Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Legislating Behaviour

I picked a fine time to start this blog, with a Parliamentary recess starting just after I launched it. So things have been a bit quiet around here. But it has given me the time to browse through various things, one of which was Hazel Blears's own website. I came across a pamphlet she authored called 'The Politics of Decency', and I can think of few better documents that chronicle this government's obsession with the nanny state, controlling behaviour, and passing laws. As such an enthusiastic supporter of all these things, it's no small wonder that Hazel Blears has authored such a document. It is from 2004, but I'd bet money very few people have actually read it. You can read the whole thing here - it's about 40 pages, so you're in for a long slog. But below I have picked a few choice quotes, and offer some comments underneath.

From the very beginning of the document, she makes it very clear that one of its intentions is to examine "the role of governments and institutions in establishing a decent society, through laws, persuasion, example, incentives and sanctions." (p.8)

Straight away, we're talking about a significant amount of governmental control. And not just control; the emphasis is very much on punishment and conditioning. There seems to be absolutely no desire to embrace the self-determination of human beings.

"Is obvious to any sane observer that if society turns its back on young people, they will reciprocate. A society where the rewards for drug dealing outweigh the rewards of work, where the only place to find kinship and belonging is in a street gang, where authority figures, are distant and powerless, where the education system systemically fails the poor, and where the dominant values in society, spread by the media and politicians, are about getting ahead and getting rich, is a society in which decency, law and order are under threat. In short: Tory values and Tory policies cause crime and disorder. Labour values and Labour policies tackle both the crimes and their underlying causes." (p.21)

Leaving aside the fact that Hazel needs a serious lesson in sentence structure, this paragraph is full of wretched spin and generalisations. Hazel is essentially blaming capitalism for crime. As a grotty little socialist she doesn't have anywhere else to turn. But even aside from ideological issues, this paragraph is astoundingly hypocritical. Labour has created a society where doing nothing every week except picking up a benefit cheque has come to outweigh the rewards of work. It is a society in which violent crime is up, and in which inner-city teenagers from poor backgrounds seem to be stabbed every other day. Just last week we saw legislation passed by the government which will rob certain children of the right to a father in their life, so how can Hazel whinge about distant authority figures? And we have a government which hates grammar schools, which provide the best opportunity for children from very poor backgrounds to get a really good education.

"The government's introduction of anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) has been successful and popular with local people, and has helped to identify what stands as acceptable and non-acceptable forms of behaviour. ASBOs show that local people can make the law work in their favour, establish norms of behaviour, and reclaim public spaces for the decent majority." (p.23)

This is just one big, fat lie. It is estimated that as many as half of all ASBOs have been breached, and there is a general reluctance to utilise them in the first place. Many jurists see ASBOs as just another way of creating new outcasts, and are uncomfortable with the way in which the government wants ASBOs to have a significant part to play in tackling youth crime. Also note that yet again we have a legislative measure which actually tells us how to behave. Yes, ASBOs, are meant for people who are causing serious disruption, but it's still codifying behaviour and not dealing with the complexities of crime. And isn't it rather hypocritical of Hazel to boast about getting to the root causes of crime on page 21, but endorse a method which does absolutely nothing in this respect on page 23?

"It is today legitimate and necessary for the state to intervene into family life and to support families, whatever their size, shape or circumstance." (p.26)

So in other words, Hazel thinks it is entirely acceptable for the state to interfere with how a family runs itself, irrespective of whether anything harmful or illegal is occurring. If she doesn't like the way you do things in your house, Hazel's behavioural enforcers will be knocking at your door.

"... a big challenge is binge drinking. This behaviour blights most town and city centres every weekend, soaks up police and NHS resources, and creates a public health time bomb in the shape of higher levels of liver disease and alcoholism in the future. This is today's challenge - and governments must act through public information and advertising, voluntary agreements, partnerships with industry, and new laws." (p.32)

And what better way to deal with binge drinking than to introduce 24-hour opening for pubs and clubs. Well done Labour! Hazel seems to be suggesting that we will need some more laws to correct the problems caused by the last laws they passed. It just fills you with confidence, doesn't it?

