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Nightmare on Downing Street

The Tories have been bad enough, but you ain't seen nothing yet. Blair's Britain will be like an open prison, run by a government whose instinct is to regiment life, regulate behaviour, restrict freedoms and curb passions at every opportunity.

Those set to become leading Labour ministers are mostly self-righteous, illiberal killjoys. But there are bigger reasons than this for expecting their regime to be even more unpleasant than the old gang. New Labour is a product of its times, and the 1990s are the age of the New Authoritarianism.

An old party like the wrinkled Tories is still partly shaped by the traditions and constituencies of yesterday. By contrast, New Labour is a rootless arriviste without a past to guide it. Its policies and personalities merely reflect the mood of the present: an uncertain, panicky and confused time when the spontaneous inclination is always to clamp down, for fear that something might get out of control.

With the old institutions of government and society in disarray, it is clear that something new is needed. Yet with Tony Blair having officially acknowledged that there is no alternative to the market system, major social changes are out of the question. For a New Labour government that wants to alter things, all that remains is to try to change how people behave, to re-educate and if necessary repress them, in line with Blair's blueprint for a purified nation. Which is why every Labour policy, whether it is supposed to deal with the economy or education, will effectively be a law and order policy.

Get set for a government that will endlessly moralise about how we ought to live. But New Labour is no harmless vicar. Blair's team are not only sanctimonious, their sanctimony always has a hard edge, with the inference of a threat towards those who fail to put the sermon into practice.

LM magazine confidently predicts that, under New Labour, our public and private lives are going to be hedged in by more restrictions, regulations, bans, police powers, guidelines, codes of conduct, ethics committees, quangos, official inquries, judicial reviews, education programmes, watch schemes, counsellors, caring professionals and surveillance cameras than ever before. As a result, in many respects we are going to have less freedom than at any time in the modern age.

Damon Albarn of Blur has insightfully noted that there are probably more libertarians in the Tory Party than in New Labour. Yet he is still going to vote for Blair. That is a common stance among those who are desperate for a change at any price. But it makes no sense. Why would anybody who loves freedom vote for New Labour? And given the 'alternatives', why vote at all in 1997?

LM has never been a magazine to indulge passivity or cynicism, we think that people should stand up and get stuck in. But taking part in this particular electoral charade can only lend legitimacy to what in reality is a contest to see who is the most law-and-order obsessed agent of social control. Democracy is supposed to be about choosing between competing political visions, not selecting the most appropriate instrument for our own punishment.

Below, LM writers outline some of what is in store for us under New Labour. There will be more of such horror stories in the months ahead.

Hard Labour

'Unlike the Conservatives, Labour will not fail the country on crime. We are now the party of law and order....It is only the Labour Party which is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.' ('Safer communities, safer Britain', 1995)

But what exactly do New Labour identify as the cause of crime? Or, more precisely, who?

The Labour Party helpfully informs us that 'the Tories have consistently downplayed the importance of dealing with the causes of crime, and failed to accept responsibility for what is happening in society' (in 1993-94 only 2.5 per cent of the Criminal Justice budget was spent on crime prevention). By contrast New Labour aims to set that straight by developing a comprehensive programme for proactive crime prevention, which can identify both the groups of people who are most likely to cause trouble, and the kind of measures that might stop them doing so again.

Far from taking 'responsibility for what is happening in society', Labour seeks to spread the blame around. The guilty groups which their policy documents identify include:

PARENTS - guilty of 'poor parental supervision; harsh, neglectful or erratic discipline; parental discord' - all factors which lead to later offending.

YOUNG PEOPLE - 'far more likely to be involved in crime than any other age group'.

SCHOOL STUDENTS - those who are 'difficult at school or are truanting are often most likely to offend'.

UNEMPLOYED - 'most likely to offend, and to become persistent juvenile and then adult offenders'.

DRUG ABUSERS AND DRINKERS - 'a substantial proportion of property crime is drug related' and 'alcohol also has a hugely damaging effect on individuals and society'.

HOMELESS - 'their aggressive begging affronts and sometimes threatens decent, compassionate citizens'.

MENTALLY ILL - lack of proper planning and support means that they are 'at risk to themselves or others'.

VICTIMS - 'people who are victims once are likely to be victims again'.

If these millions of people are the potential cause of crime, what exactly do Tony Blair and his home secretary Jack Straw intend to do with them all? New Labour has developed a full range of proposals to police all kinds of people - and a new vocabulary with which to sell their authoritarian package:

COMMUNITY SAFETY ORDER - a court injunction allowing courts to deal with 'nuisance neighbours' by imposing curfews and exclusions from designated areas, on the word of anonymous informants.

PARENTAL TRAINING ORDER (aka Parental Responsibility Order) - gives courts the power to make parents attend counselling sessions on how to bring up their children. Although similar classes exist already, the problem Labour notes is that 'the majority of participants are white, middle class mothers' - obviously not who they are aimed at then!

CHILD PROTECTION ORDER - local authority power to impose curfews on children aged 10 and under.

TESTING AND TREATMENT ORDER - power conferred upon courts to force criminals suspected of drug misuse to take a blood test and enter treatment.

ELECTRONIC-TAGGING - parting gift to all sex-offenders released from prison. Usually found alongside powers of house arrest and free 5-year membership of the Sex Offenders Register, extendable to life without consultation.

