May 15, 2008

More on the Crewe by-election

As is hard to miss, I was pretty pissed off by the Labour party Crewe by-election leaflet, more or less pandering to the xenophobic masses afraid of immigrants coming over here to steal their jobs and wimminz.

Fortunately, it seems like the Guardian has caught up on this story too (which was abley covered by the more Tory-friendly press and blogs, it has to be said) and John Harris has an article up on Comment is Free, where he puts this into the context of a government desperate to remain in power by appealing to "chauvinistic and backward-looking parts of British society" to quote Charles Clarke (who is still an authoritarian thug, in my opinion, but at least gains a smidgeon of respectability with this statement).

Harris pulls few punches showing the increasing role of nationalist rhetoric now the Brown government is up against the wall:

the essential Labour strategy is clear enough: not to concentrate on anything progressive or inspiring but to run instead on a mixture of the Dunwoody bloodline, utterly witless class warfare, and the politics of fear. One wonders what the more shrill aspects of the party's campaign will do for Crewe's community relations - but there again, it's doubtful that such thoughts are troubling many Labour high-ups. Misanthropic nastiness, after all, seems to be a central plank of the government's fightback.

This stuff has a pedigree dating back well into the Blair years but seems to be turning ever more ugly. Among the first announcements in the wake of May 1 was a loud Home Office pledge to try to realise Brown's drive for "British jobs for British workers", by forcing employers to prove no Briton can fill a vacancy before offering it to anyone from outside the EU. Soon after, there came Jacqui Smith's bizarre plans to "harass" badly behaved youths using video cameras and a technique hyped as "frame and shame". Going back a few months, one thinks also of James Purnell's proposed clampdown on the long-term jobless, Caroline Flint's priceless proposal that the workshy should be threatened with homelessness, and the government's increasingly baffling drive on "Britishness", in which fine words about inclusion are often overshadowed by the sense of dog-whistles being desperately sounded.


While seizing on fears about immigration, Brown has still made no headway on the issue of agency workers, which underlies so many modern tensions. At the same time as maligning many of the nation's youth as yobs, Labour also wrings its hands about their "unlocked talent". Apparatchiks are encouraged to wage class war for the cameras, but the government refuses to talk about compelling the ultra-wealthy to pay their way, or to make any move on, say, the totemic issue of charitable status for private schools. The impression is of politics at its most dried-up and disingenuous. The result: activists and once-loyal supporters decide to leave the party well alone, and floating voters decide that Cameroonian confidence and optimism is much the better option.

...As Labour lays waste to what remains of its progressive credentials, one thinks immediately of that handful of young(ish) Brownites - Ed Miliband, Douglas Alexander, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper - who usually go out of their way to talk up the party's supposed soul, and the parts of the government's record that reflect it. Where are they, and why won't they speak up?

Even if what they had to say was couched in the obligatory political code, we'd know it when we heard it. Behind the scenes, they must surely alert Brown to a simple choice: cut this stuff out and rediscover that moral compass - or bequeath them a political husk so robbed of its essential identity that it will take at least a generation to even begin to revive it. David Cameron's recent pronouncements are not nearly as surreal as they sound: right now, the Tories really are sounding more progressive than Labour, and that way lies not just electoral defeat, but the prospect of complete wipe-out.

As Labour's popularity continues to go the way of the sub-prime loan industry, I can only see this sort of shrill and nasty rhetoric increasing.

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