Friday, 24 November 1995


New Statesman & Society, 24 November 1995

Labour's love affair with the Australian Labor Party isn't its first infatuation since it lost the 1979 general election. Paul Anderson looks at the other models Labour has admired in recent years

Australia, it seems, is the flavour of the mid-1990s for the British Labour Party. Labour leader Tony Blair is a good mate of Australian Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating. Blair's deputy, John Prescott, has just been on a fact-finding mission Down Under. It is reported that other Labour frontbenchers have been told to make their way there to find out how gov¬erning is done.

And, of course, it makes a certain amount of sense. British Labour's leadership is short on experience of govern¬ment, and Australia is closer to Britain in terms of political culture than anywhere else that currently has a left-of-centre administration. Observing the Australian Labor Party is probably as good a way as any of finding out about what it's like to be in power.

But at least a word of caution is in order. As John Pilger has argued in his New Statesman & Society columns over the years, the ALP is deeply unattractive in many ways. The last thing Labour needs to emulate is the obsequious attitude of the ALP governments to Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer and Alan Bond.

There's also a more general point – that Labour has a history of viewing left-of-centre governments abroad through rose-tinted spectacles. Over the past 16 years, Labour has latched on to a string of different models in the hope that they might provide the magic formula for elec¬tion victory – and each has turned out to be less useful than Labour thought in the first flush of enthusiasm. Labour has cer¬tainly got some learning to do – but it's mostly learning from others' mistakes.


The British left has always had a soft spot for France – but there was little in the way of electoral politics to inspire Labour between 1945 and 10 May 1981, when Francois Mitterrand won the presidency of the Fifth Republic at his third attempt.

Mitterrand's success and the subsequent landslide victory of his Socialist Party (PS) in June 1981's elections to the National Assembly came as a pleasant diversion for Labour, which at the time was tearing itself apart in the wake of the defection of the Social Democratic Party. Mitterrand's economic programme-widespread nationalisation, vigorous reflation, workers' control of industry and big increases in welfare benefits and pensions-was similar to the Alternative Economic Strategy that Labour had embraced after its 1979 election defeat, and many Labour intellectuals believed that the French socialists would be able to disprove in practice Margaret Thatcher's dictum that "there is no alternative" to monetarist austerity. Almost as important given the concerns of the time, Mitterrand had declared for denuclearisation of central Europe and included four communist ministers in his first government-leading many left-wingers this side of the Channel to expect that France would at least act as a force for disarmament and east-west detente.

In fact, the new French government soon proved as vigorous in its pursuit of the cold war as any other in the west. Almost immediately after his election, Mitterrand gave strong backing to Nato's plans to station Cruise and Pershing II missiles in western Europe, and his government continued to modernise France's own nuclear weapons. Anti-nuclear opinion in the Labour Party – in the driving seat in the early 1980s – had turned against Mitterrand long before the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior by French agents in 1985.

On the economic front, British left disillusionment set in in 1982-83, when Mitterrand was forced, by a mixture of inflation and an unsustainable trade deficit, to perform a series of humiliating U-turns. From spring 1983, he presided over a fiscal and monetary regime in many respects more austere than Thatcher's. The failure of the PS's initial economic strategy did much to persuade Labour's policy-makers thata "go-it-alone" Keynesian reflationary programme was no longer feasible for a medium-sized nation state-but the only Labour people who saw the post-austerity PS governments of 1983-86 and 1988-93 as any kind of model for Labour were admirers of their enthusiasm for European economic and monetary union. Now the PS is out of power, with little prospect of returning in the near future, it has few friends left over here.


The Swedish Social Democrats have been feted by various Labour admirers here since the 1930s, when, having adopted a radical proto-Keynesian economic policy, they began an uninterrupted period in office that lasted until 1976. But it was during the 1980s, from their victory under Olof Palme in the 1982 general election to their defeat under Ingvar Carlsson in 1991, that their popularity with Labour reached its peak.

One reason was British left-wingers' admiration for the Swedes' neutrality – but more important by far was the economy. As Britain was experiencing the ravages of unemployment and theory government's cuts in spending on the welfare state, Sweden under the Social Democrats was enjoying full employment and the most generous welfare provision in the world.

The Swedes seemed to have succeeded in developing a "third road" model of economic management that avoided both the inflationary dangers of traditional Keynesianism and the mass unemployment of deflationary neo-liberalism. Things began to go wrong in the late 1980s, when inflation started to rise and the economy began to experience balance-of-payments difficulties. The Social Democrats responded with an austerity programme, unemployment increased and their popularity slumped. In 1991, they suffered their worst electoral defeat in more than 60 years.

