Gary Day

November 28, 2003

The Tories have resurrected Michael Howard, but for Blairites the past, like the present, is dark and forbidding

You know you're nearly in Leicester when the train slows by the cemetery on the outskirts of the city. One day I'll have to get off there, or somewhere like it. For a moment, I feel quite downcast at the thought of mouldering underground, but then I'm cheered by the prospect that there's always a chance I can be brought back from the dead.

The Tories have done just that with Michael Howard, which gives a whole new meaning to Ann Widdecombe's description that he had "something of the night" about him. Remember Michael Howard? Thanks to him abolishing the right to silence, there's no escape from Andrew Marr, the BBC's political correspondent.

Anyway, I'm a little surprised that a party that prides itself on looking backwards couldn't find a more suitable corpse to revive. What about Edmund Burke? All it takes is a strand of DNA. At least that's what they did in Jurassic Park . Still, the Tories have to tread carefully. One slip and there would be Benjamin Disraeli asking why the party still hadn't healed the rift between the two nations.

New Labour doesn't want to bring back the dead because it has put the past well and truly behind it. Neil Kinnock is now in a nice residential home on the south coast entertaining the other inmates with how he successfully steered composite motion 24, sub-paragraph six, through the conference in 1991. Having spent her life in a packing factory, one of the other residents, Edith Wilson, thought she knew everything there was to know about boredom. But as she now says, she was wrong.

No, new Labour has waved goodbye to all that equality stuff. According to Peter Mandelson, a man who has come back more times than the evil dead, the government is "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich" and is not at all worried about the increasing number of people falling into poverty or debt. Quite the opposite, in fact. So concerned is new Labour at the level of debt that the Office of Fair Trading has just launched a campaign aimed at helping people who don't owe money to get themselves in hock. It's called "hire education". You don't do history or anything like that, it's got to be something useful such as weapons manufacture.

You see, new Labour just doesn't want to be reminded of the past, particularly its own; it would only show the party up. And what would Marx have to say about its achievements? Imagine if we found a hair from his beard floating around the British Museum and we used it to return him to life. He'd no doubt feel very satisfied that much of what he said has come to pass.

University lecturer is just the latest in a long line of occupations that have had "their halos stripped away". Those who work in higher education are being proletarianised in the same way that weavers were in the 19th century, their "specialised skill rendered worthless by new methods of production". And what is the government doing by privatising the public services if not proving that the business class is indeed "no longer compatible with society"? I don't suppose the Tories are any more either, but at least they've got the word "party" in their name. new Labour is just, well, new Labour.

Its members are so busy dismantling civil liberties that they have no time to take sexual ones, like normal politicians. What is the matter with these people? No one expects them to make the world a better or even a safer place, but they could at least brighten up our lives by behaving badly in the bath with someone else's spouse. This must be the first government in history to show that power is not necessarily an aphrodisiac. New Labour's idea of fun is to bring over Uncle George to entertain us. But it's no joke when he starts accusing the neighbours of stockpiling garden tools and threatening to blow up their borders.

Who knows? This might be the spark that ignites the revolution. Having increased the gap between rich and poor, new Labour has brought class war one step closer. What an opportunity, should the weather prove fine and there be nothing on the telly, to, in the words of that old Chartist hit of the 1840s, "shape the frame of things entire nearer to the heart's desire".

For, if I do have to come back again, I'd like to find Britain a little better than it is now - banning Boots' Christmas adverts would be a good start.

Which is why the next time I fill out a template I'm going to write "new Jerusalem" when asked to describe module outcomes. Mind you, to achieve that means persuading the students to turn up every now and then. And that can be much harder than trying to raise the dead.

Gary Day is principal lecturer in English at De Montfort University.

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