go to the home page
see what Ruth is up to links to all Ruth's non-fiction publications links to all Ruth's crime fictions titles links to most of Ruth's journalist over the last four years
Saturday 18 August 2007

Time to start pounding away at Gordon Brown

After 10 years of a centre ever-so-slightly Left government and 20 months of a centre ever-so-slightly Right opposition, political debate is still bizarrely focused on who is to the Right of whom. Politicians run round and round a tiny centre patch plotting to steal each other's clothing and Brown's Labour floods the media with allegations that Cameron's Conservatives are lurching to the right. "Faced with turmoil in his party, Cameron is abandoning the centre ground in favour of the hard Right, anti-European agenda that failed previous Tory leaders" is John Hutton's response to John Redwood's tax proposals.

As a minister in a government whose expansion of the PFI is hitting health and education budgets, Hutton can hardly allege that Redwood's plan to involve the private sector in improving the infrastructure is Right-wing. He must be referring to Redwood's plans to cut bureaucracy and onerous pointless legislation.

Political discourse is in an intellectual muddle. Since Tony Blair and Gordon Brown took over Labour, our political divide has had little to do with Left and Right: in matters economic, we are all centralists now. The true division is between authoritarian and libertarian, a fact that Brown, even more authoritarian than Blair, is desperate to conceal. The Tories, although by instinct more libertarian than Labour, haven't got the hang of this yet. But a country that is allowing its civil liberties to be eroded by stealth is a country that needs its politicians to debate the divide we have now, not the divide of the 1980s.

Politics watchers could usefully look at www.politicalcompass.org, and discover where they fit on a Left-Right, authoritarian-libertarian graph. Left to right - from communism to neo-liberalism - is the horizontal line: authoritarian to libertarian - from fascism to anarchism - the vertical. Stalin and Gandhi were both Left-wing, but way apart on the appropriate methods of imposing their Left-wingery.

Stalin's belief that the state was more important than the individual led him to mass murder and a place at the top of the authoritarian scale, while Gandhi's belief in the supreme value of every individual has him nestling down in the libertarian-Left, above the Dalai Lama. There's nothing Right-wing about authoritarianism, as those good socialists Robert Mugabe and Pol Pot could tell you.

You take the test by assessing statements such as "Land shouldn't be a commodity to be bought or sold" or "All authority should be questioned". I emerged as slightly Right-wing and strongly social libertarian, which is where I'd expect to find many readers of this newspaper. Looked at from that perspective, while Redwood is to the right of Hutton in his proposals for reducing regulations, he is primarily challenging the authoritarianism of a government that believes in controlling all aspects of our lives.

When Brown became PM, he made libertarian noises about more power for Parliament and the revision of curbs on demonstrating near Westminster and then showed himself the unrelenting authoritarian he really is by saying he would go ahead with ID cards as well as seeking 56-days detention without charges. This is the same Brown who will try to block a referendum on the EU treaty.

What's more, authoritarianism is contagious and takes strange and sinister forms, especially when it comes to the suppression of free speech.

New Labour has form here, having embraced the corruption of honest discourse - otherwise known as political correctness - and spread it throughout our public services. The British police, who for 170 years or so have been more or less following Sir Robert Peel's sensible instructions to be utterly impartial in the upholding of the law, have been so pressurised into becoming sensitive to contentious issues of sex and race that they act like social engineers. The worst crime in the view of some of our more intellectually challenged police is that of offending anyone from an ethnic minority.

Take what happened with the West Midland Police, the Crown Prosecution Service and a Dispatches programme called Undercover Mosque. The fascinating and balanced programme included alarming footage of Islamist fanatics preaching disgusting sermons, but having failed to find enough evidence to prosecute the preachers, the police and the CPS decided to investigate instead the possibility of prosecuting the programme makers for stirring up racial hatred. They couldn't find any evidence of any offence, but none the less, although they had no right to do so, they referred the programme to Ofcom.

The message sent out by this trampling on journalistic freedom is profoundly dangerous. Extremists preachers can sleep easier, now that they have been classed as victims; investigative journalists will have to tread very carefully; and the public will have to wrestle with the knowledge that free speech is for the mad and dangerous, not the sane and law-abiding.

One of the consequences of terrorism is that it gives government excuses to curb our liberty. What the opposition parties might think of doing now is to review government and public sector decisions according to the authoritarian-libertarian scale, and to pound away at Gordon Brown, the authoritarian's authoritarian.

Brown is a decent man who will never make it to the top of the scale, since he would take a dim view of mass murder, but in his belief that he knows what is best for us and his obsession with micro-managing all our lives, he is an authoritarian of alarming proportions.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards