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Dave Renton © 2004

 

 
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Never has one man had so many friends. Never has he done so much to earn their gratitude. 'The best ever school results, waiting lists falling, crime levels downs, council performance improving. The facts ought to speak for themselves'. As with his successive chums in the White House, Tony Blair's world is one of bright, primary colours. Our leader is the ally of the young, the unemployed. 'I believe in greater equality', Blair promised. 'If the next Labour government has not raised the living standards of the poorest by the end of its time in office it will have failed'. He is the champion of parliament, the man who reformed the Lords. He is the longest-serving Labour prime minister. His wars have been blessed with nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. With his speeches, he has made himself the leader of the free world. He is the friend of the religious. 'If you read the Koran', he has said, 'it is so clear. It describes the concepts of love and fellowship as the guiding spirits of humanity'. He is the man who will save the starving of Africa, 'They too are our cause'. He stands astride our political divides a Colossus, too great for us but to admire, the fairest of them all.

Blairism is ten years old this year, and itís time to step out of the looking glass.

How long ago, it seems, the papers were awash with 'Young Britain', 'New Labour', 'Cool Britannia', the invocation of a cult of youth. 'A young country', Blair promised. It was Cliff Richard of all people who loaned Blair his Barbados home in 2003, 'I saw him during the war', the singer said, Blair 'seemed to change - he became gaunt, tired, ancient-looking suddenly'.

It was Blair who promised his admirers 'a new relationship between citizen and community', a modern world of order, reason and rigour, where science would be employed efficiently without argument or conflict of resources in the necessary ending of agreed social ills. The real Blair we seem rather to have encountered, is the one who in summer 2002 stood with his wife outside a Mexican brick pyramid, chanting to the four winds, praying to the sun and to the spirit of the lizards, the birds and the crabs. Mayan holy songs were incanted as they meditated, the Mirror reported, and as the Blairs attempted to conjure up visions of animals in the steamy air. Before emerging from the pyramid, the Blairs were instructed to give voice to their hopes and fears. Finally, while exiting the womb-door of the pyramid, the Blairs were told to scream out loud to signify the pain of their re-birth. They then strolled to the beach for a dip in the Caribbean.

The old religion of the Aztecs is of course no more or less rational than the mysticism which Tony Blair shares with his friend George Bush. 'You don't pray together?' Blair was asked. 'No, we don't pray together', was Tony Blair's first response, his second, 'Possibly.' Even now, after everything, we can observe Blair's unwillingness to be caught lying.

All political careers end in failure. Unlimited ambition is no virtue but a pathology, a desire to make others feel small. The prickly ego, knowing its own destruction, prepares a kind of salvation in history. Blair will be remembered on his own terms, as the British prime minister who has killed more civilians in more wars than any predecessor since 1945. Thousands have died in Kosovo, in Afghanistan and Iraq. The United Nations has been bugged, regimes trampled. Crumpled economies that, despite many failings at least provided food, water and work, and some sort of care for the sick and elderly, have been broken up into their constituent parts and sold to corporate America, with the promise of reassembly later.

There is also the small matter of the war that Tony Blair has waged against the poor in Britain. It has expressed itself in 75p increases for pensioners, in the abolition of student grants and their replacement by variable fees, in the increased persecution of the unemployed, in the retention of all the Tories' anti-union laws. Prison is now where foreigners are sent, schools where drug-testing begins. Our modern, non-racist prime minister sits in parliament for a seat where in 2001 every single constituent without exception described themselves as 'White British'. Our newspapers promote bigotry daily, and their editors are punished with the right to publish sycophantic interviews of the prime minister and his wife.

Blairism began in 1994, with the leadership election following the death of John Smith, and any glamour that it continues to retain starts all from that point. Three years earlier, the Tories had won their fourth successive election victory. Labour supporters were convinced that some kind of miracle would be needed to prise the Conservatives out. When Smith died, the tabloids proceeded to crown Blair. For them, the attraction was simple, he was by far the most right-wing candidate. Labour supporters fell quickly beneath the myths. If the papers back us, people thought, then maybe we can win? At least three processes of self-delusion were already at work. After Black Wednesday, and Heseltine's assault on the remaining miners, Labour was already twenty points ahead in the polls. No saviour from on high was ever needed. Second was the extraordinary idea that allowing Rupert Murdoch to pick the next leader of the Labour Party could produce anyone other than a fan of big business. Third, the greatest self-deceit of all, was the idea that this rich lawyer, someone who had never shown any sustained interest in anyone other than his rich friends would deliver justice for Labour voters.

