The justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, faces another embarrassing U-turn over his controversial sentencing reforms on Wednesday as the Labour frontbench combines with rightwing Tory MPs to further attack his prison plans.An occasional ambush or purposeful assault - such as Miliband's original attack - is understandable, because it highlighted how weak Cameron actually was. But the mania for forcing U turns seems to be what's driving Labour's tactics, rather than what's best.
Tory backbenchers and Labour spokesmen served notice on Tuesday night that they would fight Clarke's plans to limit the use of remand in custody and tackle the explosion in the use of indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs).
Clarke's Commons opponents scent fresh blood after last week's U-turn when Downing Street disowned his plan to introduce a 50% maximum discount for early guilty pleas, although it would have stabilised the growth in the record 85,000 prison population in England and Wales. The move took out 3,400 of the 6,000 prison places Clarke was hoping to save over four years as part of his "rehabilitation revolution" and left him with a £140m hole in his spending plans.
A fresh revolt against his plans to limit the use of remand in custody would lose a further 1,300 saved places and mean he would have to find a further £40m from his justice budget. The IPP reforms would have saved 600 prison places and £10m. (1)
They'd do a lot better in the long run, IMHO, if they supported sound policy, and opposed bad policy. As it is, they're going to look pretty fucking stupid if - supposing they get back into government - they start trying to introduce positive policies which they voted down in opposition. Stupid, short termist tactics, based on heaping humiliation on the government, no matter what.
It might be argued this is what opposition parties are meant to do, and the Conservatives have spent 13 years voting against (the occasional) good Labour policy while they were in opposition.
All that means is that the current opposition is as as spineless and unprincipled as the current government. Which is not a good thing. The fact that the Tories do something is no justification for others doing it as well. Quite the opposite. Isn't the whole point of not being the Tories is to not be the Tories?
Labour should pick and choose their targets, so they can score points; shepherd good policy through while simultaneously pissing off the Tory right; and show they can be constructive and coalitionable?
n.b. Coalitionable isn't really a word. Until now.
This blanket policy of oppositing pretty much everything and seeking to exploit any vulnerability is just weak, crappy opportunism, suggesting a massive degree of insecurity and rampant tribalism in Labour.
Looks like the 'Blue Labour' idea is really just the same old NuLabour authoritariamism, more carefully directed at People We Don't Like (prisoners, furriners, people on benefits and so on) instead of just being generally unpleasant to everyone.
1 - "Kenneth Clarke faces twin-track assault on jail reform plans," by Alan Travis and Owen Bowcott. Published in The Guardian, 28th of June, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jun/28/kenneth-clarke-jail-reform-plans)