by Gerry Hassan, Open Democracy

What a fascinating end to a watershed week in British politics.  A week shaped by the continued Blairite dominance of British politics.  Cameron’s ‘modernisation’ of the health service opened the week, and Blair’s evidence to the Chilcot inquiry and Andy Coulson’s resignation, David Cameron’s Head of Communications, closed it.

The Blairite ascendancy continues shorn of its New Labour platform.  In many respects this worldview does not now need to be rooted in any one political party to maintain its stranglehold.  Leaders of power whether Cameron or Clegg, or business people and media know the way the world works; it does not really matter to them that there are significant reservations in large parts of the Conservative and Lib Dem parties or elsewhere.

I listened to most of Tony Blair’s evidence today to Chilcot; that is I listened to all the BBC coverage that wasn’t taken up with the resignation of Andy Coulson.  It was a fascinating juxtaposition; the collision of two mutually admiring forces one of which shaped, even created the other; and of course to the end Coulson was following the brazen New Labour hymn book, finding a good day ‘to bury bad news’: himself.

Revealingly, there was much similarity in the style and manner of Blair’s evidence and Cameron’s comments on the loss of his chief spin-doctor.  Both gave an impression that they were confident, self-assured men of the world, busy doing things and that lesser mortals should be happy that they are getting a small part of their much in demand time.  There was in both, despite all their skills, a visible irritation at uncomfortable questions; there was an audible aura of impatience and nearly losing one’s cool – this latter point being truer of Cameron’s short comments on Coulson as he still has so much to learn from the master.

The substance of the Blairite ascendancy is of course so much more serious than this, raising huge questions about Iraq, our democracy and the Murdochisation of our politics.

Firstly, on Iraq, a theme which came over on this Thursday’s BBC ‘Question Time’ (1) with Alastair Campbell and George Galloway going at it hammer and tongs with such passion was: why does Iraq matter so much eight years after we went to war?

Imagine the US in a similar position, having such a raw, open, painful discussion about Vietnam in 1983 eight years after the Americans were defeated and the last embassy staff left Saigon; by then the US had moved on to Reagan’s ‘morning again’ for good and bad.

We haven’t moved on because we have not been allowed: by our leaders, political process and by not having a fully functioning public inquiry with the powers to decide whether the war is illegal.  Where is the closure going to come from given Blair is never going to say ‘sorry’ or be convicted of ‘war crimes’?  That matters to the health of our democracy and our future.

And another reason why it matters so much still – why it feels real and present – is that Blair still captivates us.  He is the object of the anti-war protestors, ‘the Bliar’ of the placards outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, the man who widows and bereaved families say ‘too late’ to about his supposed ‘regret.

Yet this is only part of the story.  The other is that Blair is the omnipotent presence who stands across British politics like a colossus: the figure Labour are trying to disentangle themselves from, and the man and legacy the Cameroons are obsessed with.  Thus, the NHS ‘health reforms’ are talked about internally as ‘Blair, better’; ditto Michael Gove and education, and the whole Cameron approach to his party, government and politics (2).

Second, the Murdochisation of our politics has gone hand in hand with the Thatcher-Blair consensus: a politics of populism, playing up to power and evangelical, messianic leaders convinced of their truth.

The Murdoch empire has had good times under its allies Thatcher and Blair; it has in effect become a private state in the UK: a powerful wedge for commercialisation, marketisation and vulgarisation, the cheapening and dulling of the public realm and public sensibility.

The language, priorities and policies of our new Blairite, post-democratic political establishment is one which talks a language of change; indeed it adopts an almost revolutionary fervour of going on about ‘the status quo not being an option’ and invoking freedom, autonomy and choice.  These powerful human sentiments have been captured and used for the agenda of ‘modernisation’: the constant buzzword of the Blairites and Cameroons to hand over large parts of our public services to ‘Britain plc’.

We have to stop this project in its tracks, because once it reaches a certain critical point, there will be no turning back for ‘Britain plc’ and ‘Fantasy Island Britain’.  And that requires an alternative project based on opposing modernisation and celebrating, affirming and extending democratisation into the elites and institutions.

Notes

1.  BBC Question Time, January 20th 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00xzvz2#p00ddrdc
2. James Forsyth, ‘What would Tony do?’, The Spectator, January 22nd 2011, http://www.spectator.co.uk/essays/6630178/what-would-tony-do.thtml

 

This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Gerry Hassan. Read Gerry Hassan by visiting his blog: http://www.gerryhassan.com

Comments  

 
# UpSpake 2011-01-23 10:22
It seems to me that as UK plc gets itself involved in crazy wars either military, financial or social that it has more than lost it's way as a moral leader in this increasingly divisive world. Gone is the Empire that drives so much of establishment thinking and rearward looking pride. Goodness sake, they still award Empire medals to deserving individuals. The government of the UK is still driven by a bureurocracy and a mindset that sees 'Great Britain' as a sort of world policeman and that it is our duty to declare war on people and kill with impunity in the name of this failed ideology. So we are led by warmongers and financial incompetents. Our ability to bring these people to account is stymied by our lack of control of the pillars of state. From illegal wars to squandering our wealth to having the right to end of life dignity, the whole impotence of the voice of the people is glaringly missing from debate. Here in Scotland this deficit is having a government we never voted for and an ideology alien to our thinking and our aspirations. Scotland and the UK need - desperatly, a written and codified constitution that is very easily understood by everyone in our society, from the average Joe in the street to the top of the political tree. Hold your government to account with the rights and responsibilitie s that a constitution would provide. Repeal the government if it is acting unconstitutiona lly, that is the people's right and that is what is enshrined in Scots Law and our concept of sovereignity. It lies with the people not the parliament. England will have to wake up to these Scottish values if it ever hope to wrestle it'self away from it's morrass.
 
