Yesterday, the BNP issued a cheeky press release drawing attention to Labour's kleptomaniac tendencies:
The British National Party has started moves to copyright its political slogans after the Labour Party stole the BNP-origin term “Operation Fightback,” Nick Griffin MEP has announced. Speaking to BNP News after Labour unveiled its “Operation Fightback” banner at its flop conference this weekend, Mr Griffin said this blatant theft was the second time that the Government had used a BNP phraseology.
“Last year we saw Gordon Brown use the slogan ‘British jobs for British workers’ at a Labour conference,” Mr Griffin said. “Enough is enough; the BNP is now going to start copyrighting its slogans to prevent the ideologically-bankrupt thieves at Labour HQ from using our ideas.”
Today, Gordon Brown went further. He appeared to be adopting, almost word for word, BNP policies.
Last month, the blog of Lancaster Unite Against Fascism (link via Nick Barlow) uncovered a proposal it described as "garbage" to create compulsory communal homes for teenage mums. Here's what the proposer - who submitted the idea for discussion by the BNP conference - said:
Any amount of sexual health education is not going to reduce Britain’s high teen pregnancy rates, whilst the ‘rewards’ for becoming an unmarried teen mother remain so [relatively] attractive. The cycle of girls getting pregnant by man A, then being allocated a council flat & welfare benefits, then getting pregnant by man B, and being allocated a bigger council flat & more benefits, then getting pregnant by man C, and being allocated a council house & yet more benefits has got to STOP.
I suggest that there be no council flats and no welfare benefits available to unmarried mothers under the age of 21. Instead they will be placed in ‘mother & baby homes’. Here they will receive academic education as well as parenting classes, plus courses covering all aspects of their social development.
And here, with greater succinctness but indistinguishable sentiment, is what Gordon Brown said, to warm applause, in his Brighton speech today:
And I do think it's time to address a problem that for too long has gone unspoken, the number of children having children. For it cannot be right, for a girl of sixteen, to get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and be left on her own.
From now on all 16 and 17 year old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes. These shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly. That's better for them, better for their babies and better for us all in the long run.
We won't ever shy away from taking difficult decisions on tough social questions.
Spot the difference.
To be fair to the BNP proposal, it comes with rather more detail than the Labour effort. Thus we are given a glimpse into the regime at these institutions, which sound like Magdalen Laundries without the nuns:
The homes will be run by ‘matron’ type figures. The homes should not be ‘institution’ like, but at the same time there will be rules which must be adhered to; such as a curfew of approx 9pm, a dress code which states skirts must come to at least the knees & no cleavage to be on show. Failure to comply with the homes’ rules will result in the mother being sent to prison, and the baby being taken in to care.
This last point is rather significant. Brown's eye-catching proposal (one of the few surprises in a generally dull and predictable speech) has already been dubbed "Gulags for Slags (© Alex Massie) - although Charlotte thinks they sound more like Victorian poorhouses. But there are, as yet, few details. How will it be enforced? What does "support from the taxpayer" mean - child benefit? Student loans? Working tax credits? Or are these institutions - which will, doubtless, be described in benign terms as providing exciting new opportunities and greater "support" for vulnerable young mothers - intended merely for those who would in any case need to be housed at public expense? It's not clear. It may well be a classic New Labour back-of-the-envelope policy, devised to please putative Mail readers, ill thought-through and entirely uncosted. Headline first, policy afterwards.
I can imagine this idea emerging from one of those PR-driven policy workshops, and going down well in focus groups. It has superficial attractions. Like the rest of Brown's social authoritarianism - of which there was a lot in this speech - it combines crowd-pleasing appeals to traditional "values" with the "progressive" attachment to professional intervention and the state invigilation of the minutiae of private life. These slut huts would not be glorified hostels. They might be less objectionable if they were. By the sound of things, they would be closer to open prisons, or reform schools, staffed by social workers and parenting experts trained in the latest childcare theory. Like all Labour schemes, they would be filled with Orwellian surveillance apparatus, and would soon acquire Kafkaesque levels of bureaucracy. And, of course, they would cost the taxpayer far more than they saved.
It's just about possible, I suppose, that some bright spark was reading the LUAF blog and thought it sounded like a vote-winning Labour policy. But I doubt it. Some similar-sounding facilities are already being built. This report from Sept 13th, for example, describes a £300k scheme in Hounslow to turn a run-down hostel into a residential centre where "support staff will be on hand to prepare new mums to move into social housing." The young mothers will have their own bedsits. By the sound of it, the facility isn't compulsory, nor is it limited to 16-17 year olds: it is for mothers who are already homeless or inadequately housed. I don't have an objection to such schemes myself, provided they are voluntary, created through local initiatives in response to local circumstances, and they are affordable. But I'm fairly sure any national scheme - especially one implemented by a government with New Labour's track record of incompetent authoritarianism - would be none of those things.
No: in the final analysis I doubt this is a case of larceny. Any resemblance between Brown's policy and that of the BNP is purely coincidental. But that's the point. From British Jobs for British Workers to British Gulags for British Slags, by way of nationalisation or Operation Fightback, the BNP and New Labour provide a textbook case of convergent evolution. The BNP might be a "right-wing" racist party, but (as others have pointed out) many of their other policies are of the left. Increasingly, they are to Labour what UKIP have long been to the Conservatives: a natural home for disaffected core supporters. Fishing in the same pond, it's perhaps not too surprising that they are now speaking the same language, and having very similar ideas.