Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blair going, going ...


So Tony Blair is finally exiting -- good riddance I say, though really it's none of my business. He's the Brits' monster to deal with -- GWB is our responsibility. But I am surprised as I wander around the U.S. blogosphere at how relatively lightly Blair gets off in the esteem of usually progressive commentators. Many Brits are not so kind.

Mr. Blair ... is a boundlessly superficial person...

A.N. Wilson, New York Times

The man who declared that his arrival in office was a "new dawn" did not end, and perhaps in the end deepened, public cynicism about politicians' honesty and motives.

Nick Robinson, BBC blog

And so, a slippery, malodorous and rather unpleasant part of the country’s anatomy is finally going to be douched.

Justin McKeating, Chicken Yoghurt blog

Here's a pre-primer on some of the faults of Mr. Blair for folks in the United States.
  • The guy is sleazy. You didn't like Abramoff peddling Congressmen's votes? Blair's Labour Party apparently sold peerages to raise cash for its last general election campaign. Blair may not have done the deed himself, but it was on his watch and he's been interviewed twice by the investigators. He also was party to killing an investigation of financial misdoings at the behest of a Saudi bank. Ugly stuff.
  • Blair's idea of governing was to cozy up to Rupert Murdoch, the right wing tabloid press tycoon. Sensational murder and mayhem sell papers. The Blair government has been all too willing to play to this. A critic writes of Blair: "Rupert Murdoch helped formulate the public opinion that got Blair elected and has since had a hold on him. This has resulted in knee-jerk legislation coming from New Labour every time a grizzly story hits the headlines." (By the way, on this side of the Atlantic, Murdoch is fan of Hillary; bears remembering.)
  • Because Blair has always had an elastic relationship with truth, he thrives on a dazed public. Encouraging fear after 9/11 and even more the London 7/7 bombings served his purposes. Fear enabled his government to gut historic British expectations of civil liberties. From Blairwatch:

    Under Blair, Britain became a surveillance society with more CCTV cameras than anywhere else in the world. Demonstrating outside Parliament became illegal without prior permission from the police. ... Blair pushed hard to impose ID cards on us all with biometric information and all details about us (including medical) easily accessed by government departments as well as fraudsters. The right to trial by jury is being eroded, habeas corpus has been suspended.

    Yet despite all these measures, Britain is no safer according to the same government who introduced this Draconian legislation. We are constantly being told of numerous terror threats against us.

    ...we've also seen an 80 year-old heckler manhandled out of a Labour Party conference and we've seen a woman arrested for reading out the names of people killed in Iraq. The Terrorism Act is used as a catch-all to prevent any sort of dissent. There was even an attempt to pass a law allowing further laws to be made without Parliamentary scrutiny called the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

    Because the Brits don't have a written Constitution, one authoritarian government can pull all this off. Not that we're proving a shining example of Constitutional limits ourselves.
  • Of course the huge Blair blunder that everyone notes was Iraq -- Blair's choice to join in George W. Bush's imbecilic crusade, against the wishes of masses of Britons, has ultimately overshadowed everything else that took place under his ten year government. The war could only be sold by egregious lies and a subsequent cover-up that undermined the legitimacy of government itself.
***
So today, Brits find themselves in the condition we hope to bring ourselves to in November 2008: a reviled politician is on the way out; something/someone will come next. Immediately there will be another Labour government led by Gordon Brown whose ten years in the shadow of Blair have not suggested he'll take any independent direction. Meanwhile the Tories, ostensibly to the right, sit in the wings confident that they'll win the next election because of people's disgust with Labour. Yet, again from Blairwatch,

the two great opposing parties are merging into one homogenised entity where, at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter which one takes power and the theatrics in Parliament are just that.

U.S. progressives are actually lucky that Democrats were not the primary force behind our failed imperial war in Iraq -- we can at least hope to turn our surging Democratic party in a somewhat progressive direction. We're not quite as stuck as our British friends -- but only if we make it so.

13 comments:

jamal said...

good article. we're all glad he's going.

Jan said...

Randomly visiting from across the pond, one Jan to another. It was interesting to read your commentary on the sad state of British politics. We all felt so hopeful 10 years ago that change for the better was coming, but all Blair brought was a string of broken promises.

Anonymous said...

To right,the bulk of the population of Britain are fed up to the back teeth of Bliar and his bunch,not only because of Iraq but taxes,red tape,cash for peerages,more taxes,more laws,political correctness gone mad,under funding of the forces,media spin,more taxes etc.You get the idea.
We are told that he will now spend his time lecturing and making millions in the US.You can keep him,but do not believe anything he says,and do not go to his lectures.

Anonymous said...

