Thursday, 12 October 2006

Blunkett & the liberati

Martin Narey, the head of the Prison Service has said that at the time of the riot at Lincoln Prison in 2002, David Blunkett, then Home Secretary, suggested calling in the army, saying he didn't care if machine guns were turned on the rioters.

Meanwhile, Blunkett's memoirs are now out and serialised in the Daily Mail.

He blames his (twice) downfall on a conspiracy of the 'liberati' or 'Hampstead liberals' who apparently drove him to the verge of some sort of breakdown.

I seem to remember his downfall(s) as being rather more self-induced:

In 2004 when Home Secretary, he was found to have fiddled a visa for his ex-lover's nanny. And in 2005, after his miraculous restoration to office at the DWP, he was found not to have declared his outside business interests.

His main legacy though under New Labour was as the architect of their assault on civil liberties. He reduced the rights of assylum seekers to appeal and increased the use of detention centres. He increased police powers with the Investigatory Powers Act. He took away the right to trial by jury and the protection of double jeopardy that had existed since Anglo-Saxon times. And he was the principle advocate of introducing ID cards.

Ironically though whilst New Labour spits out 'liberal' with contempt, they are happy to accommodate to neo-liberalism with its emphasis on market deregulation. Maybe it's time to reclaim the term 'liberal'. It is a humane and rational tradition that includes Thomas Paine as much as it includes Adam Smith.

Blunkett likes to see himself as a straight talking man of the people, more in touch with the real world than airy-fairy intellectuals. As has every reactionary who wears a cloak of populism, from Mussolini to Stalin. But let's not forget that he was once the council leader of the 'Socialist Republic of Sheffield. Of course this was another age when being on the 'loony left' was a smart career move in the Labour Party.

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