Friday, 25 March 2016

Mustn't take joy in Tory misfortunes. Must we?

Schadenfreude is the despicable emotion which leads us to take pleasure in the suffering of others.

Obviously, we ought to avoid it in all circumstances. At all times. That just has to be our rule.

Still, like all good rules, that one has to have exceptions, doesn’t it? And right up there with the most exceptional has to be the British Tory Party. In particular, those of its members who form the present enlightened government under which we groan. Sorry, prosper.

To be honest, I feel no shame over exulting in their discomfiture. They’re so self-satisfied, so certain of their entitlement to consideration and authority, so used to acting on their whims with complete impunity as to the consequences.

Besides, what’s happening to them is so much more commonly the destiny of the left, and in particular of the Labour Party. If there is one characteristic of a party of the left at any time, it’s that it is always being betrayed. Someone in its ranks is, it’s alleged, a crave backslider or a wild radical who risks derailing the movement in its mission. And that person is hated by someone else.

It’s a long tradition. Told that Nye Bevan, father of the NHS, was his own worst enemy, Ernie Bevin, who had been his ministerial colleague in the post-war Labour government, replied “not while I’m alive he isn’t.”

These internecine feuds rumble on for years. The whole Blair premiership was dominated by conflict between him and his Chancellor of the Exchequer and eventual successor, Gordon Brown. Even now, the conservative press has leaked a list of Labour MPs, drawn up by someone in the party, which categorises them by their loyalty or lack of it to the present leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

It’s not clear to me that drawing up such a list was ever a particularly judicious move. Wasn’t it obvious that someone would leak it? After all, we’re always being betrayed…

It’s exasperating that anyone thought this was a good idea, and what I’d really, really like to suggest is that people stop keeping records about people’s supposed loyalty and, equally, that the people who are perhaps not as loyal as one might wish, learn to put a sock in it and knuckle down and support our present leader. For better or for worse. After all, he’s the only leader we’ve got, and any move we made to replace him by someone else would provoke further bitter feuding that would do no one any favours but the Conservatives.

Besides, quite a lot of us think he’s not such a bad leader, and maybe we ought to give him a chance. 

In any case, it would be fun if those who seem intent on making life difficult for Corbyn, turned their ire – and their fire – instead on the other side. Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of having a go at each other, all of us in Labour concentrated on bringing down a Tory government all of us know needs to go?

We can do it. Take Angela Eagle, for instance. The other day she told Parliament:

Last Wednesday the Chancellor stood at that despatch box and delivered what he farcically claimed was: "a budget for the next generation."

What we actually got was a botched budget.

A Budget which has disastrously unravelled in just a few days.

Angela Eagle, putting the boot into an inept Chancellor
flanked by Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell
That’s the kind of thing we want to hear from leading Labour voices: picking up on the ineptitude of the Tories and powerfully, effectively denouncing it. She was helped by the incompetence with which George Osborne handled his hopelessly constructed budget, but it still took talent to wield the hatchet as Eagle did.

Which brings me back to the problems of Cameron’s party. Because as well as Angela Eagle’s comments I was delighted to read this assault:

This is not the way to do government…

I believe [Cameron and Osborne] are losing sight of the direction of travel they should be going...

But these remarks weren’t made by anyone in the Labour Party. They came from a former leader of the Tory Party, Iain Duncan Smith, who dramatically resigned from his position as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions last week.

Now, he has an axe to grind. He’s opposed to Britain’s membership of the EU, and his fellow Tories at the top of the party are in favour. His resignation may have been in part to serve the Brexit cause. But it contributes to the sense of disarray in Tory ranks, and that will only increase as the EU referendum approaches. That’s a wedge that Labour should be striving to drive deeper.

Meanwhile, other fissures are also opening up among Tories. Today we learned of the views of a Tory former head teacher and a member of Leicestershire County Council, where he takes a leading role on children’s and family matters. Ivan Ould was reacting to the decision by the government to force all schools to take ‘Academy’ status and therefore leave the control of councils such as Leicestershire’s. He commented:

This seems to be throwing out good practice for the sake of dogma and risking the possibility that standards may fall. I do not believe a system driven by dogma will meet the needs of children.

He’s so right. It’s dogma that drives this government, and centralisation of power: there’s absolutely no need to drive all schools to become Academie – indeed, one of the Academy chains that Cameron identified as exemplary has been placed under investigation for financial irregularities.

It’s dogma, too, that drives the constant obsession with austerity, despite six years of evidence that isn’t delivering growth or even reducing debt.

Taken together, the kind of Opposition Angela Eagle has shown Labour can still produce, and the internal attacks that the likes of Duncan Smith and Ould are launching, suggest that we can after all really do something about this dogmatic, inept government. Which is failing to meet the needs not just of children, but those of all but a tiny minority of the nation.

So I’m doing nothing to restrain my Schadenfreude over the Tories’ woes.

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