Neo-Labour's Britain: Left versus right is the wrong war
Propaganda is theft because it attempts to deprive people of the truth. Our sister paper, the Guardian, ran a debate on liberty, rights and privacy and in it we saw two examples of government propaganda. The first came from the Justice Minister Jack Straw, who held that New Labour had 'deepened and extended' civil liberties - yes, and I am Scary Spice. The second was from columnist Polly Toynbee, New Labour's unblushing champion, who accused people like me - actually, especially me - of being right-wingers in liberal clothing and middle-class paranoids seeking victimhood.
Neither was successful because the authors do not understand the difference between refuting an argument and rebutting it. Straw is an old fashioned statist who believes if you go on saying a lie people will eventually believe it. Toynbee is something different. One senses panic rising from the realisation that it is very hard to deny Labour's programme against liberty when most of it is on the statute book.
So she scurries around wondering how she is going to hold the line. Her first ploy was to muddy the waters by questioning what is a reasonable freedom. For instance, she presents Labour's campaign against free speech as merely anti-discrimination laws, which is nothing like the whole truth. There is, she says, a clash between the right to free speech and the right not to be abused. The point is abuse is the corollary of free speech. I would prefer everyone to be well-mannered and respectful yet I believe gays have the right to be rude about the church and the church to be rude about gays, without either running to the law.
Next step is for her to practise this free speech by referring to what she calls my paranoia. That's fine by me but I'd just point out that there is a difference between fear and paranoia, as there is between sounding the alarm and being alarmist. And again, it's not as if I, or any of the other contributors to the debate, are making this up. It is irrefutably all there in Labour's record.
The breathtaking dishonesty of her argument is to describe anyone who opposes Labour on these grounds as a being a right-winger. In our democracy liberals exist in all parties - thank God - and it is eloquent of her desperation that she seeks to portray those who stand for liberty, rights and privacy as being individualists who are seeking the aura of victimhood, which of course decrypts as privileged middle-class dilettantes. The allegation comes from the hard-line sectarian communists of my student days, and it is hardly surprising to find the same generation still at it in New Labour, yet now adding notes of vanity, self-righteousness and priggishness.
The striking thing is how few in the government and among its supporters really grasp the substance of our complaints about liberty over the last 10 years. With dismal familiarity, we watch them move hastily from the matter in hand to rattle on about social justice. The trick, you see, is to portray concerns about liberty as a luxury for the privileged classes when what really matters is poverty and inequality. She must know that there can be no social justice without liberty, and vice versa. Besides, as the gap between the rich and poor widens every day, New Labour and its cheerleaders are at risk of causing nationwide symptoms of motion sickness when they strike this particular pose.
We are all victims of Labour's authoritarian laws but often the people whose interests New Labour claims to represent are especially penalised - for instance, the defendants who are pressurised in police stations to plead guilty by video link to crimes they have not committed because there is no adequate legal representation to hand. Why doesn't Toynbee write about the measures smuggled into the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act which will combine with the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act to make it legal for bailiffs to enter someone's home and seize property on a civil order? Jack Straw's Department of Justice is currently formulating the rules that will govern the force that may be offered to single mothers, old ladies, teenagers and young children who happen to be at home when the bailiffs come. Will she be reminding us that Labour has buried 400 years of protection against this outrage? Read more
db: Toynbee and people like her seem to have made an error. The Left vs Right paradigm is a useless platform from which to view the encroachments upon civil liberties inflicted on us by the neo-Labour government. The class war - if our warriors are the Blairs and Jack Straws of the world - is a conflict that has long since been lost. Much better to focus on what is real - the civil liberties won for us by our ancestors - and find your allies in this new war where ever you can find them [short of the dastardly BNP]. Henry Porter is an ally; left, right ... whatever.