Friday, September 30, 2005

Boom and Bust

I would definitely recommend taking the time to read this if you haven't already done so. There's a whole lot of pressure building up and it's going to have to be released one way or another. Unless the Labour Party starts to address this in a reasonable way I'm afraid it's going to become collateral damage in the resulting explosion.* The portents are already with us; party membership has halved since 1997. I fear that much worse is to follow.

I've been trying to see if I could understand why New Labour don't seem to be able to see this problem. Patricia Hewitt was on Question Time last night. When she was confronted with accusations that New Labour continually stifle dissent, replete with a number of specific examples, she appeared to be completely taken aback. The reaction of the audience said it all. They jeered. (It's the first question if you want to watch it, jeering starts 6 minutes in.) After I'd calmed down a bit, I started thinking about what lay behind Ms Hewitt's display of surprise. Here are the possibilities I considered.
  1. She is genuinely surprised to learn that dissent is routinely stifled.
  2. She is surprised to learn that people are aware that it happens so regularly.
  3. She is surprised that anyone would have the audacity to raise the issue.
  4. She is merely pretending to be surprised, is fully aware that it happens, and is adopting the official position of outright denial. In short, she is a liar.
I can't say with any certainty which of these is accurate. There might even be another possibility I've overlooked altogether.

As an aside, Ken Clarke's answer to the question made a great deal of sense to me. I see why Labour are so keen to tell everyone he'd be a useless Tory leader. He's not perfect, not by a long shot, but I'm starting to think he might actually be less bad the the authoritarian maniacs we've got at the moment. As a potentially electable Conservative, it's highly unlikely that he'll become leader though.

But back to New Labour. In the Bloggerheads post linked above, Tim says:
Blair's camp - knowing but not really caring that the man had been refused re-entry under Section 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act - were more concerned about how the initial ejection looked on film. They made no comment on the matter until they saw the footage so they could determine whether damage control was necessary.
I'd like to have been a fly on the wall of that little episode. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible. As we are all to aware, there are very many closed doors in this open government of ours. I can only speculate as to the conversation which took place. So I will.

So, they've just watched the TV footage of Mr Wolfgang being forcibly ejected from the conference. It's clear that it's a PR disaster. TB says "what are we going to do Alistair? The media are going to, you know, to use this as evidence of the authoritarian control freakery they keep accusing me of. There's a, you know, a chance that the public will start to believe them." Alistair tells him not to worry, they'll be able to blame the stewards. "Relax teflon, they can't stick this on you. We'll pass it off on the volunteers, that's what they're there for."

Speculation, as I said. Call me a cynic but I suspect it's fairly close to the mark. The point is that there is one vital conversation which I just cannot imagine cropped up. Did anyone involved in the discussion mention the fact that these accusations are basically very well founded and that the best solution would be to actually stop with all the control freakery? I doubt it very much. I'm not even sure if it would occur to any of the participants to think it. It is, I think, a classic example of the seige mentality. They've got no-one outside the ramparts looking in. As a result we've got a government who are constantly busy defending what is nothing more than an indefensible pile of worthless crap. They are just to concerned with plotting their defensive strategies to have noticed.

So, I suspect they genuinely don't understand why most of the population jeers at their feeble excuses. The defence of the Westminster bubble has subsumed all other activities in government. I think that's why government ministers are so surprised when they meet members of the public who treat their pronouncements with derision. Well, it's time to wake up and smell the discontent. History shows that an ivory tower can't be defended forever. Will the government realise that it'd be better to come out willingly now than be dragged out kicking and screaming later?

*In a sign of these troubled times, I feel the need to emphasise that I do not mean an actual physical explosion. I'm sure it's obvious but I'm also sure I wouldn't trust Charles Clarke not to *ahem* misinterpret such a statement.

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