Deborah Orr: New Labour has only itself to blame

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The Independent Online

Labour may wish to persist in believing that their defeat in the Glasgow East by-election is a judgement on Gordon Brown. But they'd be kidding themselves if they did. The huge swing to the SNP is signal of disdain for the entire New Labour project, and one that has been a long time coming.

No one in Glasgow East believes that there is a more credible Labour prime minister waiting in the wings, to be nudged into immediate, glorious and decisive action by a "judgement on Gordon Brown". No one in the rest of the country believes that either, including the near-bankrupt Labour Party. Why would Labour have been so docile in its acceptance of Brown as the heir apparent in the first place, and so craven in its fear of putting its new leader to the electoral test last October, if it had any faith left in itself, any more faith than anyone else? Labour is exhausted; its long-waning credibility has irrevocably seeped away, and its good times have been comprehensively squandered.

In battered areas like Glasgow East, where the trickle-down of the decade's now collapsing economic miracle never, ever quite displayed itself anyway, the continued raw exposure of the populace to economic vicissitudes is now more painfully apparent than ever. Glasgow East, like other neglected parts of Britain, has waited patiently for prosperity to reach it. Now it is clear that the wait has been quite futile.

Though it probably doesn't see it this way, Labour should be marvelling now at how many votes it managed to hang on to. East Glasgow still has reason to fear a Conservative government in Westminster. But this election offered an opportunity to register a protest without direct involvement in delivering a Tory win, and people seized it.

Will Glasgow East remain SNP after the next general election? Probably not. But on Thursday, people had a reasonably attractive alternative to the endless go-round of two-party politics – unlike the rest of us – and they did the logical thing in grasping it.

There has been praise for the election campaign conducted by the Labour candidate, Margaret Curran. It is recognised that she did her best under difficult circumstances. But the truth is that, even locally, Labour is spent, and Curran was by no means an ideal appointment. Already a Labour MSP at Holyrood, she argued that she would easily be able to represent the people of Glasgow East in both parliaments. But even the Prime Minister himself has counselled against the wisdom of "Bogof" offers. Why would Glasgow East residents have voted for a dilution of their representation in two parliaments, when they had the option of sticking with Curran at a national level and sticking it to Labour at a UK level? Again, there was no incentive to vote Labour at all.

There is a right-wing belief that Labour works to extend the reach of dependency culture in order that people on benefits will always vote for them. In Glasgow East, life on benefits is more common than it is just about anywhere else. So one thing the Conservatives might like to note is that this by-election result scuppers that cynical theory.

The truth is that Labour's own dependence on supplementing even working people with benefits, instead of promoting their reasonable need to be able to live on their earnings, has repulsed many of their "core voters". It is the exhausting strain of working poverty that promotes benefits dependency, and the ensuing informal, sometimes criminal economy. Beyond its early and timid championship of the minimum wage, Labour has failed to promote the idea that employers should do more that treat humans as squeezable units of profit at all. That is the greatest Labour failure, and this dying Government's most putrid legacy. If there is a personal message to Brown in this result, that is it. The most awful thing is that he seems no more able to hear it than David Cameron, the man who will, sooner rather than later, succeed him.

The death of a teenager is not 'the way of the world'

Just in case anybody might have imagined otherwise, I can confirm that the fatal attack against a neighbouring teenager outside my home last week has spawned a sobering aftermath. In the nine days since Frederick Moody was murdered, the street has been a hive of sombre activity.

Various wakes, vigils and memorial services, attended almost exclusively by members of London's Ghanaian community, have offered the slender consolation that Freddy was loved by many, even though he was known to few people in his immediate vicinity, in life or in death.

On Thursday, a mobile police station was set up across the road from us. Officers again took up positions at each end of the street, asking each passer-by, rather desperately, if they had anything to offer that might help them to build a case. Naturally this only served to underline the dreadful fact that no charges have yet been made. One 16-year-old, however, is on police bail, and one other person has been arrested.

When Freddy's death was first reported, he was described as "a model student". This image of ordinary perfection soon fell part when it was discovered that the young man had actually dropped out of his college course some while back. He had not been doing anything very tangible for some while. Horribly, this picture of ordinary confusion and uncertainty, instead of unblemished youthful industry, seems to have contributed to the fostering of a tangible attitude of local anomie. Several decent people have shrugged airily at the tragedy, suggesting that "it's the way of the world, these days".

A few others have clung to the theory that the propensity for murder among young men at this time is just a passing fad. The most depressing thing of all, apart from the act of nihilistic savagery itself, has been the willingness to excuse and accommodate it.

How can society wonder at the indifference some young people display towards the sanctity of human life when the eagerness to dismiss it as nothing new is so apparent? I do understand that much of this is a response to a feeling of powerlessness and shock. But it is a far from healthy one.

* Brigitte Nielsen, the 45-year-old model and former wife of Sylvester Stallone, has submitted to cosmetic surgery for a television show, receiving liposuction, Botox and a breast makeover. One can only wonder if her abandonment of huge fake boobs has anything to do with Tony Parsons. The journalist wrote a long piece for August's GQ, bemoaning the dreadfulness of surgically augmented breasts, and wondering why it was that no one in the world apart from him had noticed how terrible such appurtenances were.

Now, it has to be said that Parsons is mistaken in his belief that there is not widespread disapproval of such surgery. For many people the popularity of breast enhancement procedures is grotesque – a symptom of a celebrity-obsessed society that places pressure on vulnerable girls and women, and invites vulnerable boys and men to view females as porn fantasies instead of imperfect and lovable people just like them.

Parsons is not wrong in saying that women who have breast implants inserted for vanity – generously he excludes women with "genetic defects" or a mastectomy – are likely to be "insecure, neurotic or nutty". But he also describes his many sexual encounters with silicone-stuffed women, and how disappointing to the touch those mammaries prove to be.

This can only suggest that Parsons is himself attracted to women who are "insecure, neurotic or nutty". No wonder he's unaware of any female repulsion against breast butchering. It can only be down to the company he prefers to keep.