"Many countries, including France, Germany, Italy and the USA, have so-called Samaritan Laws, which compel citizens to report and assist in road traffic accidents. Can this principle goes further? Do we need a framework of law which compels the citizen to help in other situations where their own lives are not placed at risk, but their intervention could help another person. Perhaps we need a debate about new laws which compel people to report crimes such as assault, burglary and vandalism, and make them responsible if they fail to report such crimes. Should reporting a crime be a duty encouraged in law?" (p.33)

This really is the icing on the totalitarian cake. Throughout her asinine pamphlet, Hazel blathers on and on about the generosity and kindness of human nature, and yet she seems to think that helping those in peril needs to be a legislated requirement of human existence. Such a thing doesn't need to be part of the law, because it is already part of us. And being Hazel, she of course mentions a "debate", which in her mind means pretending to listen and then doing whatever the hell she likes. She also seems to be under some delusion that people don't report assaults, burglaries and acts of vandalism. I'm pretty sure that people do; the problem is that all they receive for their efforts is a police incident number and a leaflet telling them how they can prevent being punched in the face or having their house broken into. And what on earth does she mean by "make them responsible if they fail to report such crimes"? Is she honestly suggesting that people should be prosecuted, fined or cautioned for not reporting a crime? I can see the slogan now; 'Tough on crime; tough on people who don't report crime'.

If you have the time, I really do recommend a reading of this pamphlet. Naturally, this isn't because it contains anything worthwhile, but because it's a perfect demonstration of the controlling, vapid and downright nasty nature of this government, and of this particular individual.

Monday, May 26, 2008

George Galloway is Useful

In what is perhaps a world first, George Galloway has actually contributed something useful to the human race. I have no time for Galloway; when he was hit in the head by a flying rubber stress ball last month, a significant part of me wished it had been a small hatchback or a washing machine instead. But in the article he wrote for today's Daily Record - found here - Galloway describes Hazel Blears as a "speak-your-weight machine"; an analogy I find quite marvellous. It's far better than 'parrot' or something of that ilk, because comparing Hazel Blears to animals rather implies that she has a soul of some description, and isn't just a smug, nagging automaton that's full to the brim with stock phrases and misleading statistics.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

'Normal' Jobs

This story is a few weeks old, but its hilarity hasn't been diminished over time. Hazel Blears suggested that Cabinet members should try doing 'normal' jobs for a few days every year to ensure they don't lose touch with 'normal' folk. First of all, Hazel herself worked in Tesco for three days last year, and she still seems to be the same ginger ball of crazy she has always been. So fat lot of good that did her.

But something else bothers me about this story, and that is the continuing use of the word 'normal'. It's a word that doesn't just appear in relation to this topic, but in a lot of the language that comes from the government. In usual circumstances, the word normal means standard, usual or as expected. I would imagine most people consider themselves to be normal in most respects. But somehow, when the word is used by the government it seems patronising; in the sense that the opposite to this particular form of 'normal' isn't 'abnormal', but 'special'. It gives the impression that Blears and her ilk consider themselves to be operating at a higher intellectual level than the rest of us simpletons, and that all our worries will go away if we see politicians stacking a few shelves.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hazel Hates Christmas

Because I'm such a thrilling person, I have just spent a few minutes on this sunny Saturday looking through the various speeches Hazel Blears has given as part of her role as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. And something has struck me as both odd and not in the least bit surprising. In her last published speech before the Christmas Recess - found here - there's no mention of Christmas, or the impending New Year for that matter. And in her first speech after the Recess - found here - it's a similar story; not even a bit of retrospective well-wishing.

Naturally though, Hazel managed to find time in her busy schedule to make a statement wishing all Sikhs a happy Vaisakhi. You can read it here. I hope that every Sikh in the country did indeed have a happy Vaisakhi. But why is it that you have to be part of a minority group to receive Hazel's warm words whenever you celebrate a cultural event or religious festival?

Question Time Delusions

I watched Question Time on Thursday night, but this particular quote from Hazel Blears eluded me until I read it in The Independent this morning:

"It might be that the electorate have decided to send us a pretty powerful message but the last thing they want is the Labour Party to turn on itself and be obsessed with our own affairs and not what the public want."

1. It's the same old 'sending a message nonsense', insofar as she cannot see the message is a resounding 'go away' and not 'listen to us'.

2. When a party turns on itself, it is a sign that a fundamental dispute, either over personality or policy, has arisen. What Blears seems to be advocating is that the Labour party should sit on any internal squabbles for the sake of winning an election. It is fair to say that disunited parties simply do not do well at elections; it is one of the things that cost Major so dearly in 1997. But her comment is unpleasant because, far from denying that the rebels have legitimate grievances, it actually suggests they might have a point, but should shut up anyway because it will cost them at the ballot box. People might not like parties fighting amongst themselves, but they dislike being lied to about party unity even more.

