Thursday, 10 May 2007

Goodbye Mr. Blair: go quickly, go quietly, just go

The news is alive with the build up to Tony Blair's resignation today, though of course he will remain prime minister for another couple of months or so. Like many people in the UK I am looking forward to him going. I think the fact that the condemnation of him stretches across the political spectrum from the far right to Old Labour reinforces what I posted recently. Blair has not really been a Labour prime minister he has been a Blairite prime minister, that mix of Christian Democrat approaches with his desires, however tempered, to adopt a more authoritarian approach to things. Whilst I would not want a prime minister who was uncertain about themselves and what they stood for (this was John Major's problem by 1997) Blair has gone too far in the opposite direction, he has had total arrogance in everything he believed and more than that found it difficult to accept that anyone who thought differently from him had legitimate views. He was lucky in 1997 that he was really the only option for those who wanted to dismiss the Conservatives from office and that included many Conservative supporters, but never has he really engaged with more than a small circle of supporters. There has been a small Blairite circle who have shared his vision, but have been alien not only to the UK as a whole, but also the Labour Party itself, it simply acted as a machine to get this clique, this junta, to the pinnacle.

Blair learned most of his political approach from Margaret Thatcher, hence reference to 'presidential politics', the kind of Gaullist approach, eschewing Cabinet government, simply having bilateral talks between premier and another minister on an issue. Blair would have done better to have learned from Clement Attlee (Labour Prime Minister 1945-51) who went to efforts to balance his Cabinet in terms of their backgrounds, even which parts of the country they came from and to let those with ability exercise it, rather than hold them back because they did not agree precisely with what he thought. Yes, the prime minister should be charismatic, but should ensure that he does not plunge his colleagues into the shade.

Possibly the best way to characterise Blair's behaviour in the British political system is like one of the rulers of the Italian city states of the Renaissance, say for example, the De Medicis. He has had a clique to which he has been very loyal: Peter Mandelson, David Blunkett, Ruth Kelly, Tessa Jowell, Alan Milburn no matter what they did, no matter how bad it was in political terms, they were always forgiven and more than that, lifted back up to high office. Those with talent and yet outside the group, such as Mo Mowlam and Robin Cook were marginalised. Blair had his vizier, his henchman, the equivalent of the wizard he consulted to achieve the black arts so granting that person power over him to - Alastair Campbell his communications officer as with all black magicians, suspected and feared by others at the court. In addition, Blair has followed the precept 'keep your friends close, but your enemies closer', hence Gordon Brown being the longest serving Chancellor of the Exchequer in British history (the UK equivalent of the Minister of Finance).

Blair's departure today (assuming he does not make himself leader for life instead) will also mean the end of these Renaissance politics at the heart of the UK system, and (hopefully) the end of the term of office of the Blairite Party. The curious thing about the Blair regime is that it had such immense power, so much popularity at the start, such a large majority in parliament and yet so much of its efforts from the start seem to have gone into preparing Blair's legacy almost from the first day. He has been the pharoah who has diverted his strong army into building his pyramid rather than pushing back the enemies at the border. These enemies for the UK remain poverty, ill health among the population, a deteriorating environment, increasing racial tension, a lack of engagement with opportunities in Europe, the increasing difficulty of housing and the expense of living in the UK. He could have done so much but rather he prefers to strut on the world stage, causing misery for hundreds of thousands and further dividing the UK population.

There are some good things that the last 10 years have brought. The one I would point to is the minimum wage which was long overdue. British people remain underpaid and overworked, but I knew people whose weekly income doubled the moment the minimum wage came in, people who were on the bottom of society and victims of its capriciousness. So many companies whined that it would drive them out of business. This has proven to be untrue and it is obscene to run a business that depends on paying people so little, especially when the salaries of those who run businesses are so many more times larger than those of their workers. Prove to me that a managing director does 20, 30, 100 times more work than his employees.

Tax credits have also been a good step, helping those people hovering on the fringes of benefit and employment, especially for families as children make up half of all the people in poverty. However, tax credits have been handled and administered so badly. Had no-one learned from the fiasco that was the Child Support Agency? Millions of people have had tax credits overpaid, underpaid, clawed back. You cannot behave like that especially with people for whom £40 per week is a huge difference between whether they eat, pay their rent, heat their homes, can get the bus to work, etc.

The Freedom of Information Act was another overdue step, but one again that has been weakened in the execution. The Data Protection Act, actually supposed to protect us from the 'Big Brother' surveillance culture, is actually used by the Big Brothers, the authorities to bar us from information which we need. FoI is a good policy and yet latterly as the government pushes for expensive identity cards which will carry data we have no knowledge of and wants to bring biometric data and other information together in one huge database, you feel that their heart was not really in giving us access to what is held about us. We lag behind countries such as Sweden and even the USA in what we can find out. Rather the Blair government has preferred to move towards the surveillance approach of every aspect of our lives so common in totalitarian regimes.

It would be nice if someone could remind me of some of the positive things that the Blair regime has done for this country, because I cannot think of any at present. I accept that few others could do much better, but few others could do much worse, and why should I be compelled to accept a leader because he is the least worst option as Blair has long been portrayed to the ranks of the Labour Party. I do not even have to mention the word 'Iraq'. The thing that makes the Blair years so bitter is that you feel he has grabbed you by the back of the head and rubbed your nose in what he has produced saying 'you ungrateful moron, look how good I have been to you, look, look harder; now: love me, worship me'.

The one thing I now dread in the post-Blair rule period is that he will linger on strutting around London with his coterie, undermining anything his successor does, hoping as I imagine he will, that there will be a crisis and he will be called back to save the country, as the King Arthur or the Sir Francis Drake re-awakened from their slumber. Peron and De Gaulle, those two egoists that Blair so resembles, did have this opportunity and I just pray that Blair never gets such a chance. Berlusconi, please offer Blair a nice quiet villa where he can sit in retirement out of our way, somewhere in Tuscany, not Elba!

No comments: