House of horror

Labour’s victory is already being seen as an endorsement of Blair’s
legacy, in spite of the fact that this government was elected by an
abysmally small majority. Immediately after the election, a small
number of Cabinet members were speaking more modestly and carefully
to reflect a new humility but not for long. The hubris is back, the
rule of intolerance and authoritarianism is back, the god of
privatisation is back on his pedestal waiting to spread his power
all over the nation. It is all done in the name of “the people”,
those who complained bitterly to the prime minister that their
lives were being beaten down by an epidemic of hooded sweatshirts,
immigrants, paedophiles, ethnic minorities, feral children and
others outside the norm as they define it.

After an election fought by the two parties on the most shameful
populism, we now reap the harvest of the promises made. We should
worry that Michael Howard accused Blair of stealing the mean
policies of his party. He has also said that his party will
co-operate with New Labour to push these on to the statute books.
How much should leaders pander to the often thoughtless demands and
media-induced paranoia of vociferous sections of the population?
Where does it end? What if “the people” command a return to capital
punishment and corporal punishment in schools? Or a forced
repatriation of immigrants? Unthinkable you say? But we are already
sending back asylum seekers into dangerous situations and it would
only take a slight adjustment of the will and ethics for millions
to argue that the island is full up or that it is time to recapture
the Britain they feel they lost to foreigners (like me), nothing to
do with racism of course, only national interest.

If the main political parties intend only to serve “hardworking
families”, the most vulnerable sink – with some exceptions. At
least there is still a real programme to improve the lives of
deprived children, many of whom have fared well under New Labour.
But too much of the programme is exclusionary and punitive for
people outside the cosy network of the voters who count. A nation
consists of good and bad citizens, failures and successes,
hardworking and lazy folk, law abiding and criminal, men and women,
indigenous Britons and people who have made their lives here, the
rich and poor, the skilled, clever, successful and unskilled, slow
and unsuccessful, the able and disabled, children, adults and older
people and so on. In a good society, leaders find ways to respond
to the needs of all these different people, to reduce bad behaviour
and encourage co-operation and the rule of law. But today the main
party politicians are focused on pleasing one section of society
which is reprehensibly undemocratic.

The Queen’s Speech has already outlined a number of proposals which
emerge out of such a commitment. They want to cut the number of
people on invalidity benefits – David Blunkett, ex-lover of a Tory
publisher, is in charge of the incapacity benefit bill. Wait now
for his rough talk about fraudsters, cheats and scroungers, exactly
the same words he used for migrants and asylum seekers when he was
at the Home Office. There is no promise to come down on rich people
who get away with paying minimal taxes. ID cards, too, are a
travesty, both because they stamp on basic freedoms and are an
affront to social justice and civil liberties. The anti-terrorism
measures are even worse. Packing the Lords with New Labourites is
intended to reduce the influence of the second chamber which has in
recent years been a robust champion of profoundly important human

Which brings me to the profile of the MPs elected in this
parliament. Egalitarians have long believed that getting more
women, working class, black and Asian MPs would naturally bring in
progressive politics. This may be the first election which proves
wrong that assumption. The Liberal Democrats failed to bring in any
black or Asian MPs – which is not acceptable – but they are not yet
populist and Charles Kennedy has promised to fight for liberal
values and justice. Conversely the Tories and Labour have got in
new black and Asian MPs who bought into retrograde policies which
means that their entry is nothing more than the achievement of
personal ambitions to join the powerful.

We are in for difficult times. The only hope is that with a reduced
majority, New Labour will be held in check by all those who do not
want this country to become a land of winner takes all.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is an author and broadcaster

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