Changing places: John Reid and David Davis
As New Labour steers further and further to starboard, 'Dave' Cameron's Cameroonian New Tories steer ever more recklessly to port (as many media commentators have been pointing out in the backwash of the party conferences). There is no better demonstration of this than a comparison between the party conference speeches of the incumbent home secretary, "Dr" John Reid, and his New Tory opposite number, shadow home secretary David Davis.
There's a double irony here: Davis was the original odds-on favourite to succeed Michael Howard as Conservative Party leader and standard-bearer of the Tory Right, until his speech at the Tory selection conference fell flat (actually it wasn't at all bad) and young fresh-faced Dave Cameron surged into both the lead and the leadership, from a position on what passes in the Tory Party as the left. David Davis is evidently a fast learner: amid the traditional Tory stuff about crime in his conference speech there's a genuinely liberal, reformist passage about the need to reduce re-offending by tackling the lack of education and skills training in prisons, by getting prisoners off drug and alcohol dependency, and by ensuring that they maintain their links with their families while in prison and that they have homes and jobs to go to when they come out.
Compare those impeccable and enlightened sentiments — requiring considerable courage in the context of a speech to a Conservative Party conference — with Reid's threadbare, populist rants:
…the public want to see more fairness in our approach to law and order. People want to know that the government is on the side of the victim, not protecting the criminal. That's fine by me, because it's this party, and has always been this party, that's on the side of the decent, hard-working majority in our country. Why? Because we believe in rights balanced by responsibilities… And why shouldn't violent offenders pay towards the healthcare costs of their victims? … And let's be clear. It cannot be right that the rights of an individual suspected terrorist be placed above the rights, life and limb of the British people. It's wrong. Full stop. No ifs. No buts. It's just plain wrong.
(Note the slippery way in which Reid implicitly equates a terrorist suspect with a terrorist: and contrasts him with "the British people" and their rights, as if a person suspected of involvement in terrorism, perhaps mistakenly, perhaps despite being entirely innocent, is not one of the British people with rights that are vital to his ability to clear his name by due process. Chipping away at our civil rights doesn't tip the balance in favour of ordinary people: it tips the balance against all of us.)
Postscript: I have been asked recently in a personal message why I put inverted commas (known to the less fortunate as 'quotes') round John Reid's preferred handle, "Dr". It's because while Reid has a perfectly respectable PhD in economic history from Stirling University, in my experience the widely observed convention is that holders of PhDs, other than the exceptionally vain, don't use the handle "Dr" unless they are either medical doctors or else professional academics. PhDs are two a penny in politics and many other walks of life, and it would devalue the currency if they all started to call themselves 'Dr'.
The other reason for those inverted commas is that in my view John Reid is an illiberal, authoritarian, reactionary, and intellectually illiterate bully. I know, I know, that's not a valid reason. But it goes against the grain to bestow a title indicating possession of a doctorate of philosophy, and thus a degree of intellectual distinction, on such a person as Dr John Reid. OK, he's entitled to it. And I never got beyond a BA (and a 2:2 at that!). So you can, if you wish, attribute those inverted commas to envy. But please read those two party conference speeches and ask yourself whether, if you didn't know who had made which speech, you would be able to tell which was from a Labour front-bench MP and which from his Tory opposite number. And which was delivered by a Doctor of Philosophy.
(And now young Mr Cameron announces that he is running as the champion of the National Health Service, even as Ms Patricia Hewitt for New Labour applies her little axe to its roots. Truly the times they are a-changin'.)