Thursday, 11 August 2011


This afternoon I watched most of the House of Commons debate on the civil disorder earlier in the week. I'm not sure we got very far - lots of indignation and few concrete proposals. Which is just as well really: the Commons isn't the place for instant wisdom, and as a country we're probably better off with MPs offering platitudes than policies at this stage.

But there's something a bit odd about watching a procession of Labour MPs demanding that the government reverse its proposed cuts to police funding. This, of course, echoes the policy pursued by Margaret Thatcher in her early years; while all other expenditure was squeezed, police pay was increased, an approach that paid dividends when her government wanted tough action taken against dissent.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the Labour Party stealing Tory clothes, if it seems appropriate, but there's a pattern emerging with this and other Labour arguments over the last twelve months: a straightforward objection to any cuts to any area of public spending. And that's reminiscent of another aspect of the 1980s. The Labour Party back then exhausted itself with defending the status quo in the face of Thatcherite reforms, opposing each and every government policy until such time as it proved to be popular. In the process the party managed to look both hidebound and opportunistic at the same time.

Worryingly, it looks as though Ed Miliband is pursuing the same course. And I suspect it'll have the same limited effect. Anyone who's come into contact with, say, their local council over the last decade knows that public services haven't exactly been perfect. Similarly the performance of the police this week - before the cuts - hasn't been spectacularly effective.

There is surely scope for advocating some change, without having to accept the Tories' options. At the moment, David Cameron's accusation, directed this afternoon against a backbench Labour MP, of being 'intellectually idle' seems all too accurate.

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