Tuesday, 29 May 2007
More Cons than Pro's - The Legacy of Tony Blair
Much though I hate to dwell on the negative, I feel compelled to share a few thoughts about aspects of Tony Blair I found disturbing. Disturbingly enough, that turned out to be most of them! Perhaps it's a little premature to encapsulate the man in a nutshell yet, but you never know, his ghost writer might find the following useful in the three weeks he/she has to turn around Tony's autobiog when he finally finishes his 6-week farewell concert. By the by, click on the Link to Elvis McGonagall and listen to his excellent poem on the subject - 'The Long Goodbye'
Launched as Cool Britannia, under 'New' Labour, Blair's Britain became a byword for buzzwords. A soundbite became as good as an action. The equivalent. Eventually soundbites started replacing many actions. Corporatespeak lent itself perfectly to this process and gradually became the new political speak, belying Blair's increasingly in-pocket relationship to the corporate world.
LEFT OF DEBT
Blair continued the process which Neil Kinnock began of veering away from the Left and creating a new brand of Thatcheristic materialism aka 'New Labour', only this time based on false front and high levels of debt. Personal bankruptcy became easier and lost its stigma. Companies were allowed to advertise loans to bad debters and banks to lend beyond customers' known means. Meanwhile unsupported Industry continued its terminal decline with market forces dictating ever more remaining British jobs were outsourced overseas to take advantage of cut-price foreign labour costs.
As with a number of world leaders before him, Tony Blair cashed in on the ‘Let’s make myself look powerful and sexy and bookmark my place in History by starting a war’ routine. Luckily for him 9/11 came along which gave him the perfect excuse to join with George W in attacking a country seemingly entirely unrelated to the attack on the twin towers. Some say he knowingly started an illegal war against International Law and should thus be tried as a war criminal. On the psychological front Germaine Greer recently opined a theory that middle aged men start wars in the subconscious hope of wiping out some of their younger sexual rivals. If so, both George W and our own TB have disposed of nearly 3,600 younger sexual rivals to date, rumour has it, also conveniently preserving George W’s oil reserves. TB has certainly bookmarked his place in History but probably not in the way he had hoped, and I think it's fair to say most of my fellow Brits would agree he has covered himself in anything but glory in this whole sorry farce.
INCOMPETANCE & CRIME
Behind the scenes of 'glossy success' Blair's government displayed increasing levels of incompetence. Despite the rise of the 24/7 surveillance culture and persecution of the largely-law abiding over the most minor offences, control was lost first of drugs, then drink, then immigration, then crime in general to the point that the prisons were filled and no new prisons had been constructed. At this point courts came under pressure to sentence fewer criminals and for shorter periods, and early release got earlier, even for the most heinous crimes. On a wider level the new Police remit appears to be to persecute the mostly law-abiding for petty offences such as speeding and dropping litter as this demographic will at least attend court and pay their fines, enabling the law to still be seen as a force acting against (some) crime and earn some keep.
Meanwhile the conversion of former polytechnics to universities continued unabated which led to the problem of how to fill them. Exams were subsequently dumbed down to offer greater numbers of youngsters a 'University' education, research notwithstanding as to whether there was a market for more graduates and in what subjects more graduates might be needed. Greater numbers of students failed simple spelling, maths and comprehension tests yet were still admitted.. Simultaneously University fees escalated out of reach for a considerable number of youngsters or lumbered them with crippling debts at the start of their adult lives. To cap it all the average graduate starting salary has dropped from £21k to £14k in the last 7 years as market forces react to the glut of mainly lower-grade degrees. Apprenticeships continued to decline.
House prices rose over Tony Blair's tenure to the point where up to 70% of the under-40s are now priced out of property. This boom was perceived as a 'good' thing even though interest rates were kept artificially low to sustain it. Meantime social housing has become increasingly scarce since Thatcher's selling off of council housing stock and paltry replacement build of private social housing.
