Labour's radical agenda: The figure in black that is stalking Whitehall

Click to follow
It pleases the social stratum of which I am a member (well-paid professionals), journalists, lawyers, professors and allied trades) to believe that this is a hollow government. Others (like the Daily Mail and the Sun) may be fooled by Tony's plausibility and the alchemy of his spinners, but not us. We are sophisticates who watch Newsnight, listen to Today and whose trained eyes see the wires that hoist sparkling Blairismo, invisibly, to the top of the proscenium. It is all, we tell each other at parties, a pretty confection of focus groups and popular instinct, projected through smoke and mirrors. There is nothing authentic there. Yesterday, my colleague Boris Johnson (who, along with the crime reporting, the tales of village life and the unintentionally hilarious editorials, is one of the best things about the Daily Telegraph) used the Minister without Portfolio's appearance in front of the Culture Select Committee, as a launching pad for an extended metaphor involving the Dome and the Government itself. He concluded that "This dome is not intended to be a monument to posterity ... like so much Labour politics, [it] is all about mood."

This perception is clearly shared on the left. Journalists express amazement that vast sums of money are not being found for all their pet concerns, from public transport to single mums. Radicalism for them means a simple return to the ancient verity of throwing dosh at the poor via benefit and social services. In hope, they followed Labour through a two-year election campaign without really believing a word of what they were told. And when the size of the majority was announced, they proclaimed a sea- change, sat back and waited for the tax and benefit increases. Now they think that there is nothing there, save for Brown's frown and Blair's smile.

But my advice is to look more carefully through the smoke, to where a vision has appeared, and is gradually taking on substance. It has a tall hat, this figure; it favours black clothes, wears buckled shoes and carries a well-thumbed copy of the Bible. Far from having no fixed view on life in Britain, it has some very coherent thoughts on the subject which - bit by bit - it will share with us, as and when we are mature enough to understand.

This is the apparition that determined that the cut to single parents' benefits must stay. For all Harriet Harman's protestations about "hard choices" and the oft-repeated litany about staying inside the previous government's spending figures, the money could easily have been found to pay it. Look at the way pensioners the country over will be sitting in front of their electric fires this winter, mumbling "Gor bless yer, Mr Brahn" to the generous chancellor who gave them that fifty extra pounds.

But the single parents didn't get their money. Why? Because the Government did not want to increase the benefit to them of staying out of work. They could have the expensive child care and lots of it, oh yes. But not for sitting on their fannies, bringing up kids to whom the world of work was alien, and who become useless adults believing that the state really does owe them a living. Like Mrs Thatcher, the Government - for all its crinkly smiles - is not happy with us as we are. It does not think that we are a great bunch of people who simply need a bit more spent on us all. Tony and Gordon and Jack, believe that - frankly - many of us need a bit of a hand from them to help us behave better: as citizens, pupils, parents, consumers and workers. Then we will be able to build the Great Society.

But, as Polly Toynbee's recent article on the great Wisconsin welfare reform made clear, this remoralisation does not come cheap. It costs a lot to get people standing on their own two feet. There must be priorities. So, this week we have had Chancellor Brown getting in among the Tessas and the Peps. The biggest savers (who are also, naturally, the richer among us) will lose out on some tax relief. But those who are less wealthy will be helped - cajoled into good, thrifty habits. Virtue among the humble must be rewarded. And the humble must be protected too. Yesterday, just a day later, Jack Straw published his Crime and Disorder Bill, aimed specifically at dealing with the young offender and the disturber of society's peace. David Blunkett's big education bill, to force up standards in the main run of state schools, will follow later this week.

And, like the most ruthless radicals, the Government has indicated that it will not be waylaid by sentimental impedimenta. It knows that no administration is going to abolish private schools, however much its members may dislike them. That being so, how much more sensible it is to draw them into a relationship with the state sector - and guilt trip them into the Giving Society, where they can jolly well help the humble. And if they don't give? Then they will have forfeited some of their political support, and may well lose their charitable status. If you accept all this, then you can see that this government may indeed be a radical one. But, as with the Thatcherite seizure of power of 1979 and after, the full implications of this radicalism may only become clear as the years pass. On May 1 we partied; now the first bills are just beginning to come in.