Nightmare Tory vision
TORY LEADER William Hague last week proudly unveiled some of the most right wing policies ever put forward by a mainstream party. He walked in to the music of the band Massive Attack-appropriate because his plans are a massive attack on us all.
Hague ludicrously claims his earlier policy declarations, called the "common sense revolution", "struck a chord with the mainstream majority of people". The latest offering, "Believing in Britain", is a fine-tuning of the manifesto for the next election. There is of course virulent nationalism, and warnings about the dangers of a European superstate.
But the nightmare vision goes much further than defence of the pound. It includes:
- A harsher regime for the unemployed, with benefits removed for those who fail a new "Can Work, Must Work" programme.
Hague describes this as "a social policy based on freedom". People without jobs will be farmed out to private contractors who will make a profit from any social security savings.
- Lone parents forced into work. This is described as a programme to "increase the opportunities for older children".
The Tories seriously expect every lone mother on Income Support to get a job in the first year of this programme.
- Industrial Injuries Benefit abolished.
Firms will be "expected" to take out insurance instead.
- Harsher prison sentences, prisoners to serve greater portions of sentences which are passed, and new laws to encourage people to shoot suspected burglars in the manner of murderer Tony Martin.
- "Persistent young menaces" taken off the streets and put in camps.
- All asylum seekers thrown into camps and a new Removals Agency set up to hurl people out of Britain.
- Total freedom for each individual school to decide who can go to the school, what they have to wear, how much teachers are paid, and what disciplinary rules are enforced.
- Universities privatised.
- Private health firms "encouraged to grow".
- Individuals encouraged to opt out from the state pension scheme with the money transferred to a private pension plan, paving the way for the total privatisation of pensions.
- More MINIMUM speed limits, including different limits on various lanes of motorways.
- Less regulation on business and fewer laws from Europe protecting workers.
- 16 billion cuts in public spending-although there are no details of where this money will come from.
This is a programme to smash public services and transfer huge slabs of money to the rich.
There would also be regular orgies of national pride and anti-foreigner witch-hunts. It would be a disaster, if ever implemented. But it is very unlikely that William Hague will be waving from the steps of 10 Downing Street after the next election.
What is more worrying is the near-certainty that Labour's programme for the next election will accept a good half of the same material. The Financial Times noted the Tories' "preliminary manifesto overlaps with the ideas of the present government". Hague's education polices are, as the Daily Mail comments, "similar to Labour".
Labour and Tory competing for the same right wing ground has been seen most clearly over refugees. Ann Widdecombe and Hague called for prison camps. Home secretary Jack Straw said the only problem was cost, and that anyway Labour was deporting more than the Tories did.
So, in the next election campaign Labour will attack the Tories for privatising pensions. But Blair's plans will reduce the state pension to such poverty levels that more people see making their own arrangements as the only alternative.
Over health Blair will attack the Tories for wanting to sell off the NHS, but he will push more PFI schemes, which are tailored precisely to fit the needs of private investors rather than patients and staff. On issue after issue New Labour opposes Tory suggestions and then implements a similar policy 18 months later.
That is why it would be wrong to hold back criticism of New Labour for fear of allowing Hague's crew to grow stronger. The only way Hague's crazed package will ever seem credible is if the only alternative is New Labour-which accepts so much of the same principles but argues about the details.
We need a political alternative that rejects Tory ideas entirely, wherever they come from.