Although they were returned in the next general election in 1994 – free-market conservatism proved anathema to the electorate – by then Labour had decided that it could not afford to place itself in the high-tax, high-spending camp. The Swedish Social Democrats are likely to be important allies for a Labour government in the European Union. But they are just a little too traditionalist for Tony Blair.


Labour's enthusiasm for Bill Clinton before and immediately after his 1992 election campaign knew no bounds. Labour had just lost a fourth general election in a row, and Clinton's success was widely acclaimed in the Labour Party – and not just by the right.

Although it is the enthusiasm of Labour "modernisers" that is best remembered now, Clinton's insistence during the campaign on the priority of his economic policy message – encapsulated in the famous slogan that dominated his campaign war-room, "It's the economy, stupid" – was embraced by many on the left. ItwasBill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, who declared of Clinton at a big conference on "Clintonomics" organised by his union and the Guardian in January 1993: "To say that we have nothing to learn is just arrogant nonsense."

Nevertheless, it was undoubtedly the Labour right that bought the whole Clinton package. Probably the most significant purchaser wasTony Blair, whose actions and rhetoric ever since have echoed Clinton's in 1992. As shadow home secretary, he emphasised how tough Labour was on crime just as Clinton had emphasised his own anti-crime credentials (although Blair did not go to the lengths of having anyone executed to prove his seriousness). More important, as Labour leader he has wooed middle-class voters by constantly stressing the extent to which Labour has changed into "new Labour", returning to values that it abandoned in the 1960s and 1970s – exactly as Clinton talked about being a "New Democrat". On a more mundane level, the next general election campaign will be fought by Labour very much on the lines Clinton fought in 1992, with a highly centralised command structure and what Labour media adviser Philip Gould called "speed of response and rebuttal" at the heart of the party's efforts. Labour will soon be moving its key election campaigners into a new hi-tech campaign war-room in MillbankTower.

For all this, there are few senior Labour figures these days who are keen to praise the US president in public. Despite the admiration that Labour politicians and advisers had for his campaign, his record in office has been something of an embarrassment, particularly since the Republican landslide in last year's Congressional elections and Clinton's subsequent desperate lurch to the right in preparation for next year's presidential election.


The Australian Labor Party has been in power uninterruptedly since 1983 and has won four successive general elections-but it's only really in the past few months that Labour in Britain has started to enthuse in public.

Australian Labor's biggest fan here is Tony Blair. The Blair family lived in Australia briefly when hewasa small child, and he counts many Australians among his closest friends. In 1982, the young Blair visited Australia, and delivered a lecture on the British Labour Party in which he argued thatthe party had to accept the mixed economy: according to John Rentoul, "It is possible to trace the death of Clause Fourto Perth, Western Australia, in 1982."Duringthat visit, Blair also met many senior Australian Labor figures, including Bob Hawke, who was soon to seize the leadership of the party; he met Paul Keating, the current leaderand prime minister, on his next visit (with Gordon Brown) in 1990.

But it is only since Blair's most recent trip to Australia this summer, when he stayed with Keating before addressinga conference of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, that British Labour has really started to makeafuss aboutthe lessons it can learn from its sister-party Down Under. Labour deputy leader John Prescott made a highly publicised fact-finding tripto Australia last month-and Rotherham MP Denis MacShane enthused in the Guardian about the "compelling model” of the Australian Labor government.

As regular readers of NSS will know from John Pilger's recent columns, Labour's admiration for Australian Labor is anything but uncontroversial. Hawke and Keating (who ousted Hawke in 1991) have certainly proved adept at winning elections, and there are undoubtedly elements of their approach from which Labour can learn positive lessons, such as the accords with the trade unions that have kept industrial relations remarkably sweet. But the ALP's record of providing giant tax breaks and other advantages to big business (particularly giant media corporations) is not the sort of thingthat plays well with British Labour-and the ALP's election-winning streak will come to an end in next spring's general election unless the party recovers from its current low popularity ratings.


The German Social Democrats have not won a general election since 1980, and have been out of government since 1983. But that didn't stop Labour from thinking that the SPD was the answer to its dreams between 1987 and 1992.

One reason was foreign policy, at which the SPD was considered, with some justification, to be expert. Labour leader Neil Kinnock had come to the conclusion after his 1987 general election defeat that unilateral nuclear disarmament was a millstone round Labour's neck-and was insistent that the party should adopt a defence policy that would not leave it isolated in Europe. Labour's stance on Europe also needed to be beefed up: although the promise of withdrawal from the EC had been dropped before 1987, ithad not been properly replaced.

