WE HAD to put up with a double-barrelled dose of nausea this week with Michael Howard appearing to talk welfare state politics and Tony Blair invading Hackney to claim New Labour was bringing in childcare Utopia.
For a moment it looked as if the two parties who have managed capitalism since the Second World War were focusing on what socialists think politics is all about—improving the lives of everyone, without measuring out our needs in the light of how some chancer reckons he can exploit us.
Let’s leave aside the crazy idea that this is caring Conservatism. They haven’t got much further than clocking on to the fact that they reckon they can get the votes of well paid women if they chuck nanny subsidies at them.
What a great election slogan for that gang of supposedly modern Tories like David Willetts and Theresa May—“Give the rich handouts for their nannies!”
For the government it’s a more complex matter. They know that in order to keep their core support on board they have to offer more than a special relationship with George Bush.
They know that to claim that Britain is more prosperous looks flaky when even middle of the road MPs and trade unionists notice that inequality has increased under Labour.
They know that they’ve got a struggle on to convince anyone that handing over education, health and social services to profiteering cowboys will make our lives better.
Irritatingly for them they know that in spite of years of Thatcherite devil take the hindmost politics, there is a majority of people who hold on to 1945 visions of an improving welfare state offering free education and care for all from the cradle to the grave.
So, with the blood from Iraq seeping back to Britain and disillusion with New Labour beginning to bite, the Blair gang know that they’ve got to look like they back some of that old welfare state politics.
I’m suspicious of the Blair Kid Project. We know that a decent society would be able to look at our needs and provide for children.
That’s because it would be all of us in control, and not the tiny minority who own the wealth.
So we would say that, in terms of human rights, there is no difference between a one minute old child, someone who’s retired, working people, disabled people and home carers.
A human society needs everyone and has to look after everyone—partly because at some time or another in our lives we all need to be cared for, and partly because a decent society needs the contributions of all its people, no matter what shape, size or ability.
What’s more, people who work in a society like that start to create better conditions and new ways of thinking, in all walks of life and work.
Anyone who ever saw the way mining communities created miners’ welfare centres and the like knows that by working collectively to change the conditions in which we live we change ourselves.
So what precisely are the Blair gang offering? Firstly, breakfast and end-on clubs in schools.
Anyone who’s been lucky enough to have these for their kids at the moment knows that they’re patchy affairs.
One of my kids had a brilliant youth worker. But others had to put up with a hard-pressed older person who shouted at the kids. It’s a project that needs training, without the heavy hand of targets, outcomes and testing.
Secondly, more care for the under-fives. In place at present is a truly hopeless patchwork of home carers, minders, state nurseries, private nurseries, nannies and the like.
New Labour seems to be prepared to fund a bit more of the same. My own youngest child goes to what is absurdly a fee-paying state nursery, run by Sure Start. The money puts off most people on low income.
What parents need is the option of free childcare for all. This doesn’t have to be the nightmare vision of baby farms, but should be the basic bottom-line facility which could then provide the platform for children, parents and carers to determine best how to run their lives. That means putting control into the hands of users and workers.
With New Labour’s war chest never short of funds, and the country’s businessmen shovelling record amounts of untaxed profits into their pockets, providing such care is a problem. With a different way of sharing our resources, it wouldn’t be.