 
# enneffess 2011-01-23 10:31
Labour's problem with Blair is exactly the same that the Tories have with Thatcher. Both leader's swept into power following a problematic previous government, and it seemed the start of a new beginning. Different circumstances but the same result. What to me is the major distinction is that the Tories lost because they were in power for too long, whereas Labour once again screwed up the economy.

But the visualisation of politics has changed - the leaders of Labour, Conservatives and LIb Dems are interchangeable . Can anybody spot the difference? In this respect we are heading for the One Party State, with the Dear Leader at the helm. There is a line from Hellboy, where John Hurt says "I see the puppet, but where is the puppeteer?" That to me sums up politics of these three parties in the UK today.
 
 
# ubinworryinmasheep 2011-01-24 10:25
Quote:
Can anybody spot the difference? In this respect we are heading for the One Party State,


Aye somebody suggested that on another post with Red Tory, Blue Tory, Yellow Tory ....it would make a good poster...have all the leaders in their relevant colours all beside each other.

The way is explain politics to the uninformed up here is that although non voters tend to think MPs/MSPs are all the same ..the SNP are different and it is because they realise that Scotland can only prosper with independence. All the other parties follow the same rules albeit with minor variations.
 
 
# west_lothian_questioner 2011-01-24 21:47
Nifty idea for a poster there ubin... a possible strapline/slogan: A Vote For Scotland! Keep The Tories (all of them) Out!
 
 
# J Wil 2011-01-23 11:26
The problem is that the English electorate don't have much of a choice about who they put into power, apart from not voting, which seems to be what is happening.

In Scotland we do have a better choice, with the SNP.
 
 
# rgweir 2011-01-23 11:53
I JUST DONT GET IT.
When labour were in power did ed balls not work with brown while the country went into financial meltdown?
Do labour not realise that they are giving the tories an open goal here?
 
 
# sid 2011-01-23 14:52
afternoon, yes they have handed the blue tory's an open goal but I don't think it will be the tory's that will be taking advantage It should be and I hope will be the SNP that take advantage.

labour caused it, the tory's are loving it and labour have still not learned the lesson.
Sid
 
 
# sneckedagain 2011-01-23 13:46
rgweir

You will have to get used to the fact that in most respects the Tories and Labour are equally culpable on this issue and basically on the same side.
 
 
# farrochie 2011-01-23 15:34
Regarding Chilcott, I found the questions to be convoluted and the answers equally beguiling.

I wanted to ask ex-PM Blair: "Did you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?".

Regrettably, the Truth is buried or hidden behind statements like "He spoke as a lawyer, I was speaking as a politician".

The fact that amongst all of this verbal sparring the inquiry had to re-examine Blair tells its own story.
 
 
# SolTiger 2011-01-23 16:10
The old anagram "Tony Blair, MP - I'm Tory plan B" is well and truly dead.

He, or his style, is Tory plan A now. New Labour was the party the Tories wished they could be so it is no surprise they are copying it now.

Of course then you have the much larger spectre of "personality politics." It doesn't matter how politically astute a leader is, it doesn't matter what they really stand for. If they can pull off being a semi-photogenic nice guy and get the media to back them to the hilt then that is half their battle won, if not more.

Combine this with voter apathy and you have a recipe for disaster. The people who believe the personality politics are no longer a fringe group as there are less people who actually care about politics.

I grew up in a very political family, on one side staunch Scottish Nationalists/Internationalis ts on the other mostly Socialist/Old "true" Labour, wait a fair bit of cross over between the two.

I'm 24 and there are times I read the news and just genuinely wish I didn't care about politics, but I am hooked, it is in my blood. Not one of my friends are the same, yes when you talk to them about specific political topics like public services, Scottish Independence, military spending, they will have a view, perhaps even a very strong one. When you ask them about political parties and government though more often than not they are repulsed by it and think nothing can be done to change the status quo so don't bother with it.

Hmm, I went off on a tangent a bit there but I do feel it is all kinda related.
 
 
# farrochie 2011-01-23 17:07
We can now examine ex-PM Blair's statements to Parliament in light of his admission that he was in favour of regime change in Iraq, while claiming that the issue was the existence and development of WMD. For instance (from Hansard):

Mr. Dalyell: What conclusions are we to draw from Madeleine Albright's discovery that not a single Arab country would support military action against Iraq?

The Prime Minister: All countries are concerned to ensure that Saddam Hussein obeys the United Nations security resolutions that were passed at the conclusion of the Gulf war. The reason why it is important that he does abide by those resolutions is that they concern the making of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. If he is allowed to carry on developing those weapons, the dangers, not just for the middle east, but for the whole world, are obvious and clear. He has deceived people, used chemical weapons on h is own people, and invaded other countries without any possible justification. It is absolutely essential that he backs down on this--that he be made to back down. We will, of course, seek a diplomatic solution, but he has to back down because, if he does not, we will simply face this problem, perhaps in a different and far worse form, in a few years' time.
 

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