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The Blairite agenda

Ronald Bessell sees a terrifying certainty in the Blairite agenda.

It is unfashionable to feel despair. That is the message of our new-found opinion makers. In May last year we entered a new era characterised by hope, vision, determination and a belief that there exists no problem that is not susceptible to the treatment. And there is every sign that Blair believes his own propaganda. Watching the man perform should not be permitted to the under-aged. By contrast, Lolita is nursery material.

The certainty of the Blairite agenda is terrifying. The despair felt by some of us in the Party comes from the knowledge that there is an amazing number of still active Party members who, despite the examples of Australia and New Zealand, cannot believe that a government which calls itself Labour is not their government.

But taking on the neo-Liberals on their own terms can only prove frustrating and, ultimately, futile. Pro-capitalist premises can only lead to pro-capitalist conclusions. That it requires effort to dismantle something that has become part of the fabric of our daily lives must be accepted. The effort has to be made.

Begin with 'law and order', the erstwhile favourite territory of the old-fashioned Right, now fallen to the power of the silly slogan that many of us, when we first heard it, could not believe was tripping from the lips of a serious Labour front bench spokesman. From that moment politics became, simultaneously, both less and more serious. That disbelief became total incomprehension when the sloganizer was swept into the Party leadership, largely by the power of a Press campaign without discernible provenance.

All the institutionalised Tory assumptions about the nature of crime and the necessity for punishment have gained new life under New Labour. One year on, the prisons are still being filled to overflowing, some are privately run for profit; suicides in custody are not unknown; the rich, the powerful and the white can still get a better deal from the legal system; funds which ought to assist justice are withdrawn from the poor. Children are still being denied an education because they have broken the law by smoking cannabis, whilst the use of alcohol and tobacco are subject to no such sanction. Worst of all, there is no attempt to analyse the causes of crime, despite the silly slogan. We still believe that there exists a 'criminal class' which must be made to feel the consequences of its character failings. The possibility that crime is substantially the result of an unhelpful social structure is not only not aired by any aspiring politician, it is considered eccentric and unfit for the pages of the Murdoch Press.

What of education? The survival of the ancien regime was signalled even prior to the election when it became known that Chris Woodhead would keep his Ofsted job in the event of a Labour victory. Sufficient consideration, it seemed, had been given to the awkward reality of the opposition of a substantial part of the teaching profession that disliked both Woodhead and Ofsted. Later, it emerged that the notorious league tables of school performance would also be retained. Grant maintained schools persist, albeit re-named. We are asked to believe that many of our teachers are incompetent lay-abouts, determined to protect a quiet life and an assured future. (Have any of these purveyors of Right Opinion ever been school governors?) Not even education is to be immune from the requirements of the business faction. Some head teachers have been driven to consider the posting of commercial material in their school premises; school grounds have become 'natural' for communications companies looking to site radio masts. Now we have business funded educational 'action series'. Here again, the notion that education might have an autonomy to protect it from the commercial interest is the preserve of the crank. Wisdom resides in and emanates from the dual Blunkett-Woodhead oracle. All this certainty is awesome and frightening.

We are, by now, aware that welfare, like income redistribution, possesses the rare quality of intrinsic evil. All must be herded, cajoled, and press-ganged into employment, because that pays the taxes and reduces the welfare bill. No thought may be given to the possibility that it might be more socially useful for young single mothers to be given adequate welfare income, enabling them to spend more time, not less, with their children, rather than to sit them behind a supermarket till, bored out of their minds for a derisory wage. We have yet to see that the jobs are there for any significant number of those who might wish to take them. The orthodoxy is that the taxes of the burgeoning poor will help make up for the absence of taxes from the burgeoning rich, for whom the leisure choice has never been thought reprehensible.

Behind all this progress the capitalist agenda persists, based on a set of seemingly unquestionable assumptions: that corporations have rights; that capital is always benign in intention, if not in outcome; that profit is good, provided the right people are making it; that, by exercising our own judgement in matters economic we are in danger of fouling up the workings of a divinely ordained economic rectitude which is constituted naturally to work for our benefit. This entire philosophy, to give it a dignity it does not deserve, underlies the latest attempt to bind ordinary mortals to the heavenly treadmill - the notorious Multilateral Agreement on Investment, a charter designed finally to make the world safe for capital. We escape that, so far, only because the capitalist cannot agree on the fine print, not because there is any challenge to the principle. Given another twelve months, they will get it right. Blair and his Government are enthusiastic.

The time to challenge the neo-Liberals is not later, but now. It is time to re-assert the primacy of the state over capital. 'Democracy' which, at best, has been a delicately crafted drama, is being turned by these people into a farce.