Tweedledum and Tweedledee seek your votes
The singular achievement of Tony Blair and his new right movement is the convergence of British parliamentary politics into two almost identical factions. While journalists try to offer the pretence of choice, the public is more aware than ever of the charade, and its "apathy" is little different from the cynicism of people in openly fake democracies such as the United States.
Here and there are shades of choice, often with Labour to the right of the Tories, although this is not reported. The illusion of a "left-of-centre" government versus a mad-dog opposition is important to liberal journalists. The Daily Mail and the Murdoch press know otherwise, having long recognised Blair's achievement. In health and education, Labour has promoted privatisation, the core of far-right ideology, more widely and rapidly than Thatcher or Major dared. John Prescott's determination to privatise the London Underground and air traffic control, in spite of the blood spilt on the privatised railways and an almost universal public opposition, is a measure of the extremism that now permeates the Labour Party. Prescott's recent oafish act was a blessed diversion. He and that other tribune of the working class, Clare Short, are vital players of the new right, as demonstrated by Short's aggressive promotion of the "global economy" as the "hope for the poor".
When Blair promises "true radicalism" in his next term, he speaks the truth. He means the radicalism of the far right. Take new Labour's importance to the Bush administration. This is not only its support for the extension of American military power into space, but the part Blair will play in dismantling EU trade controls and promoting the General Agreement on Trade and Services, or Gats, which smashes the last national barriers to multinational corporations' takeover of "services" - everything from schools to local film industries.
These contours of power are seldom traced in the media, thanks to an almost wilful blindness among establishment journalists that extends to the coming assault on journalism itself. The Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, and the Trade Secretary, Stephen Byers, have yet to be seriously challenged about legislation which, for the first time since broadcasting began in Britain, will unleash a commercialism that will make Rupert Murdoch feel that his long campaign to "open up" British broadcasting has reached its moment of triumph. A reading of their white paper, A New Future for Communications, leaves this in little doubt. The BBC is to fall under the Competition Act, and the government will have the power to judge new BBC services for their "market impact". The Tories never went this far. In the last parliament before Labour came to power, a Tory minister argued the case for regulation against a Labour frontbencher demanding "freedom" for the likes of Murdoch.
Labour's extreme Toryism is a matter of record. Blair has spent less on health and education than Thatcher and Major. In the financial year before last, Labour spent £3.5bn less (once you account for inflation) than in all but one of the 18 years the Tories were in power. The gulf between rich and poor has grown faster under Blair and Brown than under Major, reports the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The richest fifth of the population have seen their after-tax income grow almost three times faster than under the Tories. Brown says he wants to be remembered for "abolishing pensioner poverty". The IFS study shows that the number of pensioners living in poverty has increased by 40,000 under Labour.
Lesser-of-two-evilism, as a justification for voting, is not quite dead in this country, but almost. What will hurt Labour is turncoatism. This is a corruption distinct from the brown envelopes type, but more serious for a party whose credibility still rests, for many people, on its moral authority. There are millions of Labour voters who still like to distinguish their representatives from the Tories by a test of principle. Some political pirouetting is tolerated, but consistent, shameless betrayal is not.
A directory of the turncoats has been compiled by the Guardian's diarist Matthew Norman. For months, Norman has been running a hilarious Turncoat of the Year competition (or is it now Turncoat of Turncoats?), which has nominated Peter Hain for his famous conversion from principled activist to enthusiastic apologist for the Foreign Office and its murderous policy on Iraq, and Kim Howells for his brilliant career move from militant Welsh NUM picket to Blair's minister for competitiveness. In this capacity, he defended the government's policy of denying vaccines to Iraqi children.
Robin Cook was a newly elected MP in 1978 when he wrote this in the New Statesman: "It is a truism that every war for the past two decades has been fought by poor countries with weapons supplied by rich countries." Singling out the dictatorship in Indonesia, Cook pointed out that the supply of British-made Hawk aircraft to Suharto would have "devastating potential" against those fighting for their freedom in East Timor. Speed on to 1997, and Cook's first overseas trip as Foreign Secretary was to Indonesia, to shake hands warmly with Suharto, a genocidist. (The photograph of this illustrated the Foreign Office's annual report on human rights.) On his return, Cook secretly approved 11 new arms contracts to Indonesia, including bombs and ammunition. Lamenting that he could not legally stop a contract, signed by the previous government, to supply Hawk aircraft to Indonesia, he said nothing when Suharto's minister for defence announced that talks were already under way with Britain for 18 more Hawk aircraft than were contracted with the Tories. This was in the week that Cook announced the "ethical dimension" to his foreign policy. The former CND member has recently indicated his approval of Bush's maniacal Star Wars plans.
So who will be the Turncoat of Turncoats? Is "John is John" Prescott a chin in front? "Let me make it crystal clear," he boomed at the party conference in 1993, "that any privatisation of the railway system that does take place will, on the arrival of a Labour government, be quickly and effectively dealt with . . . and be returned to public ownership." The dead of Ladbroke Grove and Hatfield are his witness. Their legacy is that Prescott has not resigned honourably, nor was he sacked for his part in their tragedy.
I calculate that, out of 418 Labour members of the Commons, there are just six who have held to true principles. They are: Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn, Tam Dalyell, George Galloway, Alice Mahon and John McDonnell. Most of the rest began by voting for cuts in benefits to single mothers, then proceeded to back the cluster-bombing of civilians in Yugoslavia and the economic killing of children in Iraq. Or they remained silent. They include almost all the new female MPs. Watching Yvette Cooper, the Blairite minister, take her maternity leave with a media fanfare, I could not help thinking of the unborn Serb and Iraqi children killed by policies she supported. As for Blair, although he pretended to be a socialist in the early 1980s, he has no record of clear principles upon which to renege. Like Thatcher, he has always been a "modern" Tory, if by another name.
These are surreal political times, but they are hopeful, too. All over the world, the young are stirring again. They so frighten the new Blairite right that 10,000 police had to be deployed to imprison them for eight hours in Oxford Street. It is these young people, true internationalists from London and La Paz, Quito and Pretoria, who are putting the questions that journalists and politicians ignore. Their politics are neither trivial nor incoherent, as some have claimed, simply the antithesis of those of the Tweedledee and Tweedledum currently seeking your vote.