When Blair came to power he seemed like a bit of a salesman, he was clearly superficial and was handed the premiership because everyone was sick of the tories (yes ironic isn't it?). In a parallel of American politics, everything became a political game and everything Blair touched turned to shit. We now have a judiciary, a civil service and a police force riven by political infighting instead of doing their jobs and untrusted by the public. Cronyism and corruption have been rampant and political interference has never been so blatant, the public's voice has never been so ignored....and of course there are the lies - not the usual little lies (i didn't read the memo / i really had no knowledge of that etc), but the bare-faced lie that he knew Iraq had WMD that could be deployed in 45 mins. He knew it wasn't true and the 30,000 American dead and wounded soldiers, the 1200 UK dead and wounded and the 600,000 dead Iraqis all resulted from that lie. If anyone in America sees him doing a speaker tour i would urge you to pelt the psychotic little fool with rotting vegetables.

Anonymous said...

It's a little disappointing to see such one-sided views.

Of course the expectations of the British electorate were unachievably high in 1997, but it is simply absurd to argue that public services haven't improved. Ask a teacher whether their school buildings are improved. Ask a nurse about the length of waiting lists. Ask a train driver about the amount of delays.

And as for the criticism of British politics and civil liberties, the lack of factual understanding is very apparent. The Human Rights Act 1998 is very close to a written constitution in terms of civil liberties. And I'm assuming you have heard of the Patriot Act?

The day our political system is built almost entirely on the US model of commercial and religious lobbying will be a sad one.

It is also quite funny to compare the 'scandals' in British politics (e.g. 'cash for peerages' - political appointees are completely legitimate, by the way, and the peerages were blocked by the independent commission set up by this administration) and the institutional and endemic corruption of Haliburton et al.

Blair made mistakes like any human does. Iraq for me really does scar his legacy. But I really do challenge you to put hand on heart and say you could have done a better job.

George Stothard said...

Fascinating to read the views of some Americans on this blog. It is clear that the comments are of a particularly narrow point of view, which is sad. I am a fully paid up, life-long member of the Labour Party and am enormously grateful to Tony Blair for the enormous adavnces he has made both domestically and on the world stage. Lets put Iraq and Blair's relationship with GWB aside for the purpose of a fully objective assessment of the mans decade in power. He has delivered a much improved national health service, free at the point of use to all citizens and of the very highest quality. Waiting lists are practically zero for operations and there are more than 100 new hospitals in this small island of ours than there were 10 years ago. The USA comes nowhere close when it comes to looking after its sick. And our schools are new and shiny, we have record levels of acadameic achievement and record levels of students at University. Our economy continues to experience an unprecedented run of smooth economic growth with low inflation, steady interest rates and record levels of employment.

Let it be known that Tony BLair, whatever your view on Iraq, has done an unimaginably brave thing to drag Britain in to the 21st century. He has introduced an equal age of consent for homosexuals, civil partnerships, a minimum wage, disability rights, paternity and maternity rights and many more liberal policies. Yes he has been hard on terrorism and he has introduced policies that infringe on some very basic rights to protest. The man is not perfect and his record is not unblemished.

The UK is a fairer, nicer and happier place. I challenge any US citizen to paint a picture that is contrary to this.

To accuse him of delivering nothing but a string of broken promises is a gross misrepresentation of the real picture. And for those still in doubt, may I point you to a lady called Polly Toynbee, a superb left-wing journalist who is perhaps the most liberal of commentators in Britan. Google her and read around, broaden your horizons. If you wish to make more than a passing comment based on nothing more that hear say then read Polly Toynbee, you'll be surprised about what she has to say about Blair.

Anonymous said...

I think the last two posts probably came from Millbank (Labour Party HQ).

Health service better?

I just found out today that a friend of mine was diagnosed with lung cancer after a chest x-ray while suffering from pnuemonia a month ago.

They only told her yesterday.

Better my arse.

Political appointees to the lords might be allowed, but you're not supposed to offer them for "loans" to the party, which are never expected to be repaid, and charge no interest (the money is given in this way to bypass reporting legislation introduced by the labour party itself).

Record levels of students studying useless degrees like surf studies, and other "degrees" totally useless for getting a job afterwards.

And George Stothard.. Don't presume to tell me I'm "happier" because of that bunch of shysters.

And Polly Toynbee!!!! HA!

Try Guido Fawkes as well, that'll add a bit of humour and balance.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to say..

Tony Blair is a lying little shit, and I hope both him, and his money grubbing bitch of a wife get sodomized to death by elephants.

Except Tony would probably enjoy it.

ds said...

Anonymous said...

"It's a little disappointing to see such one-sided views."

Well, it usually is when you don't share them.