So who was the new Prime Minister in waiting? He had been educated at St. John's College Oxford by academics who later advised the Conservatives on how the law could be used to deny the rights of trade unionists. The minutes of his students union suggest that Blair had few friends. He changed his name from Anthony to Tony in the course of a meeting. Surrounded by students itching for revolution, Blair tacked for the one time in his life to the left. International issues were adopted, briefly and superficially. Why don't we subscribe to Chile Monitor, he asked one meeting, the next An Phoblacht? Blair stood twice for elections to his college student union, and lost both times. He joined the Labour Party in 1975, and in 1983 stood for Sedgfield. Adopted by an unlosable constituency, he was one of a tiny number of new faces to emerge through the electoral holocaust of Thatcher's second victory. A series of junior roles followed, and by 1992 Blair was Shadow Home Secretary.

But who was he really? A lawyer, a public school boy, a barrister. A man who had never worked for a living, but always profited from someone else's labour. In the early 1990s, you could sniff Blair's real supporters. They were the public sector managers, the men wearing suit trousers and bright ties, the people who had gained from privatisation and incorporation, the ones who were now charged for the first time with deciding their own salaries. They were the new corpulent faces of the second Thatcherite revolution. Blair was the very incarnation of this class. He had played in a band. His heroes had been the Grateful Dead, but he was a Christian, he'd never smoked. He believed in charity, giving to distant causes that cost little. Like all managers, he pretended he was normal. Like all managers, he told himself that he cared.

At the start of his leadership, Tony Blair was favoured with one great strength. By 1994, the Conservatives had already imploded. It was not merely the sycophancy and the corruption, cash for questions and the hypocrisy of family values. The malaise of British Conservatism went far deeper. Traditionally, the party had prospered off the backs of a kind of social deference, countryside values which held on for decades. But the Thatcherite strategy of permanent privatisation had undermined the very social bases of this attitude. If all were equal before the market, then the future belonged to booted Tebbitts rather than tweeded Hurds. But what would happen when the shires realised that privatisation cost them, too? That they would now have to pay for schools and hospitals which had been free? It was a point that the grandees half-grasped themselves. They despised the Iron Lady but had no other plan. Blair's opponents were sustained by an increasingly narrow base, whose electoral machine was incapable of winning north of Birmingham or west of Exeter, in any city larger then Gloucester. Blair's only rival was a party of nostalgic minorities.

Ever since then, Blair has set about position himself as the centre-point in British politics, the unquestionable neutral point, against which all other forces have to position themselves. 'Prosperity and security for all our people'. This was the point of all those advertisers' phrases, social-ism, New Labour, the Third Way. 'Freedom. Responsibility. Family. Efficiency', as Blair put in 1995. 'I am my brother's keeper. I will not walk by the other side.' Each was a strategy for continuing the Thatcherite project of privatisation and redistribution. The rhetorical flourishes meant nothing but to keep Labour supporters on-board.

'Investing in education and skills', Blair promised us. 'That does not necessarily mean government from the centre. It may be a mix of public and private enterprise. It may not be government at all, but the private sector, given a strong competitive framework in which to exist.' Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the Treasury has taken on the aspect of a giant hangar. At the front, signs read 'more cash for schools!', 'more spending on the NHS'. Round the back, however, we can find the real business. The drugs companies are there and the private security firms, Jarvis and Sodexho. Government ministers stand on the backs of flat-top lorries, throwing cash in bundles to their new corporate buddies.

Politics is always about economics, and number 10 Downing Street never far from number 11. Despite all the press gossip, Blair's closest ally has in fact been Chancellor Brown. It was Gordon who first masterminded the prawn cocktail offensive. It was Gordon who invented the idea before 1997 of sticking to Tory spending limits. It has been Gordon who cut businesses taxes. And it has been Gordon who set aside the funds to pay for Blair's wars.

