View from the House – David Walker

Once upon a time – don’t worry, children, this fairy story does have a happy ending – there were three left-wing women.

One denounced the ‘Establishment’ with great ferocity and on behalf of her boss, a red-headed Welshman, regularly shouted down the lackeys of the press.

One refused, as a woman of principle, to have anything to do with the iniquitous tax Thatcherites called the ‘community charge’ and vowed she would rather face prison than surrender over this dreadful impost. The other woman went to work in Hackney, defending the downtrodden inhabitants against cruel oppression by the boys in blue, otherwise known as the Metropolitan Police.

But, children, that was all a long, long time ago – more than a decade, in fact. Those women have changed. They are smarter, media-friendlier and wouldn’t dream of letting a left-wing word drop from their lips. In fact, they are now, respectively, economic secretary, Paymaster General and financial secretary at that bastion of the Establishment, Her Majesty’s Treasury.

We’re talking, of course, about Patricia Hewitt, Dawn Primarolo and Barbara Roche. The Mandelson and Robinson resignations produced a remarkable line up. These three are worth watching, and not just if your business is ISAs, CAT standards, tax, financial regulation, ESOPs or official statistics – all part of the huge empire for which they are jointly responsible.

These converts to the true (i.e. third) way look as if they could go further. It will be fascinating to see how pragmatic they turn out to be: Ms Primarolo (the one who once refused to pay her poll tax) is responsible for the Inland Revenue as it absorbs the National Insurance system and cracks down even harder on non-payment and fraud.

If a week is the proverbial long time in politics then the years since Neil Kinnock was Labour leader are a geological age. These women are competent and evidently adept at moving with the times. They are in many ways so, so typical of Blairism. We know where it is coming from, what it is reacting against. But what are they, and it, really for?

David Walker edits the Guardian analysis page.

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