The West German Social Democrats appeared to be the ideal partners with whom to develop a new foreign policy. They seemed a good bet to win the next general election in West Germany, due in 1990, which, because of West Germany's economic and political dominance of western Europe, would have made them the most powerful left-of-centre party on the continent. The SPD also had an impressive group of foreign affairs specialists who were more than happy to help Labour sort itself out. The two parties' leaders had a string of high-level meetings at which they coordinated efforts on the future of Europe and defence and disarmament policy.

Relations between the two parties remain good – but they are nothing like as close these days, largely because the SPD has rather turned its back on the outside world since German unification in 1990.The party lost both the 1990 and 1994 general elections, and since then has been locked in internal dissent as its opinion-poll ratings have slumped. All the same, the SPD remains, with Labour, the European centre- left party with the best prospect of winning a national election in a large EU country – which means that Tony Blair will be keen to keep things sweet.


The victory of David Lange's New Zealand Labour Party in 1984 was a cause for celebration on the British Labour left, which was still reeling after the party's disastrous 1983 general election result. Lange was committed to a radical anti-nuclear policy, which included a refusal to allow American nuclear-armed ships to use New Zealand ports. Although New Zealand was a minor player in the cold war, with no nuclear weapons stationed permanently on its soil, Labour's victorywasseen by many in its British sister-party as heartening proof that a firm stance against nuclear weapons need not prove electorally damaging.

The problem was that the anti-nuclear policy was just about all that the New Zealand Labour Party stood for that any self-respecting British leftist could possibly stomach. Lange's government, with finance minister Roger Douglas playing a crucial role, set about privatising the country's public sector, dismantling its welfare state and opening the economy to market forces with a gusto that matched Margaret Thatcher's. "Rogernomics" so disillusioned the Labour left that in 1989 it split to form New Labour, the electorate revolted, and in 1990 the conservative National Party was returned to power in a landslide.

The strength of popular support for Labour's anti-nuclear stance was such that the National government kept it – but by then no one in the British Labour Party could give a damn. These days, the only reason anyone on the British left mentions New Zealand is that it is a model for electoral reformers, having decided to abandon first-past-the-post and adopt a mixed-member system of proportional representation in a referendum in 1992.


There are several examples of left-of-centre parties abroad for which Labour has had only brief or intermittent affections. The party has never really felt at ease with the Mediterranean socialists of Spain, ltaly and Greece, all of whom have been in power for most of the past 16years (although the Italian Socialist Party was effectively destroyed by corruption scandals in the early 1990s), largely because their economic liberalism is, even now, out of keeping with mainstream Labour thinking. Nevertheless, the governments of Felipe Gonzalez' Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and Andreas Papandreou's Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) both had their admirers in their first years in office, largely because their foreign policy rhetoric was in tune with Labour's at the time.

Relations have been much closer with the social democratic parties of the smaller northern European countries, particularly the Dutch Labour Party and the Norwegian Labour Party, although neither could really be said to have been a model for British Labour.

Far more important was the enthusiasm of many in Britain (particularly among the European Parliamentary Labour Party) for former French finance ministerJacques Delors as President of the European Commission, in which capacity he produced a plan for economic regeneration in late 1993 that many Labour intellectuals hoped would be the first step on the road to a Europe-wide Keynesian programme of job creation. The plan was effectively killed off last year by the British Tories, and little has been heard of the possibilities of Euro-Keynesianism since Delors' retirement.

Outside western Europe, Labour has had few dalliances. Plenty of Labour people thought that Nicaragua under the Sandinistas was a good thing, but very few believed that Labour had very much to learn directly from Managua – and much the same goes for Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union and Nelson Mandela's South Africa. Israel's stock was low in Labour circles until the 1993 Oslo declaration, and even under the current Labour government has nothing like the status that it had in the 1940sand 1950s.

Which leaves nothing apart from a handful of admiring gestures towards the tiger economies of South-East Asia-although so far not even the boldest Labour moderniser says publicly that Britain should emulate them. Perhaps that's what comes after Labour wins an election...


New Statesman & Society leader, 24 November 1995

If Princess Diana's interview has damaged the monarchy, that can be no bad thing. The lot of them are an affront to democracy

For the benefit of anyone who has been in a coma for the past few days: Princess Di did commit adultery with James Hewitt, doesn't think she's going to be Queen and has a capacity for pitying herself in public unmatched outside Hollywood.

Those are the highlights from Monday's much-hyped Panorama interview with the Princess of Wales, viewed by some 20 million people worldwide. There's little point in adding to the mountains of vacuous commentary on the supposed constitutional implications of Diana's bizarre broadcast: there are none, or at least none directly. If she and Prince Charles don't divorce, she'll still be Queen even if she has affairs with the entire England rugby team; and her children will be next in line for the throne, whatever happens to the royal marriage.

