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New Labour: Chainsaws out, maybe Contactpoint, too

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Gunning for the IT albatrosses

What difference will it make to policy? Andy Burnham is noted for his desire to classify internet content. Hazel Blears had a specific distaste for the way in which she believed the blogosphere was destroying democratic politics. On the whole, however, the same Labour values – centralisation, control, personal surveillance – will remain whoever has a hand at the tiller.

A good example of that is the way in which the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 included a clampdown on the use of violent sexual material some two years before legislation on extreme porn passed. That is government by bureaucratic committee, joining up the dots across departments: somewhere, it was known that the extreme porn law was planned, so reference to it had to be included in legislation before it was even proposed.

That said, one of the unlikeliest converts to liberalism could just be Blunkett, who warned back in February this year against government abuse of power taking Britain towards a "Big Brother" state.

The new order may include slightly fewer of a certain sort of radical feminist – though Harriet Harman will still be Deputy Prime Minister, and a good candidate for chairing what looks like Gordon Brown’s last-ditch plan to save his reputation: a grand convention on parliamentary and democratic reform.

What about a new leader? The same factors apply: Labour is essentially collegiate in its approach to policy, and while the faces and rhetoric might change, the fundamentals are unlikely to.

A new broom – particularly a young fresh face such as Milliband – might, however, seek to emphasise their newness by scrapping one or two cherished New Labour projects, including the shambling IT leviathans.

Otherwise, we must look to an election – and a change of party in power – for any radical change in prospects. An incoming Tory government would probably announce an end to various high-ticket IT projects at once. As Tory MP James Brokenshire comments: "Will [the new Home Secretary] the courage to change current flawed policies?" He then goes on to list ID, DNA retention, the surveillance society and ISP data retention as areas in need of review.

The ID database, Contactpoint, the vetting scheme, as well as the NHS spine project would all be in line for scrapping.

The benefit of an election held now is that some of the government’s flakier legislation would never make it on to the statute books. Casualties of a snap election would include Bills on Policing and Crime, Coroners and Justice and Borders, Citizenship and Immigration – to name but three.

For those who’d like a flutter, best to bet quickly. The odds on Gordon Brown remaining as Prime Minister throughout 2009 are falling rapidly: 5/2 at the weekend; a good deal less this morning. ®

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