Socialist Worker

Blair gets weaker and more vicious

Issue No. 1856

WHAT A debacle. Tony Blair's disastrous cabinet reshuffle was supposed to help strengthen his government's purpose and resolve. It has had the exact opposite effect. Now a number of key Blairites like Alan Milburn have joined the ever expanding ranks of ex-ministers on the back benches.

The Labour leader was once famed for his slick communication skills and media techniques. Who would have thought he would suffer the humiliation of being dragged in front of the Commons and forced to explain his constitutional changes? It is no longer just socialists and left wingers who are saying Blair's days are numbered.

Political commentators from across the board think so too. Sunday Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne wrote, 'Blair is diminished. As one of his closest supporters said, 'This is the reshuffle of a fag-end government'.'

This isn't some accidental loss of touch by the government. Blair's determination to back George Bush's war on Iraq destroyed any claim that Blair had on people's trust. This was proved beyond any doubt when two million people turned out to march against the war on 15 February.

The outrage against the war crystallised the feeling over privatisation, low pay, inequality and other issues. Blair was once the Labour Party's golden boy, at home with cool pop stars and media moguls. Everything he touched seemed to be a success. Now Blair resembles no one as much as John Major. Major was the despised Tory leader who lumbered on from crisis to crisis before he was finally booted out of office.

And, like John Major, Blair gets nastier the weaker his grip on office becomes. Major preached to us about going 'back to basics'. Blair bleats on about the need to push ahead with 'reform' of the public services.

In a major speech on Tuesday he had the cheek to compare his privatising government with the Labour government of 1945. That was the government that set up key parts of the welfare state. Blair says that if he stops pushing ahead with his agenda the Tories will be able to claw their way back into office.

But the truth is that unless we stop Labour's attacks on ordinary people, even the shambolic Tory leadership could benefit from the disillusion with Labour. At union conference after union conference there has been a mood to fight over pay, pensions and privatisation.

Unison union leader Dave Prentis this week warned at the union's conference that his members would strike if the government failed to fund education and council workers' pay.

But the longer we wait, the more people have their lives torn apart by Labour policies. Union leaders must turn their words, and their members' anger, into action. We cannot afford any more defeats like the sell out inflicted on the firefighters.

The firefighters showed they were prepared to fight. And many other trade unionists up and down the country showed they were prepared to back them. But the firefighters' union leadership was not prepared for all-out confrontation with the government.

Their dispute shows that if trade union leaders stop workers using their full strength against the government things don't just stand still - the government takes its bitter revenge. Workers have the power to beat back this weak, vicious government. They have to be allowed to use it.


Nothing modern about prison

BENEATH THE guff about modernising the constitution lurks home secretary David Blunkett. He, apparently, was the driving force behind the sacking of the Lord Chancellor, Blair's pal Lord Irvine. No tears for the pampered Irvine or over the abolition of his pompous position.

But Blunkett is fighting a battle with top judges in order to bring in policies taken straight from editorials in the Sun. He wants to increase prison sentences and move towards the US model. The US now jails more people, as a percentage of its population and as a total, than any other country in the world.

The prison population is already at record levels in Britain. It reached 73,379 last week and is rising by 150 every week. Every serious study shows the only thing prison does well is to make those convicted of minor offences more likely to commit major ones. Blunkett is hiding his lock 'em up crusade behind the small number of high profile murders.

But his plan to impose 'minimum sentences' will include child offenders and will have a knock-on effect on far less serious crimes than murder. The Prison Reform Trust warns it will mean prison numbers rising by an extra 14,000 within a decade.

No one who is serious about democracy can believe that the most just system is to have a bunch of unaccountable, unelected, largely ruling class judges handing out sentences. Blunkett, however, is not about extending democracy.

He wants judges to be even less likely to overturn injustices, be sceptical of police claims, or embarrass ministers who ignore laws set by parliament.


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Article information

What We Think
Sat 21 Jun 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1856
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