“We are not done yet.” Who writes Gordon Brown’s lines? Someone who hates him? Is there anyone who doesn’t, at the moment, the poor bugger? But given that everyone sees him as Monty Python’s black knight (“it’s just a flesh wound!”) why hammer it home?

Brown addressed the Labour Party conference with his party trailing around 19 points in the opinion polls. An eight per cent swing to the Tories is needed for them to take power, and though FPP elections can sometimes do funny things, it is hard to see how they will not win.

God knows what Brown could promise that would swing things in his favour — but there was nothing in the speech that would do so. Everything was geared to staunching the loss, and trying to maintain a connection to parts of the south-eastern middle classes that choose the government. Thus there was a commitment to a cap on public spending, and new initiatives — such as free home-based social care for the elderly poor — is being funded by cuts elsewhere, such as subsidies for work-based childcare.

Social commitments include greater powers for local councils to close down whole areas of 24 hour drinking — Labour, for reasons best known to itself went from a dour system of 11pm closing, to an open-slather system of licensing which seemed designed to make a gradual transition to slower, steadier drinking (as opposed to the frantic pint-necking Brits have become accustomed to) impossible — and a whole new range of anti-social behaviour measures, directed at a small number of “chaotic” families — the 50,000 worst families in Britain as one headline had it. That will be accompanied by a revival of “ASBOs” the anti-social behaviour orders, that are increasingly tailored to specific malfeasance, such as “drinks ASBOs” for people who are arseholes outside pubs etc etc.

The get tough response is in response to polling suggesting that people are still fed up with anti-social behaviour, or to put it in less dry terms, that post-Thatcherite UK is still a rude, gobby, angry, dirty, frustrated, menacing place for tens of millions of urban residents.

There’s an obvious reason for that — in 12 years the Labour government hasn’t done anything significant to increase opportunity, class mobility, rewards from intitiative for the lowest 20%. In that decade, opportunity has become worse, and society more unequal than it was under John Major.

Instead, new Labour took the social liberal philosophy of John Rawls, which suggested that social policy should be used to strive for maximum aid for the worst off, rather than equality per se, and used it as a justification for cementing inequality and hopelessness. It then went off and pursued two futile pointless and massively expensive wars in former colonies (or one colony and one buffer state).

Rather than solve the problem of anti-social behaviour by atatcking it at its root — ie that you’re anti-social if society is anti-you, if it excludes you, scorns you, denies you even the possibility of opportunity — new Labour then treated citizens as behavioural units, to be shaped, prodded, nudged and manipulated into good behaviour.

“ASBOs will give us a society where we don’t need ASBOs,” one Labour grandee said. Surprise, surprise, 12 years down the track we need … more ASBOs.

Brown has also added a whole series of measures Labour should have put through years ago — abolition of the 97 hereditary peers who amazingly continue to rule on the laws passed by an elected parliament … in 2009! … after 12 years of a Labour government! There was also a commitment to not bringing in ID cards, and a referendum on preferential voting, Labour’s preferred option — not, it would seem multi-member proportional electorates the genuinely democratic option.

Too little, too late, too bad. God knows what the Tories will be like when they rip off the one-Britain mask after they regain power — but for electoral reasons I suspect they won’t be signficantly worse. David Cameron knows that he has a chance only because the public are convinced that the ghost of Thatcher and Major has gone for ever, and that the Tories have moved to the centre. If their most recent announcement — a commitment to roll back the spread of CCTVs, databases, and to support privacy legislation — is sincere, then their election would be a net gain.

Labour can go to opposition, and the sinister crowd who gave us war, ASBOs and endelssly lowered expectations can be tracked down and clubbed like rats, in the decade or so as a genuine Labour party, both progressive, reformist and electable, re-organises itself. The only draw back is that we’ll get all the new Labour refuse here, burrowing into the Rudd government.

Brown ended his speech by quoting Goethe apparently. Some then suggested that a Faustian pact was his curse. If only. Faust got something out of his deal. What Labour supporters and the UK got was less Faustian pact than Porgy pie — plenty of nothing.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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