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Saturday, November 25, 2006 

Blair's "socialist" contracts.

One of Blair's other current feats of logic.

After 9 years of Labour, you would have thought that they'd got the crackpot headline grabbing schemes out of their system. In the past we've suffered from the possibility of the police marching "yobs" to ATMs in order to pay on the spot fines; it never materialised. Neither, thankfully, has "Sarah's law", as demanded by the News of the Screws, which was almost certain to lead to suspected paedophiles being strung up by their testicles from the nearest lamp-post.

Well, if you did believe that, then here's Mr Blair's so-called policy review to prove you wrong. Apparently convinced the public is lapping up their continued devotion to the idea behind "rights 'n' responsibilities", Labour's great new big idea appears to be the "social contract". The notion behind it, as explained by the Grauniad article is thus:

Examples include an expectation that a local health authority will only offer a hip replacement if the patient undertakes to keep their weight down. Parents might also be asked to sign individually tailored contracts with a school setting out what the parents must do at home to advance their child's publicly-funded education.

The review is likely to examine fundamentally the future relationship between citizen and state. The public service commission has been asked to consider "whether it is possible to move from an implicit one-way contract based on outputs, to one based on explicit mutually agreed outcomes". It asks "should we be aiming for a more explicit statement of the contract that covers both the service offered by the public sector (what is in and what is not) and what is expected from citizens (beyond paying taxes and obeying the law)". It also asks "whether these explicit and binding contracts could work not just for individuals and communities".

Filter out all the jargon, and what this essentially comes down to is that the government doesn't trust you to keep your end of the bargain. Apparently, instead of simply being expected not to break the law and pay your taxes, we have to do more. The state is doing all these wonderful things for us, and are we grateful? No, we're still as petulant and incalcitrant as ever. As we've already discovered this week, Labour especially doesn't like the way those either critical or indifferent towards it are going.

It seems to be the sure sign that Labour has completely run out of ideas. Thrashing about, trying desperately to come up with something both noteworthy and radical, it's instead a bizarre hybrid, something almost entirely meaningless but which also has sinister overtones. What could be more vacuous than a useless piece of paper agreement that you'll do something to make yourself a better citizen? At the same time, it signals a change in the relationship between the individual and the state. No longer does it seem can you just aimlessly but merrily work your way through life, going to school, getting a job, paying taxes, starting a family, etc, oh no. Now you have to sign on the dotted line and say that you solemnly promise that you won't let your children grow up to hang around on street corners, frightening the old folk. Want to use the maternity ward at the hospital? Fine, but first you have to say you won't smoke or get pissed while little Johnny is growing inside you. Want to protest outside parliament? Sure, but before you do, you have to ask that nice Commissioner Blair for his permission.

We had to sign something very similar to this at school. We had to promise that we wouldn't be late, that we'd wear the correct uniform, that we wouldn't swear at the teachers and that we'd do all our homework like good little girls and boys. Everyone signed it. Did anyone stick to it? Did they hell. It was a pointless exercise because there was no comeback on it. Even if there hadn't been the contract you still would have been punished for doing all the things you promised you wouldn't.

That right there is Blair's plan. It looks earnest and polite, yet like everything about New Labour, underneath the surface it stinks of old-fashioned authoritarianism. What do they honestly think such contracts will achieve? Will anybody take any notice of them? Of course not. If there was anything behind it, it would need to be backed up by real consequences, but if such consequences were there, it would mean the government removing services from perfectly law-abiding hard-working citizens. I may be taking this too seriously, but it almost seems to be designed to nip in the bud the difference between people, to root out individuality. It's society OK, but with Blairism stamped all over it. What a great potential legacy for the Dear Leader.

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Some of your posts, like this one paint/imply a very scarey picture of the future.
I would say you were a very good horror writer, if your observations weren't true.
Good posting, as ever.

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