What we saw was, nevertheless, a fascinating spectacle – a poor little rich girl whingeing about how she has been hard done-by. Diana's claim that she accepted half the blame but no more for the break-up of her marriage was just one ploy in many to gain sympathy: in reality, she sees herself as the perpetual victim. Nothing is her fault. She has been hounded by the media, betrayed by Charles, plotted against by his office. Yet she doesn't want to get out of the public gaze: she thinks that she deserves a role – presumably paid for by the taxpayer – swanning around the world and hanging around hos¬pices for the terminally ill and consoling "drug addicts, alcoholics, battered this, battered that". And she won't take the initiative in getting divorced. Even her extra-marital affairs seem to have just happened to her.

Yes, Diana is an icon, but not because she is a strong, independent-minded woman as she claims to be: rather, she epitomises the narcissism and refusal to take responsibility for one's actions that is endemic in western consumer societies.

Not that the rest of the royals deserve any personal sympathy either. From what has emerged in the past few years, the Windsors appear to be some of the most spiteful and insensitive human beings imaginable.

Despite the claims of Charles' allies to the contrary, the farce that has surrounded the breakdown of his marriage has been down to him as much as to Diana. If she was responsible for Andrew Morton's book of her life, it was he who first admitted to adultery, with Camilla Parker-Bowles, in a television interview with Jonathan Dimbleby – a revelation that showed him to be a pious hypocrite. The other younger adults in the family (except Princess Anne) appear to be at best buffoons. If the Queen died tomorrow, it would be difficult to find a credible monarch to replace her. If Princes William and Harry turn out like their relatives, things will get even worse.

Which is where constitutional questions do come in, albeit tangentially. For what Diana said to Panorama has undoubtedly added to the damage done to the popular standing of the monarchy in recent years. And, although in theory the popularity of the monarchy is not a constitutional question, in practice it becomes so as it declines.

Put bluntly, if the reputation of the British royals continues to slump, it will not be long before Britain as a polity will have to confront the question of whether or not it needs or wants a monarchy. So far, the monarchy has been able to cope with growing public disillusionment by way of minor reforms of its privileges: the Queen's agreement to pay tax, or her decision to open Buckingham Palace to the public.

Further moves in the same direction, such as a radical reduction in spending on the civil list, are the least we can expect in the next few years. For their own survival, it might be enough for the Windsors to turn themselves into a Scandinavian-style monarchy, all bicycles, proper jobs and modest houses. But there comes a point at which this is not enough – when the issue becomes not the royal family's dissoluteness or its cost to the taxpayer, but whether the hereditary principle has any role at all to play in the government and politics of a democracy.
That point could be closer than most commentators think.

If Labour wins the next election, the politics of the hereditary principle will move centre-stage as soon as Labour publishes its plans to abolish hereditary peerages. So too will the position of the royal prerogative when Labour's bill of rights emerges. Of course, Labour has no intention of putting reform of the monarchy – let alone its abolition – anywhere near the political agenda, but it increasingly looks as if, in the long run, it won't have any option but to do so. As far as NSS is concerned, that is no bad thing. The day that we are rid of the anti-democratic absurdity of monarchy cannot come soon enough. And if Diana's performance this week helps bring on that day, it will have done endless good – however unpleasant the personality she revealed.

Friday, 17 November 1995


New Statesman & Society leader, 17 November 1995

The Queen's Speech was a damp squib – so now all the Tories' hopes rest on Kenneth Clarke's budget

This week's Queen's Speech has been attacked by Labour for containing nothing at all relevant to the problems confronting Britain, and rightly so. With a handful of somewhat banal exceptions – such as the long-overdue rationalisation of divorce law and the belated bill on the Channel tunnel rail link – the sole purpose of the legislation that the government plans to introduce in the final full session of this parliament is to embarrass New Labour.

 Whether Tony Blair and friends will be embarrassed is another matter entirely. They certainly shouldn't be too worried by most of the promised legislation. Extending the "right-to-buy" for housing-association tenants, for example, is almost laughable as a keynote housing policy – not so much because it is wrong in principle (it isn't, necessarily) but because it so completely fails to grasp the mood of the times.

In the wake of the housing market slump, few housing-association tenants want to buy. Most feel rather pleased that they have managed to avoid the fate of their owner-occupier friends. And extending housing-association tenants' right-to-buy does little to encourage construction of more homes, which, as everyone knows, is the only way to tackle homelessness.

