As (almost) everyone worked out, this morning’s blog post (see below) was an April Fool. I haven’t rejoined the Labour Party today, and I at present I can’t really see myself doing so. The problem, as I outline in the post, is that in far too many crucial policy areas there’s almost nothing between the policies of Labour and the Coalition. In some areas – crucial areas – it might even be worse. Labour’s digital policy – my specialist area – is particularly dire, and shows no sign of improving. Indeed, it might even be getting worse.
There are a few spots of brightness – I’m delighted about Labour’s commitment to get rid of the Bedroom Tax – but they are few and far between. At a time when coalition policy is so appallingly cruel, incompetent and damaging, for Labour to be practically the same in so many areas is more than disappointing. It’s depressing.
To those who say ‘join, and fight from within to change things’ you might well have a point – but my encounters with Labour activists on the doorstep in Cambridge have been even more depressing than the public outings in the media of Rachel Reeves and so forth. Our local candidate seems to put more energy into denigrating Tony Benn than he does in putting forward positive proposals. That may just be my perception – and sorry for being snarky, but that’s how I feel. I would love to be able to join the party – but right now, with all conscience, I can’t. Anyway, here’s the morning post…
After much thought, I’ve decided that now is the day to rejoin the Labour Party. I have been out of the party for a long time – I left in 1999 – but have finally been persuaded to rejoin. The possible damage that a Tory government might do, particularly to our education system, our vulnerable people, our social cohesion – to the future shape of our society – are so great that I now believe it’s time to get behind Labour.
I have had reservations before, but now realise that I must bite the bullet and take that crucial step. I realise now that Rachel Reeves is right to proclaim that Labour will be tougher than the Tories on welfare. True, a few thousand vulnerable people may suffer as a result, but it is vital that Labour aren’t seen as a ‘soft touch’. The ‘striver vs scrounger’ rhetoric has resonance with so many people, we have to accept that and move on. There’s no point in fighting the battles of the past – we must make sure we don’t make the same errors as Labour made in the 80s. Support for the welfare cap was an excellent decision – as was Liam Byrne’s earlier decision to get Labour to enable the retrospective legislation over workfare. The public like workfare. Labour needs to accept that – and so do I.
I also understand and agree with Tristram Hunt that we shouldn’t fight the reforms that Michael Gove has been pushing on the education system. It doesn’t matter that the vast majority of teachers have been demoralised and depressed by his policies; we must not be seen to be held to mercy by the teaching unions. Free schools offer choice, and choice matters above all things. Tristram Hunt is right to accept pretty much everything Gove says, even if so many experts in the field have disagreed with him. Going back to a 50s style curriculum, before the ‘educationalists’ had their way, is what the people want. Labour needs to accept this – and so do I.
On immigration, too, it’s time to accept that the need to get the support of the key demographics matters more than the economic, cultural, moral and human rights arguments in favour of immigration, no matter how compelling those arguments might be. It doesn’t matter how much the evidence points to the benefits of immigration – the game has changed, as the rise of UKIP has shown, and we must change with it. Keith Vaz was quite right to visit Luton Airport to meet the flood of Romanian immigrants in January. Labour were quite right to acknowledge their errors over immigration in the past, even if those errors had a significant beneficial effect on the economy. By acknowledging these ‘errors’, Labour can position itself much better as a ‘tough on immigration’ party – something crucial for its electoral prospects.
Sadiq Khan, too, is right not to commit to reversing the reforms to the legal aid system put through by Chris Grayling. It would be a big mistake to be seen to be on the side of the ‘fat cat’ lawyers and on the criminal class, even if the evidence suggests that the changes will have a devastating effect, particularly on the criminal bar and the family courts. Yes, a few more innocent people will end up in jail and a few more families will suffer, but that’s a small price to pay for the possibility of electoral success. Votes are what matters – and in this case it’s a double whammy. Labour can show they’re economically prudent and at the same time tough on crime. It’s a win-win situation.
I have decided that I should also hold back my reservations on the digital world. It doesn’t matter that Helen Goodman is even more vehement than Claire Perry about porn filters – the evidence that the filters are easily bypassed, block crucial LGBT and sex-education sites and put into place an infrastructure ideal for political censorship really doesn’t matter in the face of the likely headlines in the Daily Mail of being soft on pornography if we continue to challenge them.
The fervour for surveillance of the likes of Hazel Blears and David Blunkett – and even Yvette Cooper – no longer bothers me as much as it did. It’s time to give up on privacy and accept that we should trust the security services. They’ve proven themselves worthy of that trust again and again over the last year or so. We don’t need the sort of hand-wringing over security that they’re having in the US – we can trust our security services and our police to be responsible at all times.
Not falling into traps
I’m also delighted to see that Ed Miliband hasn’t been falling into obvious traps. It might have been possible to conclude from the success of the energy bill freeze policy suggestion, which provoked changes in practice by the energy companies as well as changing the whole political agenda, that bold, popular policies that help ordinary people and challenge vested interests would be a good idea to follow. In particular, policies like the re-nationalisation of the rail companies, the energy companies – and the reversal of the Royal Mail sell-off – which by all accounts would be very popular, help ordinary people and protect them from manipulation by big business, might seem superficially attractive. Labour is much better off avoiding such obvious traps.
Saving what matters
All in all, then, I’m convinced that I need to rejoin Labour so that we can protect all those things that matter to me, like protecting vulnerable people, building a tolerant and supportive society, a positive and forward-looking education system, a justice system that serves the people and a society that protects civil liberties. If we let the Tories win, all these will be at risk. That means that a few sacrifices, a few compromises, need to be made – particularly in those areas where Labour has looked soft in the past, such as over-protecting vulnerable people, kowtowing to teachers over education, and caring too much justice and civil liberties.
For this, and so many other reasons, I’ve decided today is an excellent day to join the Conservative Party.