Academic journal article Social Justice

"One Thousand Days of Degradation": New Labour and Old Compromises at the Turn of the Century [1]

Academic journal article Social Justice

"One Thousand Days of Degradation": New Labour and Old Compromises at the Turn of the Century [1]

Article excerpt

We haven't opposed a criminal justice measure since 1988 (Jack Straw, January 1997, cited in Anderson and Mann, 1997: 269).

I would trust Jack Straw's judgment. He is a very fair man (Margaret Thatcher, cited in The Guardian, January 12, 2000).

ON JANUARY 26, 2000, THE LABOUR PARTY COMPLETED 1,000 DAYS IN government. In a century dominated by the Conservatives, who between 1905 and 1997 were out of power a mere 29 years (Seldon, 1996: 17), Tony Blair looked forward to the next general election and a second successive five-year term as prime minister. For Labour, this was a feat that was unprecedented in its political history. In a mirror image of the Tories' years in government, Labour had held power for only 22 years in its century of existence. Central to the party's popular legitimacy and consolidation, according to Blair and Home Secretary Jack Straw, was its new, "third way" realism concerning crime, punishment, the economy, social welfare, health, and every other government responsibility. In keeping with its leader's evangelical spirit, the party's spiritual baptism in the soothing waters of the third way had transformed the nonbelievers of old Labour into the born-again, free-market zealots of New Labour (NL). In the process, the party had s hifted politically from being an unelectable pariah to a force in which the voters of "Middle England" could place their trust to deliver a promised land built on prudent accumulation, thrift, and prosperity free from the ravages of the degenerate, deprived, and depraved. "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" had become the incessant mantra that was chanted in the build-up to the 1997 election. By the time of the election and in the febrile context of a rise in the rate of reported crime, criminal justice mismanagement and inefficiency, and Tory political and moral sleaze, NL was claiming in its manifesto that it was "the party of law and order in Britain today" (The Labour Party, 1997:23). In the next three years the manifesto's comment was to prove prophetic.

This article explores a number of themes in relation to NL's law-and-order strategy. First, it sets this strategy in the context of the two decades of near-Conservative hegemony and the impact and legacy of that hegemony on the government's conceptualization of crime and punishment. Second, it explores the extraordinary events that occurred in the first months of the new millennium. These events -- from the refusal to extradite Augusto Pinochet to Spain to face charges arising from the 1973 coup in Chile to the 22 life sentences imposed on an armed robber whose collective haul amounted to [pound]1,500 -- provide a penetrating case study of who are "the proper objects of power" (Fiske, 1993: 235) in NL's globalized world. Finally, the conclusion critically analyzes New Labour's commitment to human rights through the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into U.K. law. Although this development is to be welcomed, our article argues that the government's narrow, legalistic conception of human rights could lead to the obfuscation and marginalization of the material social processes that are central to the delivery of democratic accountability and social justice in a society where "the richest 10 per cent of the population own 65 per cent of the marketable wealth, excluding dwellings, while half the population between them have only 6 per cent" (Jones and Novak, 1999: 19).

The Roots of New Labour's Law and Order Strategy [2]

The Conservative Legacy

The period of Conservative hegemony that began in February 1975 with the election of Margaret Thatcher as Tory leader ushered in an epoch of "iron times" built on the corrosive discipline of "authoritarian populism" (Hall, 1988a). There are four important points to note about the often searing law-and-order strategy pursued by the Conservatives between their first election victory in May 1979 and their crushing defeat (at least with respect to the number of Parliamentary seats they lost) in May 1997. …

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