"This initially popular government has
some solid achievements to its credit, but lacks confidence
and is too easily led astray by undesirable influences.
Paranoia still prevents it from realising its full potential.
Willingness to listen to its true friends, and to acknowledge
and remedy errors, could lead to greater success in a second
term." (End of term report)
Labour has been most successful in areas traditionally perceived
as weaknesses. Economic stability and low mortgage rates have
replaced the crises bedevilling past administrations. The
ghosts of the 'Winter of Discontent', where bodies lay unburied,
rats roamed the streets and militant unions held elected governments
to ransom, have been laid. Labour is no longer soft on crime
or on defence; more people than ever are being jailed, and
we have bombed Serbia, where public opinion was divided, and
Iraq, to domestic and international condemnation. Away from
the spotlight, low-profile ministers have quietly improved
our national life: Michael Meacher by introducing Right to
Roam laws, and Chris Smith in abolishing museum charges.
Elsewhere celebration was mixed with disappointment. The
national minimum wage and better trade union rights were welcome,
but watered down after business lobbying. Full employment
is a splendid goal, but leaves those who cannot work subsisting
on benefits linked only to prices, and increasingly blamed
for their own predicament. The New Deal and childcare are
life-giving for lone parents who want to work outside the
home, but coercing carers into full-time employment may turn
latchkey kids into truants. Enabling every child to realise
their full potential is not good enough, because some have
more potential than others. We must aim for greater equality
of outcome, not just equality of opportunity.
Moreover Labour has ratcheted the Tory dogma of "private
good, public bad" to new heights. All other parties oppose
privatising the London Underground and repeating the disastrous
fragmentation of the rail network. Local authorities are forced
to sell off or outsource services. Sweeping extension of the
Private Finance Initiative cuts hospital beds and loads debt
onto future generations. Extending selective education through
specialist schools will re-create the divisions of the eleven-plus.
Realists acknowledge that Labour could not have won by appealing
only to traditional supporters in the old manufacturing classes,
and to the disadvantaged, who tend not to vote. Eighteen years
of Tory selfishness made progressive taxation a liability,
and freezing income tax rates was probably necessary. We had
to get the tabloids on side and accommodate business interests.
But we don't have to like them. New Labour actually seems
to prefer Bernie Ecclestone to Bill Morris, and the Sun
to the Guardian. Too often the government takes the
side of the powerful, and caters to the lowest common denominator.
Advertisements encourage people to snitch on those claiming
"only a few quid" in undeserved benefits, but ignore
Daily Mail readers who cheat on VAT by paying cash
for home improvements. No wonder pensioners complain about
spending on asylum-seekers when the government leads in setting
the poor against the destitute and creating a mean and vengeful
Labour is losing support to the Socialist Alliance on tax-and-spend,
to the LibDems on civil liberties and to the Greens on the
environment. The party does its damndest to drive out its
own members by manoeuvring against Rhodri Morgan in Wales,
against Ken Livingstone in London, against council, parliamentary
and European candidates seen as off-message, and against independent
representatives on the policy commissions, the National Policy
Forum and the NEC.
This year Hague's pathetic and unspeakable Tories pose no
threat, and fringe parties are not coherent or electorally
viable. Labour is lucky in its opponents, and will get a second
chance. We had better use it.
Ann Black is Vice-Chair of Labour Reform and a member
of Labour's National Executive Committee.