That Labour humbug in full

6 December 2003

12:00 AM

6 December 2003

12:00 AM

Socialist policies impoverish health and education ‘ so Diane Abbott and her fellow socialists go private, says Leo McKinstry

Hypocrisy has always been the handmaiden of socialism. Throughout modern history, left-wing ideologues have sought to avoid the consequences of the warped policies which they impose so enthusiastically on the public. When it comes to their own behaviour, they adopt very different standards from those they demand of others.

Socialist tyrants have, of course, been notorious for these double standards, preaching the rhetoric of sacrifice and equality while wallowing in opulent privilege. The entire Soviet system was erected on such a dichotomy, the miserable food queues contrasting with the expensive limousines of the communist party chiefs. As he plunges his country into mass starvation with his so-called ‘land reforms’, Zimbabwean Marxist Robert Mugabe builds himself a lavish palace, following the example of those other heroes of the struggle against Western capitalism, Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

In Britain, our own left-wing leaders have never descended to the same depths. But even here it has become obvious that, in progressive circles, there has been one law for the political elite and another for the people. The most glaring recent example has been Hackney MP Diane Abbott’s decision to send her son to a fee-paying school, after a lifetime campaigning for the abolition of private education. Even she had the honesty to admit that the move was ‘indefensible’, especially after she had lambasted fellow Labour MP Harriet Harman in 1996 for sending her son to a selective school, though one still in the state sector. Abbott said of Harman at the time, ‘She made the Labour party look as if we do one thing and say another’, the very words that could be applied to her today. And Diane Abbott is not the first black British radical to indulge in such hypocrisy. Paul Boateng, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who proclaimed on his election to Parliament in 1987, ‘Tonight Brent South, tomorrow Soweto’, also came in for criticism by sending his son to a private school.

Abbott’s action is only in keeping with the pretensions of so many leftists. George Galloway, erstwhile Labour MP and self-appointed champion of the Third World’s interests, has long revelled in a lavish lifestyle while pontificating about Western oppression and international poverty. When he was director of the Third World charity War on Want in the 1980s, he was attacked for the way he spent a fortune on travel and entertainment, while today he has an ‘800,000 house in south London and a ‘250,000 villa in Portugal with ten acres of land. One of his ex-girlfriends, Judy Lonchan Lopez from Cuba, gave an insight this year into Galloway’s devotion to luxury. She claimed that on trips to the communist hellhole, where the average monthly wage is just $10, he was capable of spending over $2,000 during a single trip to a cigar factory, or drinking $100 bottles of wine in the top tourist restaurant. According to Ms Lopez, Galloway even adopted a unique form of aid to the Third World, arranging for expensive evening clothes to be sent over from England for her, because he preferred them to Cuban dresses.

In the same spirit, left-wing trade unionists continually rant against the idea of any involvement by the private sector in healthcare, condemning a ‘two-tier’ service and ‘queue-jumping’ for the wealthy. Yet, 3.5 million trade unionists out of a total membership in the Labour-affiliated TUC of 6.8 million have some form of private health cover. Similarly Ken Livingstone, pacifist and public transport enthusiast, ends up in a fight with another man at a party and becomes renowned for his love of using taxis. For decades, Labour activists campaigned against the evils of apartheid in South Africa, but when Robert Mugabe embarked on a murderous policy against white landowners, barely a squeak was heard from these supposed crusaders against racial injustice. Earlier this year, I contacted more than 50 Labour MPs who had been involved in the anti-apartheid movement. Only a handful could point to any public statement they had made against Mugabe’s regime. Similarly, fervent political multiculturalists, always waxing eloquent about the joys of rich diversity, are generally to be found in the suburbs rather than the inner city.

Labour MPs often complain about lack of affordable housing and the iniquities of rich property owners, though they are not averse to a bit of multiple ownership themselves. As environment minister, Michael Meacher fulminated that ‘housing is not, and should not be a status symbol, an object of conspicuous consumption or a source of market power and wealth. Too many people have second homes or too large homes for their needs, while too many others are homeless or over-crowded.’ Meacher’s words might have carried more weight if he had not been the owner of no fewer than eight homes himself.

Left-wingers tell us that we should all be willing to pay more tax, though I notice that they never personally volunteer to increase the annual sum they hand over to the Treasury. Just the opposite is true. While publicly proclaiming the virtues of state extortion, many privately do all they can to reduce their tax bills. In 2002, for instance, it was revealed that the general secretary of the Labour party, David Triesman, a former communist, had a ‘1 million London house which was owned by a Liechtenstein off-shore tax trust. The aim of these overseas trusts is to reduce inheritance and capital gains tax. Only months before this revelation, Gordon Brown had pledged to clamp down on the use of such loopholes.

Other socialists go even further down the road of financial hypocrisy, using public funds for personal ends. As someone who worked in the House of Commons for six years, I have always found it an outrage that many Labour MPs, who demand that every employer adhere to equal opportunities and open recruitment procedures, should hire their own spouses and relatives to work in their Westminster offices, which are entirely funded by the taxpayer. Some practices are far more outrageous. In February 2002, the DTI minister Nigel Griffiths was exposed for claiming ‘30,000 in parliamentary rental allowances on an Edinburgh office that he actually owned. In one of her last acts before leaving her post, Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, upheld the complaints against Griffiths, though he avoided resignation by repaying the sum to the Commons Fees Office. Henry McLeish, Labour’s First Minister for Scotland, was less lucky. He had to quit after also being caught fiddling rental allowances.

When the charge of hypocrisy is raised, left-wingers wail that they are being judged unfairly, that higher standards of behaviour are required of them than of other politicians. This is nonsense. All that is being asked of socialists is that they practise what they preach. Senior Tories do not end up in the same difficulties on private education, property or healthcare, because they support personal liberty and individual choice. But if Labour activists genuinely believe in higher taxation, in public transport or the state’s monopoly in health and education, then it is only right that they should be expected to apply those principles in their own lives.

But the hypocrisy works on an even deeper level. For when leftists go private or offshore, they are trying to avoid the very problems they have created through their own socialist policies. They wilfully advocate measures that lower standards or destroy wealth, then run away from the consequences, while still demanding that the rest of us should have to cope. This is especially true of education, where the ideology of the Left has predominated since the early Sixties, when education secretary Tony Crosland pledged to ‘close every fucking grammar school in the country’. Comprehensive schooling, child-centred teaching methods, the dilution of examinations and the abolition of discipline have all been imp
osed by the so-called progressives who have run the local education authorities and teacher training colleges for decades. The result is that anarchy and ignorance now prevail in the classroom.

For a socialist to complain about our shambolic education system is like an arsonist complaining that a building which he set alight has burnt down. Wealthy left-wing parents cannot tolerate the schools they have created, so they either turn to the private sector they despise, bleating about ‘putting their children first’, or, more subtly, they make a public show of sending them to a comprehensive while using their money to pay for private tutors. As The Spectator revealed, that is precisely what the Blairs did with their two sons Nicky and Euan, employing a tutor from Westminster School to help them prepare for their A-levels. In fact, Margaret Hodge, the embattled children’s minister, was once caught telling a socialist parent with a troubled conscience, ‘Look, you use the state system and then you tutor them on the side.’ One insidious way that left-wing parents try to justify the use of private tutors is by claiming that their children have ‘special needs’, such as dyslexia, which require expert support. Indeed, because of the disastrous decline of British education over recent years, ‘special needs’ have become a spectacular growth industry, providing an escape route for anxious liberals.

Disraeli once famously said that ‘a Conservative government is an organised hypocrisy’. After six years of Labour rule, his epigram now seems much more appropriate for the other side of the political divide.


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