There’s a type of movie – In the Bedroom is a good example –
where most of the impact comes from a sudden shift in genre. You think
it’s a folksy drama then suddenly, bam, it’s a tragedy.
To be a Labour supporter in London at the moment is to feel like you’re
in this movie. Six months ago Labour had some troubles which put the
possibility of a fifth term in doubt. It’s amazing how rapidly it’s
fallen into deep crisis – a fourth term is now touch and go.
Iraq, cash-for-peerages, John “two shags” Prescott, have all worn away
at Labour’s towering command, but it’s our old friend Laura Norder who
has done the most damage.
Revelations that a thousand criminals slated for deportation had been
mistakenly released was bad enough. But worse was the storm around the
sentencing of criminals – with sentencing rules dictating that
pedophiles and murderers could be up for parole in five or six years. Then
it was revealed that several hundred prisoners on licensed release were
missing, including several murderers. This all came in the middle of a
wave of fatal stabbings, mostly by teenagers.
The result is, Labour is terrified. Crime has gone down year on year
since 1997 but it doesn’t feel that way – partly because people get
their picture of daily life from the tabloids rather than by looking
out the window, and secondly because everyday behaviour in big British
cities is so casually aggressive. You rarely get stabbed – it just
feels like you might be at any moment.
Labour’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” mantra
neutralised the old charge that it was soft on actual criminals. If it
can’t live up to that it’s finished – even if the election is three
years out. Dolphin Dave Cameron, the Tory leader, has played this
division masterfully – the one feature of old Toryism he hasn’t thrown
out is Laura. So same-sex marriages, and wind power are joined on the
manifesto by a new prison building program, and a flirtation with
American style “three strikes” legislation.
The tragedy of a three-term Labour government is that Gordon Brown will
have no time to roll out any significant policy changes. Not that he’d
exactly be a tartan Hugo Chavez, but he would start to address
inequality in a way Blair shows little interest in doing. It would put
the cap on the Blair era as a wasted opportunity.
Oh Laura! You hussy! Why can’t you be true!