Monday, March 14, 2005

Inaugural post

"They that give up their essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review Of Pennsylvania, 1759

A head-rattling week, beginning with Labour backbenchers oafishly laying into the separation of Executive and Judiciary, and ending with the government's pretty graceless spin on the tussle with the Lords over Control Orders.

Back in the mists of the mid-90s, I recall TB claiming that cynicism was the Labour Party's greatest enemy, and repeatedly promising a new engaged, open kind of politics. By Friday, the fact that such words belonged to a different era was only underlined by 1)the reduction of opposition to the Prevention Of Terrorism bill to what Mr Blair called "daft games" and "opportunism", and 2)the groan-inducing claims of Peter Hain, Hazel Blears et al that what was evidently a sunset clause was no such thing. Hats off to the much-maligned Margaret Hodge for hinting on R4's Any Questions that worries about the bill were founded in legitimate concerns and the battling had resulted in slightly better legislation, but she was a lonely voice indeed.

So - a deep-seated belief in civil liberties is recast as the cheapest kind of political tomfoolery, and New Labour once again claims that black is white. So it is that millions have their suspicions that politics is a shallow, self-serving business simply reinforced, and projected turnout come May 5 tumbles that little bit further.

There is another scary thought, mind you. Perhaps TB's disdain for a steadfast belief in such trifles as Habeas Corpus is indicative of that toxic mixture of shallowness and endless "modernisation" that informs so much New Labour thinking. I've now lost count of the times that pro-Blairites have accused me of being unnecessarily "intellectual", "theoretical" and "old-fashioned"; those who worry about Magna Carta, the Separation Of Powers,Tom Paine etc. can obviously expect to be tarred with the same brush.

Now, that leads on to one of the stranger aspects of these glaringly strange times. If these aspects of the British political inheritance are to be as blithely chucked into the historical swing-bin as all the 'Old Labour' totems for which the Blairities affect such impatience, people like me find ourselves with very unexpected allies.

All this struck me last week, when I was doing an event at the Oundle Literary Festival, hosted in the Hall of the esteemed Oundle School, near Peterborough (and the ex-steeltown of Corby - so this most fusty of towns has a Labour MP). On I droned about the alarming nature of what the government was proposing, the fantastic work being done by Liberty, and the quick disappearance of C.Clarke's alleged "liberal qualities", and the head that nodded the most frantically belonged - I later discovered - to a local Tory councillor.

Stranger still, when I was talking about the ill-advised nature of both Labour and the Tories' all-conquering emphasis on public-service "choice", and its adverse effects on equality of access, he agreed with me yet again. I was introduced to him later. He seemed a nice fella - a chip off the old One Nation block, with opinions to match.

I had to go and get some fresh air after that. It was all far too disorientating.