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Home > Politics

Tony Blair: Haven't we been here before

3 September 2004

Tony Blair is back from holiday, refreshed, recharged and with a brand new 'to do' list. So what's on it? Apparently yobs, Northern Ireland, the hunting ban, and the TUC and Labour conferences. It's good to see that everything's worked out fine in Iraq and so we don't need to worry our little heads about that any more. We were silly to get all hot and bothered about it, weren't we?

It's hard not to be a little cynical about Tony's latest, rather familiar, crusades. If you've been following government policy recently, it seems that yobs are performing broadly the same function for New Labour that the Jews did for the Nazis. And you don't even need to make yobs wear a yellow (Burberry?) star - they all wear yob uniform anyway. It's as though they go to some army-style quartermasters run by JJB Sports and Primark.

Of course, yobs are a real problem. This week there was a particularly horrid story in the papers about a 32-year-old bloke who challenged a gang of teenage drug dealers. The dealers later hospitalised him in a baseball attack in front of his kids. The man was obviously deeply traumatised by the attack, and later killed himself.

This is an extreme example, but perhaps because we see so many examples of low-level yob behaviour, New Labour has twigged that yobs are a terrific electoral issue. This week, Tony laid into them, disingenuously claiming that yob culture 'doesn't always get the headlines'. This is a bit odd, considering yobs are in the papers more often than Wayne 'Piltdown Man' Rooney.

But surely we need a bit of perspective here - Tony claimed that yob families make life 'absolute hell'. What, with red hot pokers and demons and ironic punishments and everything?

The yob issue is in slight danger of being blown out of proportion. Little shits they may be, but it's worth remembering that yobs are often the product of childhoods that are so fucking depressing you just want to lock yourself indoors with the complete works of Enid Blyton and never come out. It's a deep-seated social problem, not just a criminal one.

There's also the problem - as with Terror - that the more the government hypes a problem, the more conspicuous their failure to solve it becomes. Which brings us neatly to fox hunting.

Like yobs, the issue of fox hunting has an air of weary familiarity about it. Banning fox hunting is a classic example of When Populism Goes Bad. Labour strategists clearly thought banning fox hunting would be terrifically popular. After all, we Brits love animals, especially Fantastic Mr Fox, and the people who hunt foxes are mainly posh twats and their untermensch supporters, and above all it's cruel.

However, the plan backfired because the public isn't quite as stupid as politicians think. Animal lovers we may be, but when the hunt lobby pointed out that jobs will be lost as a result of a ban, people started to have second thoughts. They also realised that banning fox hunting throws up some distinctly unresolved questions: is there a humane way of controlling the fox population? Do we ban all sports that involve harming animals? Do we outlaw game shooting? Fishing? Dressage? It doesn't actually harm the horses, but how would you like to spend every Saturday being made to walk posh with someone called Charlotte sitting on your shoulders?

There's also a sense of déjà vu about the conferences. Labour's conference is bound to be the usual stage-managed affair, with the only excitement coming from fringe meetings where some MP is bound to make an ill-considered, bizarro comment like 'Zionists control the weather.' And you can practically hear the debate at the TUC conference before it's happened:

Unison rep: My members work 200-hour weeks and live in a bucket of faeces. How can this be right?


Old school union rep: Comrades! It's time for the Allied Union of Bucketmakers and Sprocket Burnishers to bring down this Thatcherite government!


'Progressive' union rep: If we don't give up all our rights, all our cars will be made in the Philippines! Voting for the minimum wage is a vote for bamboo steering wheels!

As for Northern Ireland, well, it's just not fun anymore. Bombings aside, we look back fondly on the heady days when Iain Paisley routinely made comments like 'Mossis Thotcher is the dovil! Shay's sold us durn the rivor to the Papist bostards!', while the IRA added to the mirth with their hilariously arcane internecine wranglings, in which you ran the risk of getting your head blown off if you called someone a 'stickie'. (Learn more about 'stickies' here)

Maybe Blair could reduce the tedium quotient of these outstanding problems by solving them with a bit of lateral thinking.

Tony should put the IRA in charge of ASBOs. The IRA has been dispensing its own brand of tough love on council estate communities for years. Meanwhile fox hunters could be allowed to dispose of awkward trade unionists, by hunting them down with dogs. The foxes get off and the rural economy gets yet another
temporary reprieve.

And if these policies are deranged, who's going to complain about it? The careerist New Labour robots at conference? Not likely.



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