Similarly, the Tories' mean-spirited measures to make life even more difficult for immigrants and asylum-seekers should cause Labour few problems, just as long as it sticks to principled opposition. The same goes for the proposed criminal justice legislation to limit the access of the defence in trials to prosecution documents, and indeed for the plan to give a new anti-crime role to Ml5 – which is far less accountable than the police to democratically elected politicians. It's not "soft on crime" to believe that defendants in trials should know the case against them or to think that action against international organised crime should not be handed over to the security service. And it should not be beyond the capacity of Labour's front bench to denounce the Tories' proposals on immigrants and asylum-seekers for making scapegoats of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Education is more of a danger for Labour, although only on grant-maintained schools (and the difficulty there is less that Labour policy is a problem in itself than that the policy seems to be at odds with Tony Blair's choice for his own son). The Tories' nursery-education voucher scheme looks like what it is, a cheapskate attempt to buy off discontent at Britain's miserable education provision for the under-fives, and Labour should have no difficulty showing that its alternative, expanding state nursery provision, is infinitely preferable.

Which leaves only the proposals to ease restrictions on media ownership, where the Tories hope that Labour will be torn between its distrust of media barons and its desire not to offend them in the run-up to the election. This is probably the most dangerous of all the 15 bills for Labour, simply because its own policy is at such an embryonic stage – but predictions of a revolt of left-wingers accusing the party leadership of selling out to Murdoch could easily prove to be Tory wishful thinking.

 If New Labour has a single defining characteristic, it is that it is desperate to win, and a little hard swallowing over media regulation isn't difficult to do. As an indication of what to expect, look at the response – or rather the lack of one – to Tony Blair's speech to the Confederation of British Industry.

Even five years ago, his explicit embrace of "caring capitalism" would have unleashed a storm of protest from Labour's left. This week, there wasn't a squeak, not even about Blair's apparent backtracking on implementation of the social chapter and the minimum wage. What Tony says, goes – even if what he says is that Labour has embraced the values and practices of continental Christian Democracy.

So does that mean that the Tories might as well aban¬don hope of doing Labour serious damage? Not quite. There is still Kenneth Clarke's budget later this month –  and after that perhaps another one in a year. Clarke does not have a great deal of room for manoeuvre, but he has enough to make significant tax cuts, probably to be phased in over a couple of years. Then, the Tories hope, he will be able to challenge Labour to say whether it would reverse his tax cuts. If Labour says yes, it's damned again as the high-tax party, and if it says no, it has to accept his cuts in expenditure too.

It is a pretty crude game – and it's immensely dull to watch. But that doesn't mean it won't work, particularly after people start to see the extra money in their wage packets and salary cheques next spring. Even if the Queen's Speech was a damp squib, the Tories still have enough dry powder at least to give Labour a fright.

Friday, 3 November 1995


New Statesman & Society, 3 November 1995

In the week of the first anniversary of the Criminal Justice Act, the silencing of Clare Short on cannabis shows that it is not just the Tories who have an authoritarian tendency. Paul Anderson and Steve Platt look at the continuing assault on our civil liberties

“We have had telephones tapped, mail inter­cepted and the citi­zens' privacy invaded by vetters and compilers of files. We have had official secrets privily leaked to right-wing columnists by persons in high pub­lic office or in the armed services, and we have seen no trace of even-handedness in the application of justice. We have had several persons (in Newcastle, Liverpool, Southall and Glasgow) who appear to have died at the hands of the police, and others who have been severely injured, and we have had neither prosecutions nor public inquiry . . . The state of the nation is no longer in question. That has already been decided, although it may never be clear by whom or how. The nation is to be a property managed by the state. And the state is to be a station of Nato, a station with a blue light over the door and sirens moaning in every street."

So wrote the late E P Thompson in a cel­ebrated extended essay, "The State of the Nation", published first as a series in New Society in late 1979 and the next year whole in his best-selling collection Writ­ing by Candlelight. In the introduction to the book, Thompson said that the pes­simism of "The State of the Nation" was "excessive", but there can be no doubt that he was expressing the feelings of most civil libertarians at the time.

The cold war had entered a distinctly chillier and more dangerous phase. As Thompson wrote his polemic, Nato was putting the finishing touches to its announcement of the deployment of cruise and Pershing 11 missiles in Europe and the Soviet leadership was preparing to invade Afghanistan  – and Britain had just elected a party to government that, for all its rhetorical anti-statism, was more authoritarian in intent than any that had taken office since the early 19th century. Margaret Thatcher had come to power on a promise of ending Britain's crisis of "ungovernability", by cracking down on union militancy, subversion and immigration. Now, as her govern­ment announced a massive injection of money into the police, it appeared that the shift to authoritarianism was for real.

