Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Feudal Barons Fathers of the Labour Movement

The BBC report on Labour's latest assault on civil liberties -- one of the bedrocks, my friends, of social justice -- provided a notable juxtaposition of views.

A latterday outspoken rebel (they allow one amongst their ranks), the ubiquitous John McDonnell, is quoted as saying: "There will be widespread consternation among our supporters in the country seeing a Labour government prepared to use every tactic available in its determination to crush essential civil liberties, which have been won by the labour movement over generations."

In early versions of the story, it was immediately followed by a quotation from an outspoken rebel of a former era, Tony Benn, who said something along the lines that he didn't think he'd see the day that Magna Carta was repealed by a Labour government.

Taken together, they imply the Tolpuddle Martyrs were kindred spirits with the lords who loitered around King John at Runymede. It's a tasty mythology of Britain's radical tradition.

Let's face it: Labour have never been strong on civil liberties, and tonight is just another testimony to that. Their commitment to liberty is even weaker than that to social justice. And, of course, they wouldn't admit there's a link between the two.


Miller 2.0 said...

People like Tony Benn and John McDonnell absolutely would. Which is exactly why they actually do link the two together in the articles you quote.

Labour used to have a proud record on Civil Liberties, particularly in opposing the PTA.

I'm not saying that we do now, but you're being dishonest if you're saying that we never did.

We invented the Human Rights Act too.

David Rundle said...

A Labour government did introduce the Human Rights Act -- and for that they should be thanked. But, of course, they didn't invent the idea.

I was picking up on the idea of the 'labour movement' -- not the Labour party -- as the engine-house of civil liberties. While the movement played its part, in terms of the right to protest, and while it used rhetoric harking back to Magna Carta, that was not the major part of the movement's activities. Over the twentieth century, Labour, as a political party, rarely placed civil liberties at its core. It seems to me that the reason for that is a perceived tension between 'civil liberties' and 'social justice' - a tension that, as a liberal, I'd deny.

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