Tuesday, September 04, 2007 

About as new as Thatcherism.

Isn't it wonderful, after weeks of next to no political news, to finally get right back into the thick of things, the start of a new season, and all that goes with it?

Well, err, no. Mainly because this feels partially like a phony election war, and also because it all seems so familiar. Today's Times poll showing that Labour's lead has been pegged back to a single point almost certainly rules out any slight inclination Brown had of going to the polls this year, but it sure hasn't stopped both the parties from bringing out all their "new" policies and fighting like ferrets in a sack. Take Cameron's letter to Brown, asking him to reconsider the possibility of a debate between the three leaders, an empty piece of spin if ever there was one, an attempt of sorts to try to flush out his plans over an early election, when he knows full well that whatever Brown's response is that they'll use it against him.

Not that Brown himself exactly acquitted himself any better yesterday in his gambit on a "new politics" and gaining a political consensus. If the idea of citzens' juries gives you deja vu, it's probably because they've almost been around as long as Brown's designs on 10 Downing Street were. Call it a sexed up Big Conversation, the last laughable attempt at consulting the public, only this time it's under Comrade Brown's new spirit of togetherness and end to sniping. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence that the first of these juries' is going to be on children and violent imagery, one of those emotive topics which for decades has been a battleground between the "moral majority" and those of us who don't like being told what we can and can't watch in order to protect the kids. Similar events on crime and how neighbourhoods respond to it, as well on the NHS will probably be better and more informed debates, but whether they'll actually achieve anything or lead to any direct policy changes is doubtful.

At least he can be glad he's having a much easier time of it still than Cameron. Quite why Michael Ancram chose today to launch his own personal vision of what it is to be a Conservative and what the Tories should be doing isn't clear, but it does little other than prompt comment on how the noisy right-wing of the party is still deeply uncomfortable with Cameron's leadership. Flicking through Ancram's 30 page mini-manifesto (PDF), a piece of self-aggrandisment infected with narcissism if there ever was one (says a blogger) it's actually surprising how much of it isn't really that bad; sure, there's plenty of blanket denunciations of "the Left" and how we've ruined everything that Conservatives hold dear, but his sections on freedom (apart from the regulation one) only empathise just how far New Labour has moved from the traditional Tory view of civil liberties, a move followed by Cameron. All of the rights he mentions, apart from privacy, are protected under the ECHR and the HRA, both of which Cameron wants to rip up. Ancram naturally doesn't mention the HRA, but perhaps he ought to have a word with Cameron about the idiocy of his proposal for a "British" bill of rights. He's inevitably wrong on immigration, the monarchy and he lets the cat out of the bag on a referendum on the EU treaty: the first step towards leaving the union altogether. Over time, I've moved onto agreeing with Keith Vaz's view: let's have a referendum, not just on the treaty, but on staying a member altogether, as that's what nearly all those who want a no vote actually want.

Out of all of Cameron's policy review groups, the latest to report, the Public Services Improvement Policy Group comes across as the most dunderheaded of the lot. Just as everyone has realised that we're facing a crisis in council housing stock, thanks directly to how they haven't been replaced after being sold off, the Tories are proposing to make it even easier to buy, giving state aid out to those who wouldn't otherwise afford it. It might earn a few more votes, but completely ignores the bigger picture; typically of the stupid party, some might say. On education, as well as holding back those who fail to reach the expected key stage level 4 at 11, which they clearly haven't thought through, as it would hugely increase class sizes just as they say they want smaller schools, not to mention stigmatise and embitter those who'll be labelled failures and be separated from their friends, they also want to abolish AS levels, which actually help lighten the exam burden at 18, as well as let those not sure what they want to study post-16 drop a subject they don't particularly like half-way through. The alternative to holding children back is obvious: more remedial classes, and additional help outside of school, not make them do it all over again. The group does at least suggest consulting on raising the age at which you can buy cigarettes from 16, a measure taken by Labour without even the slightest hint of any debate. If we're going to start raising age limits, we ought to at least have an equilibrium on them: you can consent to sex at 16, but not drink alcohol, vote, access pornography and shortly you won't be able to smoke. It all makes perfect sense.

The so-called "new politics" then. The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.

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