Letter from the editor

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The Independent Online
David Aaronovitch, in a parliamentary sketch this week, resolved something that has been wriggling round my skull in recent days, at various government seminars, parties and so on in Whitehall: what does this remind me of? What is the right historical parallel for New Labour?

In 'Vitch's view (this letter is too short to use his full name more than once), the Commons on Wednesday was Cromwellian in feel, with Blair playing Lord Protector and Major the beheaded, ghostly king. The Conservative benches were portrayed as a sort of rump parliament of lewd and jocular hecklers.

Yes! We are living, Readers, in the New Commonwealth - a successor to the original Commonwealth, not to the politically-correct post-imperial club of the same name. Blair makes an excellent Oliver Cromwell: the stern, slightly forbidding sense of purpose; the muscular Christian moral tone; the not entirely convincing self-deprecation. The Palace has already queasily noted that he is behaving a little like a head of state. And if Cromwell had Ireton and Naseby, well then, Blair has had Mandelson and Tatton.

Cromwell, of course, would not have approved Blair's interest in the Roman Church, or his own image - remember the Protector's request to the painter Lely that he should ``not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts ...'' He would have been baffled by Blair's guitar and would have declined to be sketched alongside such an immoral colonial as President Clinton.

But in politics, the two would have found much to nod about. If there is a single word that describes Blair's enthusiasm, with Jack Straw, for the more austere family values, his brisk enthusiasm for centralisation in Whitehall and his impatience with parliamentary obstruction, that word is surely ``Cromwellian''.

Their attitude to ideological Scots is similar: one can imagine Blair snarling at the Scottish Labour Party what Cromwell snarled at the Presbyterians: ``I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.''

What does the Commonwealth mean for Westminster? Blair's pre-election contempt for the Major parliament was notable. (``You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!'') But, though this is less frequently noticed, his belief that MPs should ``get real'' and spend less time on political gossip is equally Oliverian. As the latter contemptuously informed MPs in 1658: ``You have accounted yourselves happy on being environed with a great ditch from all the world beside.''

So this is not great news for Parliament. But what will it mean for the rest of us living in the New (Labour) Commonwealth? It is bad news for a free and licentious press, bad news for fat cats and bad news for some of those British fashion designers whose exotically lacy creations will mean they are forced to flee to the Continent. (Though, come to think of it, most of them have fled to Paris or Milan already.) It will be bad news for the Diggers, who will be cleared away by New Model Army policemen (sorry, Swampy).

It is bad news for public drinkers and rowdy types. There will be no more public dancing, because we will all be hard at our patriotic duties. I guess the Globe, whose opening drama days we discuss this morning, will be shut down on a sex and violence rap.

How far can one push this? Not much further, I fear: just imagine what effect a new Cromwell would have on the Irish peace process.

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