Worse, there didn't seem to be a viable alternative. Labour had been in power for the five years before Thatcher's election, and had itself presided over an erosion of civil liberties unprecedented in modern peacetime. There had been a string of high-profile political trials – of young Irish men and women accused of plant­ing bombs in Birmingham and Guild-ford, of pacifists for alleged incitement to disaffection of troops sent to Northern Ireland, of radical journalists for reveal­ing official secrets, of anarchists for sup­posedly conspiring "with persons unknown" to cause explosions. Labour had introduced the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act to deal with insurgency in Northern Ireland and had accepted the previous Tory government's abandon­ment of jury trial for terrorism cases in the province. The "public order" role of the police had been massively expanded, without any improvement of police accountability. As Thompson put it: "The injury to liberty, the corruption, and the law-and-order cant has come from an all-party 'consensus'."

Much that has subsequently hap­pened, from the raft of legislation against trade unionism to last year's Criminal Justice Act and the current plans for fur­ther curbs on the rights of asylum-seek­ers, bears out the concerns that Thomp­son articulated. But there was one very important change for the better that nei­ther he nor anyone else writing about civil liberties at the time predicted: the Labour Party renounced its practice in govern­ment in the 19705 and rediscovered the libertarianism that had moved it when Roy Jenkins was Harold Wilson's home secretary in the 1960s.

This was partly because of the election of Michael Foot, a veteran civil libertar­ian, as Labour leader. But more impor­tant by far was the revulsion among Labour's grassroots at the authoritarianism of their party in government. Long  after Foot had gone, and long after the other totems of party members' antipathy to the 1974-79 Labour government had been discarded  – the Alternative Eco­nomic Strategy, unilateral nuclear disar­mament, withdrawal from Europe  –  Labour remained an unmistakably civil-libertarian party. By 1992, it was commit­ted to a Bill of Rights, a Freedom of Infor­mation Act and a "positive framework" for workers' and trade union rights.

Not that it made a lot of difference to the Tories. Since 1979, they have consis­tently strengthened the surveillance-and-control institutions of the state, introduc­ing along the way a vast amount of legislation restricting civil liberties. Police pow­ers and resources have increased inex­orably, and the police have adopted an ever more military approach to their pub­lic order functions. Despite the end of the cold war and a series of scandals, the secu­rity services have escaped both severe budget cuts or effective scrutiny. The prison population has gone up and up, with the exception of a brief period fol­lowing the Strangeways riot, and now stands at an all-time high of 52,000.

A procession of legislation (see over) has restricted the collective and individ­ual rights of workers; other laws have withdrawn rights from refugees, immi­grants and asylum-seekers. Last year's Criminal Justice Act effectively put an end to freedom of assembly, severely cur­tailed freedom of movement, put limits on the right to jury trial and undermined the right of people under arrest to remain silent. Already tough laws on official secrecy have been made even tougher  –  and curtailments of liberties introduced as part of the struggle against Northern Ireland terrorism remain in place. Almost unnoticed, Europe-wide security and surveillance institutions account­able to no one have mushroomed and acquired wide-ranging powers.

Of course, we are not yet living in a police state or anything like one  – and in some areas there have been small gains for civil libertarians: the reduction of the age of consent for homosexual men from 21 to 18, data protection legislation, video recordings of police interrogations and so forth. But when it comes to civil liber­ties, the overall balance sheet of 16 years of "the free economy and the strong state", as Andrew Gamble described the Tories' ideological recipe, is negative. If E P Thompson's 1979 nightmare has not come to pass, his warnings about the state's encroachments on the freedoms essential for any genuinely democratic polity are as apposite as ever. Certainly one would not expect Labour to be relax­ing its civil-libertarian stance.

Yet that seems to be precisely what it has been doing recently. It's not that it has officially given up on civil liberties. The formal policies remain much as they were in the run-up to the 1992 general election. But there has been a big change in the way that policies are presented.

Ever since Tony Blair became shadow
home secretary in 1992, the emphasis of Labour's home affairs team has been on how tough the party is on crime. Civil lib­erties have been consciously downplayed.

Thus, last year Labour decided to abstain on the third reading of the Crimi­nal Justice Bill rather than oppose it – a decision justified by Blair on the grounds that, although the bill contained much that Labour disliked and would repeal in office, the party didn't want to scupper some of the provisions of which it approved (such as the reduction in the homosexual age of consent). Thus, too, the bizarre outburst by Blair's successor as shadow home secretary, Jack Straw, this summer, when he called for a clamp-down on graffiti artists, "winos and addicts", aggressive beggars and wind­screen "squeegee merchants". Ditto this week's rush to disown Clare Short's broadcast remarks to the effect that it is at least worth considering the possibility of decriminalising cannabis.

