Antisocial behaviour as Labour’s main priority? Blairism lives!

The Labour leadership has made a regrettable mistake in seeking to put the problem of antisocial behaviour at the top of the party’s list of priorities, however large it might and does loom in the lives of its many victims.

In the first place, the problem is inherently insoluble, so any measures proposed as Labour policy are doomed to be seen as failures, even if some of them achieve occasional partial success.

Secondly, this is preeminently a problem to be tackled in local communities, not by a novelty silver bullet (‘restorative justice’) fired by swingeing legislation from the centre. To mix the metaphor, one size will never fit all.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, putting top emphasis on antisocial behaviour is fatally reminiscent of the Blair years, giving the impression that Labour is more concerned to sound tough than to promote progressive reform, uphold civil liberties and defend human rights. It should increasingly obviously be an urgent priority for the Labour leadership to mark a sharp break with New Labour: to make the fresh start promised by Ed Miliband in his speech at the party conference immediately after the leadership election.

On far too many subjects Labour under Mr Miliband sounds like a continuation of Blairism. Some of the old stagers of the Blair and Brown governments need to be pensioned off, or at any rate invited to keep quiet: above all, not to complain if some of the more glaring deficiencies, errors and indeed crimes of the Blair years are now explicitly disowned by the party he led. For evidence of this pressing need, you only need to look at Bradford West.  Whatever people might think of George Galloway as a politician and a person, thousands of us have been yearning to hear our Labour leaders talking pretty much the same language as Gorgeous George – so far, in vain.

There’s also the question of priorities. When we have the most reactionary government in living memory systematically dismantling the welfare state; enriching the bankers at the expense of the unemployed, the homeless and the disabled;  squandering millions on pointless and unwinnable foreign wars; maintaining an ‘independent British nuclear deterrent’ which is not independent, which is not British, and which deters no one;  selling off the NHS to private interests;  privatising state education and removing it from local authority control; tackling an economy in depression through lack of aggregate demand by slashing the disposable incomes of working people and throwing millions of public servants out of work, thus throttling such demand as still survives – when a Tory-led government is doing all these appalling things, it beggars the imagination that a Labour leader and Leader of the Opposition can be seriously proposing that the main focus of the party’s national policy should be antisocial behaviour.

I’m not saying that antosocial behaviour doesn’t matter: obviously it is the bane of very many people’s lives.  But so are aeroplane noise, inefficient public transport, travelling conditions in the rush hour, bullying and sadistic bosses, interminable road works, customer service call centres, criminally over-priced restaurants and petrol pumps, rotten standards of nursing in hospitals and Mr Nick Clegg.  National politics can do something about some, but not all, of these familiar pestilences.  None of them, though, not even antisocial behaviour, qualifies for the top billing in the national policies of a great political party, at a time when our whole liberal democracy is under active threat (not to mention such issues as climate change and global poverty).  Right now the worst and most damaging kind of antisocial behaviour is that of Messrs Cameron, Osborne and Clegg.  First things first, please, Mr Miliband.

[This is an edited and expanded version of a comment on an article about Labour policy on antisocial behaviour in LabourList, here.]