"Of course the expectations of the British electorate were nachievably
high in 1997"

But Blair was, in part, responsible for that. He and his party were
willing to raise those expectations to gain office. And they didn't
try to damp expectations all that quickly either did they?

"but it is simply absurd to argue that public services haven't improved. Ask a teacher whether their school buildings are improved. Ask a nurse about the length of waiting lists. Ask a train driver about the amount
of delays."

Absurd is it? Ask those same teachers about their actual jobs, not just the buildings they're working in. While you are at it, could you ask the floods
of teachers leaving the profession exactly why they are doing so? Is it because of the increasing lack of control they are able to muster in classrooms or is it the rampant over-examination? Friends who work in the primary sector are sick of having to spend most of their time mired in admin and not actually being able to teach: no, that jobs is left to "teaching assistants".

Ask both nurses and teachers about the increasing levels of stress and violence they face in their jobs, and the raft of new "reforms" and "initiatives" and "targets" that make their jobs increasingly difficult to do in the ways they should. Ask why front-line services are creaking while a burgeoning culture of management to administer this new bureaucracy is being created.

Incidentally, I work in the Higher Education sector. Trust me, things
are not getting better here either. The push to 50% of 18-25 year-olds
getting degrees is making an already stretched system approach breaking point. Compared to the experiences I had in HE only 15 years ago, the poor kids coming in now are being conned. There's simply no other way to put it. and they're being forced to shell out ever larger amounts of money to
do it. It's iniquitous and foul because Mr Blair's own children, for example, are not going to have to compromise their studies by working themselves into the ground to pay for them, unlike many have to now. And many won't complain, because they know no other way that it happened. We are creating a professional class that too many in the state want: able to do what is necessary, but never to even think of questioning the process or the system, because that would never do.

As for train drivers, try asking a passenger what things are like. I bet you don't get such a good answer. Then again, try anyone using public transport, which is an utter mess: another Blair promise that has been broken.

"And as for the criticism of British politics and civil liberties, the lack of factual understanding is very apparent. The Human Rights Act 1998 is very close to a written constitution in terms of civil liberties. And I'm assuming you have heard of the Patriot Act?"

Yes, but by the same token, we are living in the most surveillance-ridden nation in the Western world.
In fact, the amount of time each of us spends on CCTV is comparable to Singapore. OF course, the
efficacy of CCTV as a means of cutting crime is still to be proven, but it's a very quick way for authorities to mollify a public who are sick of increasing levels of violent crime. And why are MP's currently trying to make sure that the Freedom of Information Act won't apply to them?

And then of course we come to ID cards. I could talk about this for ever, but there's just not enough space. This enormous white elephant sits in the centre of Blair's
domestic "security" policy, when it's fairly plain that they will not be of any real use, except to track our movements. One of the rights of living in a free country is supposedly that of being able to go about your own lawful business in privacy and without let or hindrance by the state. I have nothing to hide, but I don't like being spied on with the presumption that I'm guilty of something. Have you actually read the Identity
Cards Act. I have. All of it. and it scares the living shit out of me. Truly it does. So much so that I'm thinking of getting out of this country as quickly as I can.

"The day our political system is built almost entirely on the US model of
commercial and religious lobbying will be a sad one."

No, we just stick to money. It's easier. I must admit a certain wry amusement, however, that the UK, with an
established church, suffers less from religious pressure than the Us, the country that has enshrined the right to
religious freedom in its constiution. It's hilarious that, given that, no US presidental campaign would ever admit to being
an atheist, would they?

And please don't tell me that our political system is now not as debased as the US one.
A supposedly Cabinet-based model of collective responsibility is being replaced by an increasingly presidential focus. If you need to think about this, consider exactly what does the Foreign Secretary do in the UK now? Margaret Beckett has been almost invisble while Archbishop Blair does the job by proxy.

"It is also quite funny to compare the 'scandals' in British politics
(e.g. 'cash for peerages' - political appointees are completely
legitimate, by the way, and the peerages were blocked by the independent commission set up by this administration) and the institutional and endemic corruption of Haliburton et al."

Please don't try and assert any kind of moral superiority over the US here. Yes,the commission did block (some of)the appointments, the ones we know about. If everything is so above board, why exactly are the police STILL pursuing the enquiry? And to sweep things like the recent BAe story under the carpet and also our complicity with the Haliburton setup in the middle East, you are really not in a position to start slinging mud. To be fair, I don't think that the Blair government is any more or less corrupt than any other. They're just much worse at burying the bodies (which for some reason makes me think about Dr David Kelly).

"Blair made mistakes like any human does. Iraq for me really does scar
his legacy. But I really do challenge you to put hand on heart and say you could have done a better job."