Of course, there are electoral reasons for the shift of emphasis. There are far more voters who are worried about street crime and burglaries than are concerned about developments in public-order policing, or even qualifications to the right to silence – and all the opinion poll evidence in the late 1980s and early 1990s suggested that a substantial section of the population reckoned that Labour was "soft on crime". In these circumstances, it's hardly surprising that Blair decided to toughen up the party's image.

The worry, however, is that the shift in emphasis from civil liberties to crime is not simply a matter of choosing the part of the Labour home affairs menu that best stimulates the public's taste-buds, but is rather a reflection of a deeper change in the way that the upper echelons of the Labour Party are thinking about the world. An indication that this is the case is the growing enthusiasm among senior Labour politicians – most notably Blair himself  – for the communitarianism extolled by Amitai Etzioni and others in the US, with its emphasis on "responsibilities as well as rights".

It's easy enough to see why Blair and others are impressed by Etzioni and friends. The rhetoric of communitarianism was undoubtedly useful to Bill Clin­ton in his 1992 election campaign, and there are many parallels between Clin­ton's predicament in the run-up to 1992 and Blair's today. Like the Democrats, Labour has suffered as the credibility of big-government welfare Keynesianism has been destroyed – partly through the sheer unpopularity of high (or, indeed, any) taxes, partly through the intellectual and political ascendancy of the new right, partly through the process of economic globalisation. Like the Democrats, Labour has been effectively attacked by conservatives for tolerating family break­down, antisocial behaviour and criminal­ity. The rhetoric of responsibility and community has an obvious appeal to cen­tre-left politicians anywhere in the indus­trialised world who doubt their ability to generate full employment or sustain the welfare state – and who desperately need a pitch that addresses popular anxieties about drugs, violence and social disorder.

But there are also big differences between the US and Britain. In the US, rights are written into the constitution. Here, there is no written constitution. This means that many of the things the communitarians identify as symptoms of the imbalance of rights and duties in American life – from the legally encour­aged gun culture to the use of the consti­tution to prevent effective police action against organised crime – are not prob­lems here. It also means that the commu­nitarians take for granted all of the advan­tages of American political culture, in particular the guarantees of freedom of expression and relative openness of gov­ernment, that Britain does not enjoy. Even if the communitarians are right in the US – and plenty of civil-libertarians argue that their ideas and practice are unacceptable – their prescriptions are not necessarily applicable here.

To be fair, there is no sign yet that Labour has swallowed communitarian-ism whole. Blair has declared himself a communitarian, and Straw has enthused about "an approach that puts the stress equally on rights and duties". But both deny that they have any enthusiasm for some of the more contentious ideas to come out of American communitarian circles (let alone for the death penalty, used so cynically by Clinton in his election campaign). At this year's Labour conference, some of the shadow cabinet members closest to Blair appeared on civil-libertarian fringe platforms, and Straw has commissioned Liberty (for­merly the National Council for Civil Lib­erties) to come up with ideas for no-cost civil liberties measures that could be imple­mented early in a Labour government.

