, both in terms of the service they offered, and the money they get for doing it.

And it’s worth, finally, mentioning the MP’s resignations (as, of course, the Lords mentioned above can keep their seat, whatever happens). The Tories had Archer, Aitken, Hamilton, Parkinson, Yeo and Mellor – how evil they were! – Labour had Peter Hain (lying about donations to his Deputy Leadership campaign), Stephen Byers (lying to Parliament), David Blunkett (lying about fast-tracking visa’s for his ex-lover’s nanny), Peter Mandelson (lying about a mortgage and visa applications for friends), Beverley Hughes (mismanagement of, and lying about, immigration claims), Jacqui Smith (lying about her second home), David Chaytor (lying about his mortgage claims), and Hazel Blears (lying about capital gains tax), and of course we had Blair lying about the war (and how quaint Thatcher’s lying about the Belgrano looks in comparison to Blair’s slaughter) but he went before he was pushed.

Intent is one thing, but effectiveness much more important; whatever those of us optimistic souls who voted Labour in 1997 thought, by just about every measure Labour have been worse than the previous Tory administrations - mainly by being more right-wing than the Tories. One might say, hypothetically, that the Tories would have been even worse; my contention is that they couldn’t have been because we – a coalition of unions, progressives, the person in the street – would have demonstrated, struck, agitated, complained, and watered down their extremes. Instead, we have let Labour get away with it, because it was ‘our lot’; we failed to see that, precisely because they were unchecked, and had goodwill behind them, they would be more power-crazed, more corrupt, and more useless.

So socialists like myself have to accept that our hope – that a Labour Government would – at least ‘under cover’ – implement a progressive socialist programme, was based on a tragic optimism; we confused a vague feeling – that Labour were ‘nicer’ than the Tories – with actual political change. Indeed, in the absence of any coherent critique or policy whatsoever (try and name one, it’ll be a good parlour game over Christmas), Brown is hoping that we’ll forget the last 12 years and falling back on that very feeling, in a desperate bid to retain power…’the Tories are evil…they just want to cut…they don’t care about the ordinary person’ – frankly if the last 12 years have been about caring, then I want someone to punch me on the hooter, then fuck me up the arse – ‘they’re only in it for their rich friends…’; if you fall for it again, then only pity or resentment are appropriate responses from me.

So what now: the best I can hope for is either that there is a hung parliament – whereby at least the wilder follies of the Tories and Labour might be tempered by an economic straitjacket and parliamentary stasis – or that Cameron gets in with a small majority, makes a complete horlicks of governing – and he’d have to work hard to be as bad at it as Brown – and the left uses the next five years to redefine what it is to be ‘left’, and comes up with some decent arguments against the right. This won’t – can’t – mean the usual ‘increase taxes/spending and it’ll all be ok’ mantras, because we don’t have any money left, and should dispense with the unions - no matter how many times Labour shafted them and no matter what horrors they committed, the unions kept on bankrolling them, their heady closeness to power blinding them to what might be good for the country or their members - but might include a left critique of unfettered capitalism.

And just to make us all feel good at Yuletide, please bear in mind that our Government is currently detaining children in atrocious conditions at Yarl’s Wood immigration centre – some are having psychological care to counter the trauma they’ve experienced, and one young formerly detained boy suffers nightmares and is too scared to leave his mother's side for fear he will be returned to detention - and has now denied them the small joy of receiving Christmas gifts this month…Happy Christmas!

And as for Labour – their MPs, past, present and future – fuck ‘em; they can rot in hell.


essentialclementine said...

I would be happy to punch you on the
nose and my friend Thomas would very
much like to do the second bit. x

Anonymous said...

Great article, couldn't agree more. Even better to see it coming from a leftie. The rose tinted spectacles are slowly being shattered.

vikki hill said...

Is it still the worst government in living memory?! Vikki x