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What is Hague up to?

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Issue 1701

Tory leader steers further right

What is Hague up to?

And why does New Labour let him get away with it?

By Paul Mcgarr and Helen Shooter

TORY LEADER William Hague has transformed himself in the eyes of the press and political commentators over recent weeks. Just a few months ago Hague was treated as a joke figure. Now the media present him as a serious politician who has got New Labour rattled. Hague’s attempt to grab votes rests on lies or the most brazen hypocrisy. But New Labour is sometimes wrong-footed by Hague because on issue after issue it embraces the same rhetoric and the same right wing policies.

THE TORIES have upped their attacks on New Labour, accusing it of encouraging elites who are running social institutions like education and welfare in their own interests. Hague is trying to play on ordinary people’s feeling that Blair only listens to a tiny circle of people-“Tony’s cronies”-while the hopes and feelings of millions are ignored.

Yet of course the Tories have no right to criticise elitism. This is the party which celebrates the wealth and power of the tiny few over the mass of people. Thatcher’s first cabinet in 1979 was 71 percent company directors. The rest were large landowners or lawyers.

Some 86 percent of that cabinet went to public school. The Tories’ current treasurer is tax exile Michael Ashcroft. He has made at least 1,000 million from business interests in Bermuda and Belize. He donated 3 million to the Tory party. Hague rewarded this generosity by campaigning for him to get a peerage.

Hague’s shadow cabinet also includes businessman and landowner David Heathcoat-Amery, and former boss of the giant Asda supermarket corporation Archie Norman. Tory governments have reduced tax for the rich and big business while attacking welfare provision and union rights for workers. New Labour should blow away the lie that the Tories would end elitism.

Yet New Labour’s trade secretary Stephen Byers admitted the government was becoming “vulnerable” and “defensive” in the face of Tory attacks. New Labour is disarmed when fighting the Tories because its pro-business policies mean it cuddles up to the fat cats. Blair has appointed businessmen to the cabinet such as Lord Sainsbury, the science minister who is pro GM food. Lord Simon, former head of British Petroleum, is minister for trade and competition.

Blair has not “swept away the quango state” as he promised. He has transferred more power over to these unelected, unaccountable groups. There are over 500 extra taskforces and quangos since New Labour came into government. They control 100 billion-more than a third of public spending.

Blair has created over 200 new lords. He has made even more people from privileged backgrounds into judges than the Tories did. Stephen Byers’s comment last year that the party stood for “wealth creation not redistribution” means New Labour praises the rich instead of taxing them to fund services that the majority of people use.

So Tony Blair has retreated in the face of the Tories’ onslaught, saying, “Let’s hear no more rubbish about class war.” This can only give confidence to William Hague to continue his diatribes against “New Labour’s elite”, and New Labour will give in instead of nailing the Tories’ lies.

Prison fails

CRIME AND “law and order” have been a key theme in Hague’s rhetoric. He began by leaping to the defence of Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, demanding that the law should be changed to protect homeowners acting in self defence. Yet Martin was not acting in self defence. He shot an unarmed teenager in the back.

Hague continued his law and order theme at the recent Police Federation conference. He claimed the “liberal establishment” was soft on criminals. He called for more and longer prison sentences.

But England and Wales already lock up more people per head of population than China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, hardly countries known for being “liberal”. The last Tory government claimed that “prison works”. In fact every serious study shows that prison does not “work”, and that people in jail are more likely to reoffend when they come out.

The real causes of crime are poverty, lack of jobs and lack of hope for a decent future. Every study, including those carried out by the last Tory government, shows a direct link between the level of unemployment and the level of crime. Instead of exposing Hague’s lies, New Labour’s response is to ape them. Under New Labour the prison population has risen to new record levels and is set to rise further.

Home secretary Jack Straw echoes Tory talk that “prison works” and denounces “liberals”. He calls for giving young offenders “a taste of prison”. This policy was tried under former Tory home secretary Michael Howard, and had to be abandoned as a disaster.

Tony Blair, when in opposition, famously said he wanted to be “tough on crime” and “tough on the causes of crime”. Yet his government has forgotten the second part of that couplet, and does nothing to give people the jobs and decent future that could really make a difference.

Competing in cruelty

THE TORIES have made repeated attacks on asylum seekers as they try to whip up a climate of scapegoating and hatred. Hague says the Tories would incarcerate every refugee, adults and children, in former army barracks. It’s easy to expose the Tory lies about refugees. Yet we do not hear New Labour ministers taking every opportunity to smash the myths. This is because the government is also happy for refugees to be the target of ordinary people’s frustration at the lack of services, housing and jobs. Disgracefully, this means echoing more and more of the Tory attacks on refugees.

United on tests

THE TORIES have attacked New Labour over education. Hague wants to turn parents’ concern about their children’s futures into an attack on comprehensive education. The Tories have always defended education for the chosen few. They back public schools, elitist grammar schools and universities for the rich.

Over half the Tory shadow cabinet went to Oxford or Cambridge university. Meanwhile they show utter contempt for working class children. “We have paid the price in our schools with falling standards, poor discipline and children who can’t even spell the word Oxford, let alone aspire to go there,” said Hague last week.

This is a disgusting attack on pupils, parents and teachers battling away in crumbling schools, starved of resources. Working class families expect New Labour to stand up for them. But education secretary David Blunkett attacks teachers who celebrate the gains comprehensive education has brought.

New Labour has brought big business into schools to run them. It has pounded through more and more testing. By introducing tuition fees and ending grants New Labour has slammed the door on many working class students getting to any university.

The cabinet is stacked with ministers who went to the privileged universities of Oxford or Cambridge, including: Geoff Hoon (defence minister), Andrew Smith (Chief Secretary to the Treasury), Peter Mandelson (Northern Ireland secretary), Paul Murphy (Welsh secretary), Baroness Jay (leader of the House of Lords), Lord Irvine (Lord Chancellor), Chris Smith (culture secretary), Lord Falconer (in charge of the Dome), and Tony Blair.

Baroness Jay went to a posh independent fee-paying school as a child. Now she, along with other leading Labour figures such as Lord Falconer and Lord Irvine, sends her children to a private school.

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