3. It's the 'what the public want' slogan again. The problem is that the Labour high command thinks what people want are loads of platitudes about listening and plenty more taxes. It's the old nanny knows best attitude; the people of Britain are just simple infants waiting to suckle on the Labour teat.

Response to Hazel Blears's New Statesman Article

Yesterday, Hazel Blears wrote an article for the the New Statesman which focused on the recent Crewe and Nantwich by-election. For copyright reasons I cannot simply copy the text onto this blog, but you can read the article here. My thoughts are as follows.

As is often the way with Blears, she begins by pretending to be gracious only to sneak in a snide little threat. She warns that Edward Timpson's parliamentary career will be a brief one, on the assumption that this by-election was an upset and not indicative of a national trend. The Conservatives making significant gains in the local elections, and Boris Johnson's triumph in London, suggest a changing political tide and not a one-off banana skin.

She goes on to say that the voters of Crewe and Nantwich were giving the government a message. This is a line that has been peddled by just about every Labour person interviewed in recent weeks. However, it doesn't seem to occur to any of them, and particularly to Hazel Blears, that that message isn't that people want Labour to fix these problems; it's that they want Labour to get out of the way so someone else can sort them out. She also denies that people in Crewe and Nantwich were concerned with political personalities, which is a coded way of denying that Gordon Brown is electoral poison.

In the next paragraph she moves to quash any attempts to dethrone Gordon Brown, while simultaneously lying about the previous Conservative government. She uses the old adage of 'record interest rates' during the Major administration, which is a total falsehood. Interest rates saw a steady decline from 1990 onwards, usually floating somewhere between 5% and 7% during the Major years. And of course she mentions sexual and financial scandals; things which have, naturally, never caused any Labour ministers to resign.

The next paragraph is full of the usual nonsense about Labour having loads of policies and the Conservatives not having any. In fact, the Conservatives have plenty of policies, many of which Labour haven't gotten around to stealing yet. She actually mentions the points system of immigration as something Labour will look to implement; it was a Conservative policy proposal. And I do wonder why she and Gordon Brown persist with this 'salesman' jibe against David Cameron. Do they not know how many salesman there are in this country?

In the penultimate paragraph, Blears attempts to justify the sickening 'Tory Toffs' campaign Labour employed in the by-election. While she is right that all parties have run stunts during election campaigns, I have never seen a Labour candidate referred to as a "con man" on any Conservative literature. However it is this paragraph that I really take issue with:

"My view is that we are all products of our backgrounds, whether we’re from Eton or Salford (Point of note; David Cameron is not from Eton. He went to the school there, but he is actually from a small village called Peasemore. Similarly, Edward Timpson is from Cheshire and didn't go to Eton.) Our experiences form our values and approaches to life. So in a by-election it is right that we should point out the different political values and backgrounds of the candidates."

Unfortunately, this is not what Labour were doing in Crewe and Nantwich. They were not pointing out Edward Timpson's background or political values, they were simply lying about him to energise their core vote. Blears has said time and time again that Timpson's comfortable financial situation and private education means he is not receptive to the concerns of ordinary people. However, what would she say to me if I said she was unsuitable to hold her current position because she's working class and went to a polytechnic? Moreover, doesn't the fact that I went to a prep school and a red brick university mean she is not in a position to understand my concerns? This is the problem with class warriors like Blears; they only find this behaviour unacceptable if it is directed at them. And the fact that she is entirely unsuitable to hold such high office has nothing to do with her background, her education or her financial situation, but rather her mediocre intellect, her bitterness and her distinct lack of ability.

Welcome to Blears Watch

I happen to think it's rather sad for blogs like this to be necessary. I would like to think of our politicians as people worthy of our trust, whose words do not need to be closely scrutinised and picked apart. Sadly however, if there is one thing this Labour government will be remembered for more than anything else, that thing is spin. Hazel Blears is a walking, talking spin machine. There is nobody else in the government quite so adept at putting a positive light on real difficulties and offering platitudes to keep us content. What's more; she gets away with it far too often.

I hope you will find this blog useful. I welcome all comments, both positive and negative, and I'm always on the lookout for a Hazel Blears story that has been hidden away! Alas, I'm afraid this blog isn't the result of an unhealthy obsession or anything like that; I'm not that interesting. It is simply part of a desire to hold our elected representatives to account, with particular focus on one individual.