Tory leader David Cameron claimed today that his party and New Labour have swapped places in British politics – the Conservatives are now the “radicals” while New Labour are the “reactionaries”.
He says this is a “strange reversal”. And, he’s right. It is strange in more ways than one. For a start, if a top Tory believes that appealing to radicalism could be a means of gaining votes that should be a wake-up call to those who believe that conservatism with a small “c” is the most dominant force in British politics.
Reinforcing his earlier calls for community assemblies to revive local democracy, Cameron yesterday teamed up somewhat bizarrely with actor Michael Caine to raise the idea of a national service for youth, as part of his notion of a “Big Society”. Caine referred to the Conservative Party as “the government”. Perhaps he knows something we don’t.
Cameron has also called for a 5,000-strong army of full-time professional community organisers, in an emulation of Barack Obama. The US president once immersed himself as a community organiser in Chicago’s most deprived neighbourhoods, working with black car workers, youth and unemployed. The Tories along with their house newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph, have been praising the virtues of co-operatively-owned and run local shops in communities killed off by globalised commerce as great initiatives.
Those who still cling to the delusion that New Labour retains its old credentials of being the party that represents in some way the working class will, of course, simply dismiss this as lying word-twisting by power-hungry Tories. It’s easy to pooh-pooh Cameron’s “visions” as the usual election posturing, by of all people a rich boy educated at the best public schools in the country, whose wife’s wealth is estimated at more than £30m.
But the truth is that the Conservatives, have done some serious homework. They are sensitive to the widespread disaffection and alienation that has built up in the 13 years of New Labour. In their hunger for votes and power, even privileged toffs like Cameron must appeal to the vast numbers of people in Britain who have lost faith in politics and politicians and the establishment in general.
For all Cameron’s fine talk and “sympathy” for teenagers in deprived areas who are frustrated and bored, the Conservatives in power would make the same immense cuts in public spending as New Labour is secretly planning. The Tories are already proposing to cut inheritance tax which will directly benefit the richest 2 per cent in Britain. Most of it will go to the 3,000 wealthiest estates including those of his wife. There will be handouts of billions more to the richest 1 per cent of the population.
In this respect the Tories are the same as New Labour, under whose rule more wealth and power has been handed to the rich than ever before in recent history. Prosecuting neo-imperialist wars, retaining and strengthening anti-trade union legislation, widening the gap between the rich and poor and giving the forces of the state unheard of powers have made Blair and Brown almost indistinguishable from their Tory predecessors, Thatcher and Major.
Therefore, the only way that Cameron’s Tories can really make themselves look different is by occupying what political ground remains with some form of populist democracy. The ruling elites are, as ever, quite adept at making adjustments to the state in order to try and reel the electorate back into the traditional parliamentary political process.
The answer is not vote for discredited New Labour but to step up the campaign to expose the sham nature of the election and the undemocratic state that is beyond reform. That has to go hand in hand with establishing the framework for transferring actual political and economic power from the state to People’s Assemblies, thereby creating our democratic society.
A World to Win secretary