Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Adults?

David Cameron's attempt to introduce a porn filter mark the day the Conservative party embraced the nanny state.

If I had to pick one thing that I actually ever liked about the Tory party, the choice would be simple, it would be their libertine streak. You can say what you like about how they seem to like to plunder the country to line their own pockets, how they have gleefully fostered and exploited social divisions and how they tend to treat anybody without at least a knighthood as a parasite fit only for the Workfare gulag, but on issues of personal freedom they were the go-to guys during the Labour years.

The Labour Party, with the best will in the world, has never really been about fun. That Tony Blair actually volunteered to be a Catholic says all you need to know about his proclivities towards enjoying life and Gordon Brown just looked like a man who lived every day of his life with pockets full of piss. The internet knew how to have fun, it still does, and so the Labour Party going after the internet was inevitable. You could sense they were just waiting for a photogenic murder victim to validate their policies, probably with a team of bright eyed interns scouring the papers daily and a focus group on standby the vet the candidates.

Censor the porn, Labour said, because then horrible murders will stop, because apparently there was no murder before the internet. Nobody really believed that of course, but porn is not the easiest cause to fight for.

So to see that the Tories have now embraced the nanny state wholeheartedly is not just shocking, it is deeply worrying. That David Cameron would publicly declare that the internet, the single most significant British contribution to the modern world, needs to be censored should be of great concern. He leads the party that is supposed to let us be grown-ups, the party that lets us smoke, drink and gamble, while taking out ridiculously expensive loans to cover it. Even these guys now subscribe to the idea that we might see too many boobs online and be ruined for life.

We expect Labour to try to police what we see; to tell us what we like is wrong, politically incorrect, and likely to turn us all into murderers, terrorists and rapists. That’s what Labour does, because they know better than everybody else.

We don’t expect this from the Tories, not since the days of Mary Whitehouse anyway. Back when the Tories were old fashioned, blue-rinsed and God-fearing you could imagine them having plenty to say about all these horrible freedoms people are enjoying. But today’s Tories? It seems unthinkable that a bunch of Bullingdon Boys would even attempt to be seen as a credible moral authority, especially as they just burned their bridge to the Christian right and held a gay wedding in the ashes. When I saw David Cameron and his mob take over I thought at least one part of life would not be attacked for the next five years. This is a man, I thought, who might just not be a total killjoy. Or who at least might be too busy privatising all the things to find time to find the time to ruin anything else.

That the Tories would attack freedom of communication in this way under the ridiculous pretext that it is protecting children would be funny if it wasn’t a real thing that is actually happening. It is a foolish, reactionary, impractical move, and one that totally obliterates any Tory claim to being a party of individual freedom.

And so here we are, stuck in the middle. On the political right we have the born again moral guardians of the Conservative party, here to protect all of the children by flinging half-baked and technologically unsound ideas at a problem nobody seems to be able to prove exists. On the political left, of the Conservatives at least, we have Labour. The joyless overseers, making sure that wrongthink and dirtyfapping are expunged from our great nation so that we can live full and exciting lives of optimal make benefit for make great and wonderful United Kingdom.

There is no longer a political party in the UK for people who want the government to leave them alone. There is no longer a party that thinks what goes on in the bedroom or the internet browser is the business of the individual. All we will get at the next election is a choice of who gets to censor us and for what reason and this is an abysmal state of affairs.

At least when David Cameron was elected, you thought he might be too busy privatising things to ruin the internet as well. Photograph: Getty Images

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

Getty
Show Hide image

Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.