Last week The Guardian carried the following two headline stories. The first was the on-going determination of the Brown government to whip the Parliamentary Labour party into supporting a period of six week internment; i.e. allowing police to hold and interrogate people for six weeks without charging them with any specific offence. The second was the decision of the justice ministry to commission several mega prison complexes for thousands of additional prisoners.
Matters have indeed reached a pretty pass when intensifying state repression becomes the leitmotif of Britain’s once progressive Labour Party. The new proposed pre-charge detention limits, opposed by the Tories, Liberals and most of the establishment, is Brown’s stubborn attempt to appear ‘tough on terrorism’ in the eyes of so-called Middle England. But just as his plan to raise tax on the low paid to fund a tax cut on the better off backfired, so this attempt to destabilise Britain’s now shaky civil liberties will generate no support for the Brown government.
And what of the new prison colonies? Nothing could signal more the total failure of New Labour’s social policy than the admission that Britain, which already incarcerates a higher proportion of its population than any other European country, needs tens to thousands of new prison places.
These policies are but pieces in New Labour’s reactionary and conservative jigsaw, all of which raise the question, ‘What is Labour for?’ With a recent poll putting Labour on 23 percent few people are attracted by these forms of bankrupt politicking being sold as high principle.