The dividing line

Jenni Russell, writing in the Guardian about what divides Britain’s two main political parties, now that the Cameroonians have staked a claim to the centre ground.

The new dividing line between Labour and the Tories is less about a left-right split than about an authoritarian approach on one side and a more liberal one on the other. And Labour are on the wrong side of it. Many of their social and economic policies may have failed, but where they have succeeded is in developing a targeting, controlling, distrustful state. From the micromanagement of civil servants, teachers, doctors and the police, to ID cards, super databases and the growth of surveillance, the government’s answer to too many problems has been the removal of autonomy from individuals and more oversight from Whitehall.

The Conservative analysis is that this over-controlling state is not only disastrously unpopular, it is also one of the key reasons why Labour, despite all its spending, has failed to achieve its goals. Endless supervision has been an expensive distraction, and has sapped energy and morale out of public life.

The Tories say that the Labour approach reflects a deep pessimism about human nature, which they themselves don’t share. They argue that people will work best if they are trusted, given outcomes they are expected to achieve, and then left to decide how to get on with the job…