There is no alternative

As Community Care’s survey results show this week, disillusionment
with New Labour is rife in social care. The Iraq war is definitely
a factor in this, but a perceived lack of actions to match some
fine words on social policy – and particularly the stigmatisation
and harsh treatment of refugees, and threats to the civil liberties
of people with mental health problems – are also eating into what
has traditionally been a safe Labour vote.

For many, important though it is to protest against the Iraq war
itself, and against the process leading to it, making that protest
at the ballot box is fraught with difficulty. For a start, the main
opposition party also supported the war. Second, a vote for the
Liberal Democrats, who didn’t, will in many constituencies benefit
the Conservatives, as will abstention.

And let’s get one thing out of the way from the start: in every
respect relevant to social care, a return to Conservative
government would signal disaster. More young offenders in prison
and quotas for asylum seekers are only two of the unthinkable
consequences. New Labour’s vision of social inclusion is limited,
and excludes many of those who are most vulnerable – an exclusion
often compounded by the rhetoric of ministers chasing headlines.
But the Conservatives were to a considerable extent the architects
of the exclusion the current government has sought, at least
partially, to overcome.

So is Labour’s record in government since 1997 as poor as many in
social care, according to our survey, believe? It may seem like
special pleading, but the reality – even after eight years of
government – is that it is too early to judge the impact of some
policies. Many children have been lifted out of poverty, but not

The visions contained in Every Child Matters and Independence,
Well-being and Choice, despite their huge promise, are also long
term. Educational standards have improved but need to improve more.
The children’s commissioner for England is not even in post

It is also still unclear whether the Labour government is committed
to the future of social care as a distinct discipline with distinct
skills and its own values and knowledge base. The pillars of the
profession, created by New Labour with much fanfare – the General
Social Care Council, Commission for Social Care Inspection and
Social Care Institute for Excellence – now face an uncertain
future. We don’t yet know whether the CSCI will be able to champion
social care within two merged inspectorates for children and
adults. The GSCC is pressing on with its gargantuan registration
task, but if its merger was announced by the next Labour
government, few would be surprised. The future of Scie will feel
safer when it has better demonstrated its impact.

What is clear by now, however, is that New Labour will never be a
champion of asylum seekers, young people whose behaviour is
disruptive or criminal – for whatever reason, or people with severe
mental health problems.

For those in constituencies where the Liberal Democrats are
Labour’s main challengers, our survey suggests many in social care
will vote Lib Dem, given the importance placed on free personal
care for older people. They should, ignoring Labour’s
scaremongering about tactical voting. The reduced government
majority, if the Lib Dems are the gainers, would be a salutary
warning to ministers and – even more importantly – a sign that the
country’s politics can’t be shifted even further to the

For the rest, the majority, will “wait and see” and “things can
only get worse under the Tories” inspire a return to the Labour
The best we can say is: it will have to do. The Tories must not
win. Nothing more inspiring is available, so pragmatism must have
its day.

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