Timid and shallow: Brown’s speech to conference
“So we will raise tax at the very top, cut costs, have realistic public sector pay settlements, make savings we know we can and in 2011 raise National Insurance by half a percent and that will ensure that each and every year we protect and improve Britain’s frontline services”
From Gordon’s speech, this encapsulates best what was said. Take a moment to parse the words. If cost cutting means anything like Ed Balls suggests, it could be disastrous. Public sector pay restraint? Yeah because that’s where people are earning too much. As for raising national insurance, probably the most regressive tax in Britain, well the less said the better.
Yet these suggestions were about the most concrete from Gordon on how Labour would fund continued public expenditure whilst miraculously slashing the deficit in half in four years’ time. There were a few other ideas kicked around, but many of them ring hollow. House of Lords reform rang particularly so, bearing in mind that Labour have had 12 years and have done little enough.
Talk of free education was sickening because there can’t be a student left who doesn’t know that the cap is coming off tuition fees, by hook or by crook.
Equally bad was the trumpeting of Labour’s achievements. If half of what Gordon said was actually true, and relevant to the experience of the individual worker, Labour wouldn’t be getting hammered quite so badly in the polls. Protecting business, limiting unemployment etc is all very well – except for the several million of us unemployed, those of us with it looming over our heads and those of us earning crap wages anyway.
Worst of all was the utter bankruptcy in the face of right-wing aggression on social issues:
“And I do think it’s time to address a problem that for too long has gone unspoken, the number of children having children. For it cannot be right, for a girl of sixteen, to get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and be left on her own.
From now on all 16 and 17 year old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes. These shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly. That’s better for them, better for their babies and better for us all in the long run.
We won’t ever shy away from taking difficult decisions on tough social questions.”
Buying into right-wing stereotypes is bad enough, but ‘a network of supervised homes’ doesn’t begin to address the real issue. Brown’s attack on ‘welfare dependency’ and promise to ‘cut crime’ is moralistic at best. It treats these things as personal foibles, which individuals can be educated or bullied out of.
Except there are two and a half million people out of work, of which 1 in 6 are young people. Areas of high unemployment are often areas of low skill, low education and low motivation to do better. With few opportunities to succeed, crime and anti-social activities are a natural recreation and means of subsistence.
Which is why tragedies like that of Fiona Pilkington are going on in South Leicestershire, victim of deindustrialization, and not in South Kensington.
Whither Gordon’s social democratic sensibilities while he was reading out his promises that police would be ever more vigilant, punishments ever stricter and more carefully enforced? All this against people who can hardly pay fines and who are not served by being in (overcrowded, undermanned, unreconstructive) prisons. And who, when they emerge, return to their former circumstances, if not to worse ones.
About one thing did Gordon’s words ring true: the next election is a big choice – but it’s not between “prosperity” and “hope” on the one hand, and “austerity” and pessimism” on the other. Our choices are simply between “bad” and “worse”. Labour and Tory. What a mess.
Some other takes from the Labour and Left blogospheres: Hopi Sen, Harpy Marx on Sarah Brown’s intro, debate and individual reactions on Socialist Unity, Random Blowe, new ‘evidence-based’ fightback blog Left Foot Forward, NuLab rottweiler Luke Akehurst praising loads of the stuff everyone else condemns and more drab loyalism from Will Pomroy. Also see AVPS, who is Browned Off.