So is New Labour dead or not?

When is a party dead? Paul Evans brings us the best of the politics blogs from domestic politics thr

Nusferatu: A Party Undead

This week Lord Mandelson declared Cameron’s claims of New Labour’s demise to be premature.

Andy Newman on Socialist Unity considered what defined the New labour project, and concluded that it: “…was built on two foundations: one was a commitment to neo-liberalism; the other was the belief that electoral success could come through winning over swing voters in marginal seats by triangulating around the Daily Mail driven socially conservative agenda”.

In a detailed look at the failings of the party’s economic agenda, he argued that it was “corrosive because it de-legitimised the whole idea of state intervention in the economy”.

Over at Spiked, the ever confrontational online heir to Living Marxism, deputy editor Rob Lyons observed that “The suggestion that New Labour is dead is somewhat ironic since the party is itself merely the zombie left behind after the demise of ‘Old Labour’.” But Heresiarch argued that Old Labour has never truly left us, suggesting rather that we have been collectively duped:

“Tony Blair looked and sounded like a right-winger when he was actually a statist authoritarian. Gordon Brown looked - and so was accounted - cautious and trustworthy. As a spectacle of legerdemain, New Labour was unprecedented,” he wrote.

Elsewhere, Tory MP David Jones blogged that behaviour in the chamber gave the lie to Mandelson’s claim – while right-winger Shane Greer enjoyed an unseemly chuckle at the disappearance of the New Labour domain.

What have we learned this week?

That it’s not always funny when Tory MPs get arrested. Damien Green has been nicked for allegedly receiving leaked Home Office documents.
Within in minutes, Conservative Home was speculating and Labour Home was gloating. Perhaps if we had greater transparency and decent responses to difficult parliamentary questions, such leaks would be unnecessary?

Around the World

As India wrestled with terrorist outrages on an unprecedented scale, Seriously Sandeep was irked by what he perceived as the appeasement and concern for the perpetrators by fellow bloggers. Aditya Kumar confessed “I am terrified. Petrified,” while Anuradha Bakshi (perhaps the sort of commentator Sandeep was needling at) asked:

“…who are the real culprits: the predators lurking with their indoctrination spiel or a fractured society where dreams of some can never be fulfilled, where hate and animosity are easily ignited and stoked?”

It transpires that Tory MEPs were also among those caught up in the chaos.

Videos of the Week

It’s easy to forget that Robert Kilroy-Silk is still, in theory at least, representing our nation in the European Parliament - he hasn’t spoken in a debate for more than three years. But if you do want to see his powers of rhetoric at work, here he is having a row with TV ghost Timmy Mallett. Online supporter cottz2008 cheered him, writing:

“cum on kilroy u to win it i can rember wen u came to ilkeston to try n be a mp well cum on win it for us”.

But now he has been chucked out of this telly competition, and it’s hard for all of us.

Quote of the Week

“It depends, I suppose, what you imagine New Labour was. If you mean the media-manipulating, bullying, authoritarian bulldozer, then it is still very much alive, and probably worse than ever.

No punches pulled, on Heresy Corner.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
Photo: Getty
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David Cameron's prisons speech could be the start of something good

If the Prime Minister puts his words into action, then this speech could mark the beginning of a big shift on prisons policy. 

David Cameron’s speech condemning prisons as violent and failing could herald a seismic change in policy. He is absolutely right to point to the waste of money, effort and lives that characterises today’s prison system. He is also right about the direction of travel that needs to be taken and some of his ideas are at the very least worthy of discussion. The most important reform was missing, as none of his aspirations can happen unless the sheer number of men, women and children in prison is cut, and cut radically. Sentencing reform is the lynchpin.

The detailed proposals will be scrutinised as they are rolled out over the coming months, but the urgent over-riding challenge is to cut the prison population. Last week the number of men in prison increased by 185, and in the last four weeks the prison population has gone up by 684 men and women. Prison overcrowding is not standing still, it is rapidly deteriorating.

Chris Grayling closed 18 prisons and wings, reallocating the population into the shrunk estate. He cut prison staff by more than a third in each prison. The result was overcrowded, understaffed, violent prisons full of drugs and very disaffected staff trying to control frustrated prisoners on restricted regimes.

I was expecting some thinking on who we send to prison and what we do with them when they are incarcerated to create the conditions for radical reform. I was disappointed as the proposals were oddly reminiscent of things that Labour tried and contributed to this mess in the first place.

Labour was very proud of building lots of new prisons, hoping that they would build their way out of an overcrowding crisis. What happened of course was that new prisons were filled even before they were completed so the old prisons couldn’t be closed. Today we hear that £1.3 billion will be spent on building ‘reform prisons’ that will pilot new ways of working. My worry is that they will become warehouses unless the sheer number of prisons is restricted and resources are allocated to allow for just the sort of flexibility being proposed.

Giving governors more autonomy sounds good, and I support it in principle, but they always used to have their own budgets with discretion to choose how to spend it, including commissioning education and other services. It is no good having increased autonomy if they are constantly firefighting an overcrowding crisis and not given the resources, including well trained prison staff, to implement new ideas.

We already have league tables for prisons. Every few months assessments of how prisons are performing are published, along with regular inspections and independent boards monitor conditions. Reoffending rates are published but this information is less robust as prisoners tend to move round the system so how can one establishment be accountable.

I was pleased to hear that work inside prisons is going to be a key reform. But, the Prime Minister referred to a small project in one prison. Projects with desultory training in the few hours that men get to spend out of their cells will not instil a work ethic or achieve work readiness. Prisoners get a pack of cereals and a teabag at night so they don’t have breakfast, are not showered or clean, are wearing sweaty and shabby clothes.

Every day men and women are released from prison to go to work in the community as part of their programme of reintegration. This is extremely successful with incredibly few failures. So what is the point of adding extra expense to the public by tagging these people, unless the purpose is just to feed the coffers of the private security companies.

There are imaginative ways of using technology but what was being suggested today looks as though it is just adding restrictions by tracking people. That would be neither creative nor effective.

David Cameron is looking to his legacy. I fear that I could be listening to a Prime Minister in five or ten years bewailing the dreadful prison conditions in institutions that are no different to today’s overcrowded dirty prisons, except that they were built more recently. He will have achieved a massive investment of capital into expanding the penal estate but, whilst there will be more prisons, even the new jails could be overcrowded, stinking and places of inactivity and violence.

I want the Prime Minister to look back on today’s speech with pride because it achieved humanity in a system that is currently failing. I would like to see a prison system in decades to come that is purposeful, with men and women busy all day, getting exercise for the mind, body and soul. I would like to see prisons that only hold people who really need to be there because they have committed serious and violent crimes but whose lives will be turned around, who achieve redemption in their own eyes and that of victims and the public.

My job is to hold him to account for this vision. If what he announced today achieves radical reform and changes lives for the better, I will cheer. I will be watching.

Frances Crook is the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.