Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Cage That Must Be Rattled

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Cage That Must Be Rattled

Article excerpt

Reform and respect: Tony Blair has proved considerably more adept at the former than the latter, certainly where the Labour Party comes in. Over the past decade he has fashioned it in his image--doing whatever it takes to get into power and to keep power, but unclear about the purpose of that power. In his third and, one assumes, brief incarnation, he has decided to take on the hoodies and the hoodlums on our streets, in our midst and in our public services.

But who should be the recipient of the "respect" that the Queen exhorted, on behalf of her Prime Minister, her subjects to show? The royal family? Harmless or harmful fun, take your pick. Your local bobby or community support officer? As long as their behaviour is commensurate. Teachers, definitely; doctors, probably; your neighbours? Respect is, in the end, the ultimate performance-related test. Where earned, it should be shown. Which is where this government comes in.

The "plague on all your houses" verdict from 5 May reflected the sullen mood of the campaign. It testifies to the detachment of citizens from politicians. The Labour Party has a limited and conditional mandate. A chastened Blair promised on election night that he would listen and learn. But listen to whom and learn what? The initial signs are not promising. As ever, he confuses hyperactivity and macho posturing with considered activity and genuine consultation.

The 18-month legislative programme is not all bad. Measures to introduce corporate manslaughter are belated but welcome. Similarly, broad but not unqualified support should apply to reform of charity law, the tightening of our compensation culture, tougher smoking restrictions, stronger curbs on replica firearms and knives, and, most clearly of all, an extension of maternity rights and childcare provision. It is this more positive agenda--social justice, greater equality and opportunity, and addressing the twin British diseases of low quality of life and low life chances--that should be the urgent priority of this and any Labour administration. …

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