Blairism is simply Thatcherism administered by do-gooders

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The Independent Online

Yesterday, Tony Blair drew the attention of Labour members in Glasgow to record lows on inflation, interest rates and unemployment. Their party had become the party of "economic credibility". This was, he said, "the biggest strategic shift of my political life".

Yesterday, Tony Blair drew the attention of Labour members in Glasgow to record lows on inflation, interest rates and unemployment. Their party had become the party of "economic credibility". This was, he said, "the biggest strategic shift of my political life".

He's right. It is amazing that Labour is now considered to be the party best equipped to protect and nurture Britain's aggressive market economy, to preside over record sales of champagne, foster massive increases in the consumption of caviar, and create an explosion in home-grown millionaires.

In statistical terms, such conspicuous consumption looks even more vulgarly impressive. According to the New Statesman, the 600,000 richest people in Britain doubled their wealth in the first six years of Labour rule, to £797bn. The bad news is that the share belonging to the poorest 50 per cent halved from 10 per cent in 1986 to 5 per cent in 2002, although the situation has been improving very slightly for people with families.

But guess what? The top fifth of earners pay a smaller proportion of their income in tax - 34 per cent - than the bottom fifth, who pay 42 per cent. The gap between rich and poor in Britain is now as great as it was at any time since the 1930s.

This explains why our prosperous society continues to be beset by so many ugly problems. Debate is dominated by the disciplinary breakdown in state education, the rise in criminal convictions, the crisis in mental health, the coarsening of our popular culture. There has even been much attention drawn to the development of "chav culture", with some commentators suggesting that this new lexicon is just the latest way of demeaning the working class.

It is not. Instead it is a charitable response to the massive increase in comparative impoverishment among the least fortunate swath of the population. Those who attempt to justify this phenomenon are as misguided as those who seek to sow derision. It is morally wrong that so many people are being excluded from this revolution in "economic credibility". It is also, practically speaking, a disaster.

For what Labour's ideology is doing is even worse than simply creating poverty. It is creating the impression that the poor have only themselves to blame, while at the same time gearing all public services towards patronising and excusing the individuals they are collectively selling down the river.

This explains the massive reliance in drug "rehab" on prescribing people with different, legal drugs, instead of persuading them they can rebuild their lives without drugs. It explains the inability of the education system to teach so many people to read, so busy are educationalists concentrating on not making anyone feel that they might be less able than others.

These troubles are with us in the first place because of poverty. They are increasing because poverty is increasing. And political inability to admit this means that the right solution is never applied. Blairism is simply Thatcherism as administered by arrogant do-gooders, for whom the only deserving poor are innocent children. No wonder it's so repulsive.

At last, a public inquiry that is worth the money

* Until this week, nothing about the death of Zahid Mubarek made sense. It was unfathomable that a boy could have been jailed for six weeks in the first place for a first offence of petty theft and petty vandalism.

It was unfathomable that he should have found himself, within a hair's breadth of release, sharing a cell with a psychopathic racist, who managed to fashion a weapon and beat him to death without any warders' suspicions being aroused.

It was unfathomable that the investigation from the Commission for Racial Equality into how this lad had met his death turned out to be so unilluminating, with no one at Feltham Young Offenders' Institution able to shed very much light on how they failed so grotesquely in their duty of care.

At last, though, one person has come forward with a plausible explanation of how this awful murder came to pass. Warders, a senior official at the prison said yesterday, played a game they called Gladiator or Coliseum with their young inmates, putting unsuitable detainees together for fun.

Nobody else backs up this witness. But maybe, now, somebody will. This evidence has come about at a public inquiry, demanded by Mubarek's parents, in the face of great resistance. Everyone complains that public inquiries are expensive and time consuming. But as long as our public services remain unpredictable and dangerous, and unwilling to explain themselves fully when things go wrong, then we're stuck with them.

A threat unveiled

Somebody ought to tell Shabina Begum, who took her school to court in order to win the right to wear the jilbab, that the draping of women's bodies in enveloping folds is an Arab custom that predates Islam, along with other gems like denying them education at all.

And she's not the only one who needs to be reminded of this. A few years back, Cherie Blair helped her husband to launch a war by framing her eyes with her fingers as she vowed to help Afghan women to throw off their burqas and experience liberation from the shackles of Islamic fundamentalism.

Now it emerges that Begum had contacts with an extremist Islamic group set up by the militant cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed. She also claimed after the hearing that she had been a victim of "post-9/11 bigotry", even though her school had given her the option of a perfectly nice and modest shalwar kameez. I'm afraid my feeling is that Begum herself has been a victim of pre-Islamic bigotry, and that Ms Booth has been their willing dupe as well.

I know that many Muslims are uneasy about this case, and feel that it is going to make life in Britain harder for them rather than easier. The awful thing is, I fear, that this is exactly what it was designed to do. It's already, after all, working like a charm.

¿ The rise of "chav icons", from Wife Swap's Lizzie Bardsley to Big Brother's Jade Goody, above, via footballers and their wives, is just a new take on the old divide-and-rule. For many of the poorest, these stars "prove" that education and sophistication are unnecessary if you want to be rich and glamorous, while for the privileged they simply confirm that you can take the girl out of the estuary, but ... Either view simply confirms that the gulf in understanding between rich and poor in this country is perilously wide, and characterised by wilful misunderstanding on both sides.

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