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When Reagan Turned Brown


It proved a painful exercise to witness, and those on the left of British labour must have had an aneurism. Aspiring less to high politics than stooping to low-brow, cudgelling tactics, the Brown government has decided to emulate Ronald Reagan. If Labour is no longer glam and gloss–it is going to be political and power-hunger. It all came out at the just concluded Labour Party Conference at Bournemouth. Why would that old man of the Left, the Scottish mastermind of British economic health, decide that a B Grade Hollywood actor would have more to offer than ‘core’ Labour values?

Labour strategists chose the site of Bournemouth to morph from post-Blair aspirants of New ‘new’ Labour to Tory thieves–they grab the policies of David Cameron with the zeal of rampant kleptomania. They aren’t the only ones: Cameron backs the National Health Scheme hoping to convince voters in the centre that the Tories actually don’t like seeing the poor live of die by the length of their purse.

Furthermore, it’s sexy to be green these days, especially when you live in Oxfordshire, cycle and play the game of compassion. These ‘New’ Tory attributes cause the toffs no end of concern. In Britain, all politicians are policy thieves and are proud of it.

In witnessing this grand theft of policy, hopes that Gordon may aspire to something more than Tony fell away. The focal point of party strategists came out: the ‘Reagan Democrats’, a term so amorphous it makes you search the political dictionary in vain for a true meaning. Apparently, these ‘democrats’ chose to flee their traditional camp in the dying days of the Carter administration. They were disconcerted by the moral erosion of the tits-bum revolution (no pornography, please) and the inability of their political figures to drive down taxes and fill the prisons. Thus, did Reagan the Republican Trojan horse sack Democrat Troy by securing the latter’s vote.

Gordon’s strategists have decided to mimic this Homeric parable, murdering the language of progressive politics with born-again conviction. To win, they can’t be traditional, but nor can they be like Blair. So, why not Reagan? Or even better, why not the Tories themselves two years ago, when they decided to employ the services of an Australian reactionary pundit to get them out of gaol? The failure of the Tories, as has been the case for the last ten years, will be Labour’s gain.

Out of Bournemouth has risen the idea of Brown social conservatism. ‘Binge drinking and underage drinking that disrupts neighbourhoods is unacceptable,’ claimed Brown in his hour-long performance before the faithful. You can pitch your tent on progressive land, yet claim to be a conservative. You can be a good labour voter and ride the stock market.

You can also take the pathway to socialism while indulging an extensive policy of incarceration. That, at least, is the view of the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, who measures justice according to how many people the government can keep behind bars. ‘We have provided an additional 20,000 prison places–twice the rate of the Conservatives–and plans are in hand for a further 9,500.’

Christopher Lasch called this, at least in part, a revolt of the elites, and he had a point. The issue pressing modern society was not that of ‘mass’ morality or ‘mass’ humanity eroding culture, but elites betraying fundamental egalitarian principles. And these elites are proving an intolerant bunch, bleating about the insecurity posed by terrorism and the socially dysfunctional ‘chav’, the equivalent of America’s redneck. Dressed in tracksuit and baseball camp, they gyrate and terrorise the suburbs to hip-hop ballads. Middle Britain is afraid, and Brown’s political meter emotes with their worries.

Thus, Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, bangs on about ‘zero tolerance’ and targeting television programmes which apparently incite their viewers to take to the bottle. Given the fact that every facet of British society continues to be as lubricated as Gin Lane, Smith’s lament will hopefully remain in the wilderness.

Brown’s message is both deceptive and seductive. British Labour want to win and bury the Tories, even if it means transforming into the devil they want to exile. The contortions may prove too much to handle in the end. If the voters notice, the game might well be up.

BINOY KAMPMARK is a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He can be reached at



Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

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