'One thousand days to prepare for a thousand years', Tony Blair promised, 'Not just turning a page in history, but writing a new book'. It was the millenarianism of private business, the eschatology of the Millennium Dome. 'This is Britain's opportunity to greet the world with a celebration that is so bold, so beautiful, so inspiring that it embodies at once the spirit of confidence and adventure in Britain and the spirit of the future in the world ... Then we will say to ourselves with pride: this is our Dome, and believe me, it will be the envy of the world.'

The terrifying thing about Blair, of course, is that he believes every word. He is supremely self-deceptive. Schemes of domestic repression that would be unacceptable under the Conservatives have become normal in Blair's Britain. The number of foreigners deported each year has risen from less than twenty-five thousand in 1995 and 1996 to over sixty-five thousand now. Benefits have been taken away from refugees, young Muslim men placed under indefinite detention without trial. Even identity cards, that old aspiration of the Neanderthal Right is due to be introduced- with Blair's full consent.

'My value system is based on a belief about individuals and the society in which they live. It is only in a strong and active community that the individual thrives.' Blair wears his religion visibly, loudly boasting of his membership of the Christian Socialist movement, his fidelity to the diluted Marxism of John Macmurray. Christianity, he told us, 'is a tough religion'. Under the stewardship of Tony Blair, New Labour has become the party of war. There isn't a military dictatorship in the world without the gold card of New Labour's arms credits. Far from restraining Bush or Sharon, Blair has egged them on at every opportunity, even phoning the Israeli Prime Minister personally to endorse his attacks on the Palestinians. After September 11, Blair presented himself as a leader of the Western world, as the cool, rational spokesman for the excited adventures of the Americans. In March 2003, Blair was taxed with the task of convincing sceptical MPs to vote for war on Iraq. His single argument was that the invasion was justified by the scale of Saddam's weaponry. Blair insisted that Saddam Hussein possessed 6,500 chemical munitions, possibly 800 tonnes of mustard gas. 'Three kilograms of VX from a rocket launcher would contaminate a quarter of a square kilometre of a city. Millions of lethal doses are contained in one litre of Anthrax. 10,000 litres are unaccounted for.' Waverers were sent squeamishly back into line. A year on, though, how much of this arsenal has been found? In Spain, Italy, Australia and America, Blair's speeches received wall-to-wall coverage. As the official death toll in Iraq approaches 20,000 civilian casualties, we should remember it was his war, New Labour's war.

Before being elected to Parliament, Tony Blair was willing to consider a government far more radical than the one he has led. 'If the Labour Party wishes to reduce unemployment', he said in 1982, 'its difficulty will not be one of increasing central control but of containing that control and marrying it to ideas of industrial democracy. That in turn will bring any Labour government into sharp conflict with the power of capital, particularly multinational capital. The trouble with the right of the party is that it has basked so long in the praise of the leader-writers of the Financial Times, the Times and The Guardian is that it is no longer accustomed to giving them offence.' Not just the newspapers of the centre, but even the xenophobic tabloid right has been courted by Blair.

'Decent people. Good people. Patriotic people'. Under Blair, the gap between the wealth of the managers and the majority has grown. Whole chunks of the social economy are in decay: transport, local government, public housing. Inaction and indifference become in Blair's lexicon 'The courage of our convictions'. The response of the majority was best expressed in the front page of the Daily Mirror, the day after the 2001 election. A gaggle of excited ministers were photographed celebrating, and next to them the caption: 'Now get back to work!'

I think of all my those who fought the Tories in the 1980s, and who demonstrated against their attacks on the refugees and on the NHS. Can't they see that the Conservatism we hated has reinvented itself inside Labour? What was at stake in our politics was never the tribal loyalty that said a Tory in a red rosette is our friend, a Tory in blue is our enemy. Rather we had a conception, however vaguely glimpsed, of meaningful equality. We thought that privatisation should stop, we through that services should be redirected towards working-class areas. We accepted taxation to fund services, and to redistribute wealth towards the poor.

Who then is Tony Blair? He is the very adversary of the young and all those who still believe in change. The elections in June will coincide with the tenth anniversary of Blair's leadership. The Respect candidates would be better than Blair. If the sole question is stopping the upward transfer of wealth and power then any anti-war candidate with their roots in the movement would be better than Blair. For those you who stay with Labour, it would make a difference if you voted for parties to Labour's left. And it would help too, if you campaigned publicly against Blair.

   
   
   

 

 
   
         

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