The US see a very different Blair to the one we do, in much the same way that our view of GWB, the chimp in a suit, is coloured by his foreign policy. We see very little of the man in a domestic context. Blair is now unpopular in the UK
as a result of Iraq, yes, but also because in a whole variety of ways he has simply not delivered on the promise he has made. Yes, he is human and no, perhaps I couldn't have have done a better job. But HE could. And that's the whole point.

boo said...

What drivel about teaching. I've taught in inner london schools for 12 yrs and it's not perfect, but the exaggerated doom-mongering in the previous post is way off the mark. Pupils at my school enjoy being there. They study a much wider range of options, have smaller classes than 10 years ago and have numerous specialist professionals supporting their needs. I bet the squawkers in this forum haven't been near a school in years.

japanesewhispers said...

After reading some of these comments I felt I had to respond. Especially to anonymous, who claims that the UK had a lot of "new shiny schools and hospitals" Well I would like to know where the hell they are. As they are nowhere near where I live. In fact, since Labour got in, our local materinity unit has been closed. A unit that served not only our local community but those of the islands nearby. Forcing some people to travel up to 3 hours to their nearest maternity unit. At a minimum it's 40 minutes with no traffic. This unit has been moved to a hospital with 5 other units within less that 30 mins drive. Bad planning. Oh and none of them are shiny nor new. Same with our local psychiatric and long term sick unit. Closed. not moved, just closed. Patients moved miles from their families or told they no longer have a place. Again nothing shiny nor new.
Most of the schools in the area are being closed and amalgamated, chosing the less shabby of the two buildings to house the new school. Again none of these buildings being shiny nor new. May I also point out that this is in an area that has voted Labour since the end of the war. We have never had any other representation at Westminster since the Labour party came into existence. So, if this is how the Labour loyal get treated, then I'd hate to see those marginal seats.

ds said...

boo said...

"What drivel about teaching. I've taught in inner london schools for 12 yrs and it's not perfect, but the exaggerated doom-mongering in the previous post is way off the mark. Pupils at my school enjoy being there. They study a much wider range of options, have smaller classes than 10 years ago and have numerous specialist professionals supporting their needs. I bet the squawkers in this forum haven't been near a school in years."

Yes, well most of the Labour education reforms were done for YOUR benefit: schools mainly in the biggest urban areas - like London. Out in the smaller towns and in rural areas the picture is less rosy. You are clearly very fortunate. I also have a three-year-old who'll be entering the system very soon so I have a pretty strong interest in the education system, thank you very much.

I have a number of friends in the school system and several have left because the job of teaching is being made ever harder to do, and not because of the kids it must be said. Other friends who are school governors don't make me feel any cheerier. The target system so prevalent in much of Blairite thinking, and now entrenched in schools (according to my teacher friends) is beginning to creep into HE as well. And of course we see the products of what has gone these last ten years. It's not pretty.

Pete said...

"...the expectations of the British electorate were unachievably high in 1997"

The expectations of an electorate will only ever be as high as what they are led to believe is possible by a canvassing party.

"Ask a teacher whether their school buildings are improved. Ask a nurse about the length of waiting lists. Ask a train driver about the amount of delays."

Good traditional Labour policies built on corporate partnership and privatisation, did I miss something? I would ask a nurse, but they're all too busy on acocunt of being so short staffed (perhaps I could ask a few junior doctors, except most of them seem to be finding it lamentably difficult to find real work).

And let's clear something up - a new school does not equate to a better school, you can't polish a turd - the flurry of schools infrastructure investment in the past two years is nothing but whitewash to cover for a failure to deliver on the key policy that put Blair in power: "education, education, education".

"Our economy continues to experience an unprecedented run of smooth economic growth with low inflation, steady interest rates"

This is often referred to by the Blairite machine as something along the lines of "the longest period of ecenomic growth since Moses left Dumbarton"; of course, the fact that it started three years prior to Blair winning power is ignored and it is never put in the context of what happens next. Let's not forget Newton's Third Law - we are being kept at an artificial level of "boom", and will be for the forseeable future because the "bust" on this one is going to be cataclysmic, and no politician wants that on their watch.

These historically low interest rates and the lack of lending legislation has created a buy to let market where it's almost impossible for the young to get on the property ladder, those who do are faced with a lifetime of indebtidness; having to work longer hours to stay afloat; and less expendible income with which to raise a family. A recent study by the Universities of Loughborough and Aberdeen concluded that "For the people, young and not so young, who find themselves on the wrong side of the current housing divide, the experience is one of extended student style house sharing, living with parents, together with postponed independence, relationship formation and parenting.

"In more severe cases, of course, the consequence is homelessness. All of this has rendered the UK government's rhetoric regarding the 'opportunity society', and the importance of education and work as the route to success, somewhat hollow."

Sounds great, I for one am glad of this unprecedented growth(!)

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