If he's not simply trying to keep Liberty busy to shut it up, that process, together with Labour's existing commitments, should yield a radical reform package. The problem, put simply, is that civil libertari-anism now seems so low on Labour's list of priorities that it would not surprise anyone if the reform package never saw the light of day. That's certainly how it looks to the ravers, the travellers, the squatters and the protesters targeted by the Criminal Justice Act – even if there isn't anyone of the stature of E P Thomp­son around these days to express their fears in print.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act is a year old today (3 November). Over the past 12 months, according to a new report by Liberty*, the act's "aggravated trespass" provisions against forms of peaceful protest have resulted in the arrest of 86 environmental and anti-nuclear protesters, 107 anti-roads protesters and 153 hunt saboteurs. There have been 93 reported evictions of travellers under the parts of the act that created new legal powers against those who lead a mobile lifestyle. Smaller numbers of arrests have occurred under the provisions against "trespassory assembly", raves and squatting. And, of course, the threat of the act has been used on many more occasions in pursuit of a nationwide clampdown on diversity and dissent. 
 This summer, for example, saw one of the most highly coordinated national police operations to prevent a peaceful protest since the miners' strike. The weekend of 7 July saw police forces throughout southern and central England mobilised in a series of raids, roadblocks, searches and seizures to halt the" Mother", a planned massive free-festival protest against the Criminal Justice Act.
 At 6.30 that Friday morning, following an extensive surveillance and intelligence operation, officers from the Metropolitan and Hampshire police battered down the door of United Systems of Sound activist, Debbie Staunton. The same day, Michelle Poole, of the Advance Party campaign group, returned home to find officers from three different police forces bagging up her possessions, even seizing the pictures from her  wall. She told Squall magazine: "They made no secret that they' d been watching us for days; they were even boasting about the transcripts of my telephone calls that they'd taped."
 At one of the planned venues for the event, police used section 64 of the act to seize £9,000 worth of equipment belonging to the Black Moon Sound System from Derby-despite the fact that it had not even been used. Roadblocks set up exclusion zones around potential sites, and sections 63 (giving the police powers to direct people to leave land) and 70 ("trespassory assembly") of the act were deployed against the people who turned up.
 Michelle Poole and Debbie Staunton have since been charged with "conspiracy to commit a public nuisance". Although a series of smaller parties still took place at various venues overthatweekend, the police operation succeeded in its main intent-to prevent the large-scale protest festival that had been planned.
 Police use of the act has been less effective, though, in obtaining convictions. The first trial of someone charged with trespassory assembly-"King Arthur Uther Pendragon", who was arrested with 27 other people at Stonehenge on 20 June  – was thrown out by Salisbury magistrates in September. And although a subsequent case relating to an earlier "prohibited assembly" at Stonehenge resulted in two convictions, those convicted have pledged to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. Among the 346 cases of people arrested for aggravated trespass monitored by Liberty, more than half have had the charges against them dropped. Only 12 hunt saboteurs – out of l53 charged – have so far been convicted. Similarly low conviction rates are expected in the other categories. The first Criminal Justice Act case against squatters also collapsed in Bristol last month. 
Police use of the act has been patchy. While Kent police have arrested 62 anti-roads protesters atthe Thanet Way site, for example, the Metropolitan and Lancashire Police, who policed the M11 and M65 protests, have not used the aggravated trespass provisions. Some police forces even seem to have decided not to use the act at all, arguing, as Liberty put it, that "the law is too impractical to enforce, or thatthey have insufficient manpowerto implement it".
 Nonetheless, in many areas the police appear to have taken it upon themselves to interpret the new law as outlawing all forms of protest that take place without their consent. Liberty cites examples of a man being arrested for aggravated trespass while he was on a public road and of a Dover residentwho was arrested for wearing a "Ban Live Exports" T-shirt "outside the designated protest area". Other arrests have included 15 Greenpeace activists at Sellafield, 19 protesters against an opencast mine in Leeds, and nine people protesting against the felling of trees originally planted at Petersfield cemetery as a permanent memorial for Canadian second world war servicemen.
 Those who are charged often find that the new police powers to impose bail conditions are more onerous than the laws they are accused of offending against. Increasingly, the police are imposing conditions that amount to prohibitions on people being involved in further protests. In January, a Glasgow man was jailed for refusing the bail condition "not to approach, obstruct or interfere with any Wimpey construction site". He told Liberty: "Conditions were ridiculously vague. I could be arrested for walking out of my house in the direction of the site." A woman in Kent, meanwhile, was instructed "not to go within half a mile" of a road construction site-even though she lived closer to the site than that.
 The anti-roads campaign group, Road Alert, has said that "the effect of the bail conditions has been to totally immobilise some of our protests". But Liberty points out that roads protests are as prevalent as a year ago and arguably more organised. People who have fallen foul of the new law in different ways, moreover, have discovered a common cause as they find their activities outlawed. Far from clamping down on peaceful protest, the legislation has contributed to an upsurge in involvement. "Thousands of people who have never protested about anything before in their lives were outraged by petty legal restrictions and heavy-handed policing because they had previously believed that the right to protest was part of their heritage, "says Liberty. "Instead, they discovered that it's something they' re only allowed to do on certain days of the week, at the right time, in the designated area, in the approved manner, with advance notice, when they haven't got a court case pending."
 And support for peaceful protest is growing, in parallel with the increasingdisenchantment with traditional vehicles for political action. ADaily Telegraph/Gallup poll in June showed that 68 per cent of the public believe that there are times when protesters are justified in breaking the law-prompting a thunderous response from the Telegraph leader-writer: "Middle England needs the Riot Act read to it. The belief that it is sometimes right to break the law as a protest has spread from the traditionally more anarchic classes – students, trades unionists, unilateralists – to embrace all sections of opinion, including those who used to know better. "
 Every cloud has a silver lining. The Criminal Justice Act may not have been all bad, after all.