Monday, November 14, 2005

London reflections: Blair lost!

During the ECOSY-meeting in London (see below) it was impossible not to discuss Tony Blair’s first ever defeat in Parliament (over the 90-day detention of terrorist suspects). One interesting interpretation of the defeat was presented by one of the impressive speakers that visited our meeting, John McTernan (political secretary to Tony Blair). McTernan pointed out that around 80 percent of the population agrees with Blair, but also referred to an article in the Guardian last Friday. The article reports that the Tories accuses the Labour government and the police of cooperating in order to sway uncertain MPs. Read it again: the Tories are accusing the police of going to bed with Labour! McTernan said that this might have been the day when the Tories finally handed over the issue of security – a traditional issue benefiting parties on the right – to the Labour party.

I agree to a certain point. Blair (and Clinton) were totally right to make progressives credible on issues regarding security (“tough on crime and tough on the causes on crime”). McTernan’s analysis might also be correct, Labour sure is credible on security, this has helped them to win elections, and Blair sure has tougher fights ahead of him (the welfare reform green paper, education bill, white paper on health). When it comes to the 90-days, I think it sounds like a very long time, and even if I have not heard all the arguments or behind the scene arguments, a compromise would probably have been the best outcome.

Conclusions? 1. I don’t think Blair’s defeat was that serious; greater battles are waiting around the corner and hopefully this experience will help Blair to reform Britain in a positive way while getting the whole Labour parliamentary group with him. Continue to reform, but privatization is not the way forward, even if different methods of providing welfare should be tried and used. 2. Center-left parties are correct to address the issues of security and terrorism seriously, but when doing so, civil liberties and long-term compromises should never never be forgotten. The Labour government is walking on a fine line here. 3. Blair lost an election in Parliament, but the Tories are still so offside in the political debate and Labour still has the third term and thus the possibility to continue to reform Britain. Keep the mantel of reform, fight crime and terrorism, but never forget our sacred civil liberties. Glad you survived Blair, you were wrong about the war but have made many other good things, and you still have reforms and improvements left to do.


Anonymous Jon Worth said...

The issue is far more complex than Ternan - or any of the media for that matter - have tried to explain.

First of all, the UK has a weak and strange debate about human rights at the moment, and no proper discourse about the relationship between state and citizen.

Second, Blair mercilessly used the opinion of the police to back him up on 90 days - we heard basically nothing else from anyone in the press. And as the population trusts the police, so the 80% in favour.

There is no proper opposition party in the UK at the moment, so no-one was saying "hold on, that would give the police the right to give people 3 month jail sentences".

Blair and Labour have been right to talk of security, but they seem to talk as if these powers are the main part of the answer. They seem to ignore the softer matters of changing our communities to prevent these problems arising.

16/11/05 00:42  
Blogger Eric Sundström said...

The main question here is, I think, what you are touching in your last paragraph: how do we change our societies so that the gap between rich and poor, English/Swede and immigrant, etc, can be reduced? An interesting task that a European center-left think-tank should deal with, collecting good examples from a few countries and then presenting it to progressive politicians...

17/11/05 10:30  
Anonymous Jon Worth said...

I agree that we need more research and ideas on this matter. But on the other hand, it's all very sensitive and cuts at the heart of national identity - solutions from the UK or Sweden are no good to cope with the problems in the French suburbs on this one.

Further, while work from think tanks on this would be welcome, what we really need are some strong centre-left-liberal voices in the EU - leaders who speak about the need for equality and citizens' rights, rather than security all the time. Presently I don't think there are any leaders who want to speak out on those issues.

17/11/05 13:08  

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