Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Blair's Defence Fails to Convince
'I will not be leading New Labour into the next election but I will be doing everything I can to ensure we win it. That means renewing New Labour, not dumping it. If there's a better idea, let's hear it.' Thus did Tony Blair(yes, pictures on left are chosen at random) upraid we party members and supporters in yesterday's Guardian.
It seems he has no regrets about his period in power and wants to continue ploughing on in the same direction: 'taking further what we've done'. In addition he makes clear he is not short of new ideas, wishing to adapt 'Our model of public service reform....to new areas like criminal justice'. I didn't think I'd ever join the same camp as Peter Kilfoyle- the somewhat embittered former Merseyside junior minister who has been lambasting Blair from the backbenches for as long as I can remember- but it seems I have.
My reaction to his defence of his own record is to:
1. Accept wholeheartedly that his government has done an immense amount that has been both welcome and necessary: the minimum wage, tax credits, redistributive budgets, devolved assemblies abolishing hereditary peers from the Lords, reinvesting in public services and, most importantly, sustaining a strong economy for nine years. None of these things are likely to have been done by a Conservative government and together they provide more than sufficient legacy as well as justification for being in power.
2. Be very sceptical about an 'interventionist foreign policy'. This high risk policy worked in Kosovo and Sierra Leone but came tragically unstuck in Iraq and, now it seems, Afghanistan as well. Generally speaking I think 'masterful inactivity' is preferable to attempts to change the world but that there are rare specific occasions, when judicious intervention can be for the good. But Tony's article seems to offer justification for the Iraq debacle with no suggestion of any disengagement in the near future or disinclination to embark on other such escapades .
3. Worry that Blair will never realise, as did Bagehot, that 'dullness in the matter of government is a good sign' and that consequently efficient government is infinitely superior to his frenetic 'initiative a day' approach. As his government has matured we have seen why Sir Richard Wilson, former Cabinet Secretary-quoted by Simon Jenkins on Sunday, cried in despair, 'No-one in Number 10 has ever managed anything!'.
4. Worry also that Jenkins was right to conclude that: 'From the moment Blair became Labour leader he was memerised by the media and hung onto their every word. His closest associates were Alastair Campbell, his press secretary and Peter Mandelson, his media adviser. He was more fascinated by glamour, perks and surface presentation than policy.' The recent kowtowing of Blair and Reid to the cynical tabloid campaign on paedophiles was yet another shameful demonstration of the extent to which New Labour is in thrall to this section of the media.
5. Wonder why Blair invites us to come up with new ideas when it is now crystal clear he takes no notice of what we say. Upwards of a million and a half demonstrated against the Iraq adventure, to no effect whatsoever and in every other aspect of his premiership it is obvoius he sees public opinion as something to be managed rather than heeded.
I conclude, sadly, as I have been a loyal and convinced supporter for so long, that Blair's time is up. He's made his contribution but now, as Kilfoyle advises: 'Please, Tony, go gently into that political night'.
However, I'd like to take you up on the "it is crystal clear he takes no notice of what we say" point. It's true, a million and a half demonstrated against the Iraq intervention, but there are 60 million in this country, and, if I'm not mistaken, opinion polls indicated that a slight majority of them supported Blair - Nixon's "silent majority".
Generally, it's hard for governments to demonstrate that they are "listening", because there are so many diverse and competing interests. Is there any indication that the Blair administrations listen less than other governments in British history?
Re Iraq, I'm not sure there was a majority in the run-up to the invasion but there was, briefly, afterwards. However in addition:
i) we have to allow that many people might have bought the 'false' prospectus re WMD
ii) that a demo the size of the anti-Iraq war one was indicative of opposition far in excess of its numbers.
As for your post Skipper, I agree with 99.9% (although in fairness to Kilfoyle, he resigned in bitterness, not became bitter after being sacked so I suspect unlike quite a few recent converts, he was ahead of the game) of what you say. The 0.1% I disagree with is I don't care how gently he goes into that night.
Oh dear, these are fields of argument so swampy we'll all get enmired very quickly.
i)The figure of 100K killed in Iraq is surely inflated; I've seen 30K cited by critics of the war I'd more likely believe.
ii) as to who started the killing, the answer, just for starters involves consideration of : the WMD arguments; international law legality; the possible real motive of the oil; the question of sufficient troops; and the degree of 'postwar' planning done by US/UK. On all of these I find the case for Tony and George to be unsatisfactory but whether they carry responsibility for 'murder' is yet another complex moral argument.
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