Siol nan Gaidheal

The Weasel Words of New Labour

Whilst Siol nan Gaidheal rarely use items from the Press, this was posted to the Forum recently and was felt to be worthy of a wider audience than those who saw it when it appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on 26th February 2001. Our acknowledgements to Jimmy Reid, who wrote it.

The Weasel Words of New Labour

I don't know much about weasels. They weren't exactly prolific in Govan. We had bookies and Labour councillors. I think, on balance, the weasels would have been better company.

The word "weasel" has many connotations. It can mean a sly or treacherous person, which brings us back to bookies and Labour councillors. But it's weasel words that are most in vogue today. Weasel words can churn the stomach.

Remember the phrase "ethical foreign policy" dripping from the tongue of the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, as he sanctioned the sale of murderous weapons to the Indonesian junta that used them to slaughter the defenceless people of East Timor? Remember all the talk about having a "bonfire of the quangos"? New Labour instead created 320 task forces with more than 2,500 members. Under Blair, quangos have multiplied like rabbits force-fed with Viagra.

Remember the rhetoric before the last election about an inclusive, participatory democracy? According to the Financial Times, 28 of Britain's biggest companies, (those in the Footsie) provide the chairmen and chief executives of these task forces. On Treasury task forces, 96 out of 108 places are filled by business leaders. Two per cent of the members of all task forces come from the trade unions. In European countries such a gross disparity would be illegal.

Remember the pledge to end Tory sleaze? What about the case of Bernie Ecclestone, billionaire boss of Formula One racing, who donated a million quid to New Labour's cause and just happened to mention to the Prime Minister that in his opinion Formula One racing should be exempt from any ban on tobacco advertising? Blair thought this a spiffingly good idea and instructed the minister concerned to change the draft bill accordingly. When this exchange became public knowledge, the manure, as they say, hit the fan.

More recently we saw the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, who is constitutionally involved in the appointment of QCs and judges, organising a dinner of lawyers to raise funds for New Labour's election campaign. Tickets were free, but the Lord Chancellor stipulated in an invitation letter that he was expecting donations of at least a few hundred quid per skull and hopefully more. When this became public knowledge, manure hit the fan again. The Lord Chancellor doesn't understand what the fuss is about. Even as children, my mates and me could have told him. In the Glasgow docks, when registered dockers had clocked on for work but more workers were needed, they were recruited from a pool of unregistered dockers known as snappers. The gaffer would look round the anxious snappers and snap his fingers at one and then another until he had the required number. Those that hadn't been snapped went home with no work and no money. The gaffer, if a bastard, could stand at the bar of a local hostelry and receive drinks and favours from the poor men over whom he had such terrible authority.

It is an unwritten law of human decency, where I come from, that someone who has powers of preferment must never ask anyone, subject to his preferment, to give money or favours to anyone or any organisation, at his request. We knew the significance of such a code. But then we didn't sit around on something called the Woolsack, which looks like a semi-circular waterbed, dolled up like a transvestite with a weird dress sense.

There could, of course, be another explanation for such insensitivity: the arrogance of unchecked power. This government behaves like an elected dictatorship. The Prime Minister is hardly ever in Parliament. New policies are revealed at party rallies, on television or radio chat shows, or leaked to friendly journalists. A tamed House of Commons is sidelined. Cabinet meetings last no time at all. The country is governed from the Prime Minister's private office.

Ministers are infatuated with the wealthy. Thatcher didn't personally pander to the super-rich as shamelessly as Blair does. Peter Mandelson described himself as "Labour's ambassador to the rich, powerful and well-connected." He wanted to be liked by them. Wanted to be one of them. And look where that has landed him - not once, but twice.

New Labour has brought big business into government on a scale never seen before in this country. I remember when Labour went to other extremes. When Michael Kelly was Lord Provost of Glasgow he was criticised by many Labour members for hosting a reception for the executives and customers of a big local company. I ridiculed these critics and argued that Lord Provosts were there to serve all sections of the community, including the business community.

Those who criticised Kelly at that time are now probably enthusiastic acolytes of New Labour and have swung to the other extreme. Tycoons are everywhere in Westminster. Wealthy donors to party funds are elevated to the Lords. Some are unelected members of the government. This isn't inclusiveness but exclusiveness.

No wonder people are cynical about politics. Politicians that bred this cynicism tell us it's our duty to vote. But the right to vote includes the right not to vote, particularly if you feel that the options on offer are disreputable. I never vote Tory. I now can't vote New Labour. The reasons are many, but let one suffice. A vote for New Labour is a vote for the privatisation of Air Traffic Control.

Henry McLeish says that a vote for other parties will let in the Tories. But there isn't one Tory MP from Scotland sitting in Westminster. A Tory majority in the UK Parliament can only come through votes cast south of the Border, as it was during the Thatcher years.

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