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The Dave Woodhall column



I'm the sort of voter that any mainstream party should be targeting. A small businessman, from a family of working-class Tories. Who grew up on a council estate and spent years on the dole, courtesy of Thatcher's economic policies. And has a firm belief in the upholding of civil liberties. Labour, Conservative, Lib Dems; all should be fighting for my vote. The strange thing is, though, that they seem to be doing their best to drive me away. The Lib Dems have lost their way completely, their great breakthrough of 1997 now a distant memory. The Tories, well, I can't help feeling that underneath the veneer of compassionate Conservatism lies a belief that the electorate REALLY needs punishing for the last three general elections.

And as for Labour….

In the run-up to the 1997 election I campaigned long and hard for the party. I, and many like me, had suffered under the evil witch and I wanted revenge. I can't claim much credit for the landslide result on that glad May morn, but I do know that within days, Tony Blair was hosting the very woman whose policies had made me such a committed Labour supporter. I'm sure that others felt the same sense of betrayal.

Nine years on, and this government hasn't done a bad job. For the first time in decades recession is just a bad memory and living standards have improved. A few problems have cropped up, but many of these are almost excusable; the problem with asylum seekers has been exacerbated by the world situation, the NHS was never designed to cope with an aging population and we have an increasingly right-wing press to highlight every government failing.

However, if there were an election tomorrow I couldn't bring myself to vote Labour. I believe that Blair suffers from some form of mental illness which means that he can convince himself even the most blatant lie is the truth. Iraq, cronyism, party funding, inefficient government departments. Whatever the situation, Blair seems convinced that it either doesn't exist or there isn't a problem.

Most important of all, though, is the government's attitude to civil liberties. I recently asked a solicitor if the government had introduced any new criminal legislation that week. “Just the one act so far,” he said, “but it's only Monday.” Over forty Criminal Justice bills have been introduced in nine years. The right to demonstrate outside Parliament has been abolished, trial by jury is under threat, identity cards are an impending sword of Damocles over the freedom of the individual.

Blair recently stated that he would “hound” foreign criminals out of the country. That's the presumption of innocence gone and exile returned as a punishment after being out of favour since the seventeen century. Farewell Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus, while we're at it. Home Office minister Andy Burnham is of the opinion that “It is part of being a good citizen, proving who you are, day in day out.” The sheer effrontery of this particular statement still staggers me. A government minister, a servant of the people, believes that not breaking the law is no longer enough. Now we must prove that we haven't done anything wrong. I shudder to think what their next idea in the name of fighting crime and preventing terrorism might be.

One of the Labour party's more memorable slogans in the 1997 election campaign promised that they would be tough on the causes of crime. Since coming to power they've been big on toughness. They showed it by forming part of the deadliest military coalition ever assembled, to attack a conscript army. They proved how tough they were by passing a law to prevent a one-man peaceful protest in the shadow of Parliament. They demonstrate their tough guy approach by ejecting protestors from their annual conference, by encouraging magistrates to issue ASBOS rather than attempting to tackle the root causes of minor crime themselves, by granting ever-widening powers to an ever-more incompetent and trigger-happy police force and by introducing new laws without debate or Parliamentary vote. Naturally, with the true cowardice of the bully, Blair cravenly defers to those stronger than him - George Bush and Rupert Murdoch, to give the most sickeningly obvious examples.

That's how I can't, in all conscience, vote Labour. Their obsession with ‘toughness' has shown that they've lost touch with the traditional grassroots voters to whom they owe their very existence. Meanwhile, Call Me Dave Cameron is reinventing himself as the workers' friend and denying all links with his party's past. At the same time as we have a Labour government trying to prove that it's tougher than the Tories, we have a Tory opposition desperately attempting to show that it's more in touch with the common man than the Labour Party.

It would be laughable were it not for the fact that the real winners in this farce will be the extremists who would happily take the current government's attacks on liberty and turn them into something far nastier than either Tony Blair or Andy Burnham have yet dreamed of.


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