Monday, 12 May 2008

The Emperor's Clothes

I have a confession to make. In 1996 I joined the Labour Party. I'd never been a member of a political party before, and I won't go into why not now. Suffice to say I was heartily sick of Tory rule and, like many others, had high hopes for a Labour government. Despite the fact that I didn't particularly like Tony Blair - he reminded me of kids I knew at school, who had stayed behind to help at parents evenings, and ended up becoming prefects - I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I have always been interested in policies rather than personalities. After all, hadn't Labour promised to re-nationalise the railways, and end the gross waste of taxpayers money know as the private finance initiative (PFI). There was even hope that they might repeal some or all of the anti-trade union legislation. Compared to now, those were halcyon days.

After the euphoria of the election victory had died down I began to have an odd feeling right from the start. There was all that stuff about sticking to Tory spending plans. Then we had Brown handing over the setting of interest rates to the Bank of England. I've always believed that control of the economy is first and foremost a political, rather than economic decision, and that those elected should take responsibility for it rather than passing the buck to a bunch of economists. And then there was that fact that all the wrong sort of people thought it was a great idea.

But the first sticking point came after just six months. A ludicrous, petty, and unnecessary cut of £60M in social security. What for? To impress Daily Mail readers? That was not what Labour governments were for. I suddenly began the think about not renewing my membership - and I didn't.

From then on things started to become a bit unreal. There was still this massive love affair with Blair, he could do no wrong. But the scales had fallen from my eyes. I could see Blair for what he really was. A Tory with a small t. An ex-public school boy who admired Margaret Thatcher, who was more style than substance. And there I was, like the boy pointing at the Emperor - "He's got no clothes on!" - while all those around me looked on adoringly. That's why I wasn't surprised when the railways weren't re-nationalised and we ended up with a sort of Thatcher-lite government. Not centre-left or centre but centre right.

So lets not forget when all about us are bashing Gordon, that Tony really was no better, and not just because of Iraq - not by any means. By the time the 2005 election was due he was deeply unpopular. For many of us he had begun to grate, just like Thatcher did. He was able to get re-elected on a much reduced majority by saying it would be his last term. Despite the fact he was forced out in the end - he 'departed' at the right time, while he still had something of a reputation left. Gordon, ironically, did him a favour.

Bryan Gould in summed it up in today's 'comment is free' - " suspects that there may be many in New Labour whose main response to Gordon Brown's travails will be one of schadenfreude. Some will say that if only Tony Blair had remained at the helm, everything would have been different. But, like Thatcher before him, Tony's supporters will conveniently forget that he was forced out because he had lost the confidence of his party and the country".

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