Wednesday, 30 September 2009

A Totalitarian Agenda

Brown reveals his hidden authoritarian
Wed Sep 30 12:01PM
Brown's plans to tackle anti-social behaviour and teen pregnancy are scary, dangerous and Stalinist.

By Ian Dunt

It's rarely words that give it away. It's the assumptions behind the words

Gordon Brown gave civil libertarians some breadcrumbs in his speech to conference today. For one thing, ID cards will not be made compulsory in the next parliament, although Alan Johnson had already announced this.

On biometric passports, Brown promised no further information would be required than that needed for current passports. The idiocy of this statement is immediately obvious. If the passport includes biometric information it will necessarily have more information than the previous passports, which didn't. Hence the name.

But it wasn't the flimsy nature of the liberal offerings which gave the game away - it was the assumptions. This is the policy, announced today, on teenage pregnancy: Parents on benefits between the age of 16 and 17-years-old will be put in shared, supervised housing where they will "learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly".

Yes, we have a problem with teenage pregnancy in this country. And we have a problem with anti-social behaviour. It's also quite clear these two issues are linked up together, although which is a cause of which is difficult to establish. Presumably they endlessly cause each other. But Brown's solution to this problem tells us everything we need to know about him; it tells us the assumptions he works under. He believes the state has all the answers. That it can monitor and re-educate people - for that is precisely what is being proposed. That it has the moral right to come and take away people who happen to be poor and pregnant and forcibly re-house them. That the state knows how to parent. That the state is always right. A stark and dangerous new line is being crossed.

There was a hint of what was to come earlier in the speech when he described the market. It's a passage intended for a totally different demographic - lefties and trade unionists and those undone by the financial crisis, basically. He believes in state action in this area, so it's perfectly coherent - necessary even - for him to believe in state action in correcting societal problems.

This thinking has always been foolish nonsense. The state's role in the economy has no moral or political equivalence to its role in society's affairs. Only Stalinists and mad right-wing libertarians (social Darwinists, to all intents and purposes) believe otherwise.

The plan was coupled with a raft of other measures to tackle anti-social behaviour. Parents of children who breach Asbos will be given orders along with their kids. Asbos themselves managed to dissolve basic legal standards, for example by instigating legal proceedings on actions which weren't actually crimes and allowing hearsay evidence into proceedings. We can now see where that reasoning has taken us. People are going to be punished despite having done nothing wrong.

There is a crime known as negligence. This is a suitable vehicle with which to tackle the parents who allow children to run wild. Simply punishing them for being related to someone is a dangerous legal precedent.

Last year, Brown addressed the Broken Britain agenda during his conference speech as well, although in a far more fleeting manner than he did today.

"Nothing has ever broken this country," he roared. It affected me, because I'm liable to be moved by patriotic sentiment. Minutes afterwards I realised the rhetorical trick he had used. He had swapped one thing - patriotism - for another - crime - and used a linguistic sleight to mask it. I remember feeling angry. He had used my patriotism against me.

Today he took a different approach to a Conservative agenda which Labour strategists clearly believe to be a vote winner. He finally addressed anti-social behaviour and Broken Britain. And he did it in the most dangerous, illiberal way imaginable.

After a decade in power, Mr Brown suddenly realised he was far further to the left than he previously thought, and we saw the results in his conference speech last year. Suddenly greedy bankers and unrestrained markets were the bad guys, not the saints they had previously been made out to be. Now he realises that anti-social behaviour has to be addressed, something he seemed disinterested in until now.

But nothing has changed. The ruthless, authoritarian heart of this government is still in place.

It's not in the words. It's in the assumptions.

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