NEIGHBOURHOOD NUISANCE SQUADS - collection of environmental, housing and social services officials who will share information relating to 'problem families'. At worse, these busybodies will be used as a...

PROFESSIONAL WITNESS - somebody who might 'move into a flat or house on a temporary basis to log round-the-clock evidence' of what goes on in the neighbourhood. This evidence could be used, uncorroborated, in court to secure a prosecution for 'cumulative anti-social behaviour'; watch out for the new neighbours with secret video cameras concealed about their person.

NATIONAL BEDTIME - something parents should agree on nationally, with advice from New Labour, in order to give them more authority to deal with 'manipulative children'. Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard says people cannot commit further crimes if they are locked up in jail. Jack Straw has trumped him again, implying that nobody can commit a crime in the first place if they are all tucked up in bed at the same time.

Charlotte Reynolds

Nanny Blunkett knows best

Claire Fox on Labour's plans for re-educating the nation

When New Labour leaders state that their top priorities are education, education and education they really mean it. Imagine a world where there is nothing else but education - a world of lifelong learning in which we could all be permanently consigned to the status of schoolchildren and where, if we break the behaviour codes, Labour education chief David Blunkett and his hit squads will dish out the punishment. Imagine a world full of self-righteous Blunketts and worthy educational advisors, all telling us they know what is in our best interest, how best to rear our children, telling us how to dot our i's, cross our t's and say our prayers.

Tony Blair states that, 'The education and skills deficit is the ultimate example of what happens when individuals are left to fend for themselves'. No fear of fending for ourselves when Mr Blair becomes Britain's new Headmaster. Education seems to be the password for a New Labour government to gain ever more intimate access to our affairs. This intrusiveness will neither stop at the school gates, nor end at school leaving age. If Blair and Blunkett get their way, we will have some appointed educational guardian watching over us at every stage of our lives.

From birth to old age, New Labour's educationalists will be on hand to 'advise' (interfere). They intend to start young. When Labour launched its early years and family policy last year, it promised that health visitors would support the early educational development of children 'from day one'; in case mums and dads feel left out, they will be taught a lesson too. Labour's 'New Early Excellence Centres will combine nursery education and childcare with adult education, family support and parenting skills' classes, to teach us how to bring up our children.

And you are never too old - either to be roped in as an educator or to be taught a thing or two. Retired 'third age' members of the community are to be enlisted to link up with families to provide practical advice and support. Meanwhile the concept of lifelong learning ensures that we will all be issued with a new Learn As You Earn smartcard 'enabling every employee to open their own individual learning account to save for training and learning'.

If you are worried that as an adult you may not have time for all this learning - after all many of us have families and our concern is with our children - never fear, Nanny Blunkett is here. New Labour seem keen to take child-rearing out of our hands - after all, they know best. Teaching children how to live and behave, long the preserve of parents and common sense, is now to be directed and monitored by the Labour government, which has assumed for itself the role of in loco parentis.

On school premises, during class time, children are rightly subject to constant monitoring. But even the traditional moments of freedom are circumscribed in Blunkett's plan. One of the most perverse examples of petty interference must be New Labour's campaign to improve national nutritional standards. Even the joys of school dinners will be scrutinised by the New Educators; goodbye Mr Chips, bring on the brown rice. For Blunkett, school dinners are not only about feeding hungry children; like everything else under New Labour, they are also about teaching people how to behave. As Blunkett told last year's Unison conference, school dinners 'encourage children to learn good manners and eating habits and help avoid truancy'.

The school bell will no longer signal freedom at the end of the school day, but the start of another round of monitoring. New Labour's guidelines detail how much homework should be done at different ages. This National Minimum Homework Requirement demands that parents ensure that seven year olds and upwards do 30 minutes a night, increasing to 90 minutes from age 11 - presumably to be done after Jack Straw's curfew vigilantes have got the kids off the streets. The latest bizarre twist in this policy is to encourage children to do their homework at supervised sessions in empty football grounds. See, life can be fun under New Labour, too.

Meanwhile, in February, Labour announced that once in power they will launch a national crusade to improve literacy in which parents will be given training on how to help their children to read. Forget fairy stories and comics; Labour's lessons will even include recommended bedtime story books. If parents fail to comply, the Labour designed home-school contracts will act as a big stick and educational welfare officers will be forced to call at your home to investigate such obvious dereliction of duty.

And do not imagine that education, education, education takes a break for school holidays. Summer holidays belong to some halcyon past. Labour's new literacy task force, chaired by Professor Michael Barber of the Institute of Education, plans to run summer schools and 'reading holiday camps' to 'help youngsters falling behind'.

David Blunkett has even devised a way of interfering in who children model themselves on. Forget wanting to be another Ryan Giggs, or even wanting to be like your Dad. Worried about a shortage of positive male role models. Blunkett has substituted educational mentors from among the great and good to go forth into schools and inspire. Concerned to give boys greater self-esteem and a stake in the community, Labour launched 'Boys will be Boys' in November 1996 to tackle the increasing gap between boys' and girls' exam results. The 10-point action plan - which includes plans for out of school clubs and homework centres - also suggests mentoring schemes such as those in Deptford High School in Lewisham, where pupils are linked with mentors from the business world. Can you imagine your child hero-worshipping the local bank manager? In David Blunkett's dreams.

Those interested in a critical approach to educational matters can contact Louise Fahey, national convenor of re:education 2000 c/o LM magazine.

Reproduced from LM issue 100, May 1997



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