NATIONAL PRIDE & POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
Political correctness reached the point where it became 'racist' to have any kind of national pride, other than for football games. Luckily Blair's government had left us increasingly little to take any pride in. Posthumous apologies were made for the slave trade and the executions for cowardice of WWI soldiers. History teaching was scaled down in schools. Christian symbols, greetings and songs became fair game for banishment as possibly offending minority groups in this Christian country (well no one has yet told us it isn't). This led to a certain amount of unfair cultural backlash, when it was actually our own officialdom acting ridiculously. No one's decided what public head wrappings are acceptable yet.
Although 2000 saw the Freedom of Information Act ushered in, much has since been done by Blair's government to quash democracy and personal freedom, particularly peaceful protest and the right to trial by jury, for example.
Another Blair buzzword although at least one that once had meaning. Now reduced to a high-five between hoodies emulating Ali G to diffuse charged situations. But the reality of respect at a national level is that Blair has done more to undermine 'respect' for leadership than any other leader.
Perhaps in panic at the loss of control detailed above, Blair's government has done much to make ordinary citizens fear for both their safety and their innocence-until-proven-guilty (in this big brother) world of of 24/7 surveillance. In addition we have the threat of identity cards, fingerprinting of the innocent, iris-scanning and a new everyday struggle to remain human beings with identities/personalities and not wake up to find ourselves mere numbers and statistics. Increasing levels of personal data are being gathered on us all the time. Even our wheelie bins will shortly be spying on us! The threat of terrorism is increasingly used as an excuse to curb and erode inconvenient freedoms.
It is hard to think of a leader who has previously turned about so quickly to suit his ends - evidently an avid fan of 'House of Cards'! Most alarmingly of all no previous leader has so blatantly lied (about legality of the war as well as the presence of weapons in Iraq) been found out, and held onto office. A high-ranking British weapons inspector was even found mysteriously dead as a direct result of this lie. Other of TB's ministers have also survived scandals of a magnitude that they would previously have been swiftly forced to resign over.
Blair put the foot into mouth of foot and mouth disease and turned the Minstry of Fisheries and Farming (MAFF) into the ultra-sinister DEFRA (or Death Ray as it came to be known by some). Many farmers went bankrupt over F&M and if they survived that, bird flu and lack of support for farm gate prices often put the final nails in their coffins as farmers, sometimes literally, as suicide rates rose sharply among their ranks.
Blair welched on his first election promise for a Commission into Vivisection, trying to palm the electorate off with a ban on foxhunting, in the full knowledge of its unenforcability, but then foxhunting is a minority sport involving largely non-Labour voters (and less of a political hot potato than Vivisection), thus an easier target.
EROSION OF CIVIL LIBERTIES
Blair has eroded the right to trial by jury, the right to peaceful protest, free speech, the Lords and the hard won Freedom of Information Act. If you haven't had your collar felt yet, it's only a matter of time - you're bound to be guilty of 'something'!
Society has been dumbed down from education upwards and the dawn of a populace who are becoming too childishly dependent and confused to know what they are voting for or against (aside from the parties themselves blurring the boudaries). Many now abstain altogether convincing themseleves not voting is a 'protest' vote, with the rest of us either too cynical, apathetic or knackered to attempt to do more than make it to the polling station, let alone take to the streets to exercise our eroded protest right, now the pace of life is so ridiculous we can scarcely keep up with it.
Blair hates architecture with a vengeance and has allowed a great deal of valuable heritage to be swept away under his leadership, including the salvageable Baltic Exchange (once the centre of British shipping) in favour of a 'gherkin' right next to St Paul's. He is now in the process of 'streamlining' planning permission and allowing more appeals against preservation orders. His henchman John Prescott is in the process of knocking down vast swathes of the well-built Victorian North to benefit greedy developers with shoddy replacement characterless flats that no one can afford in the misnomer of 'regeneration' and benefiting the community. The winning of the 2012 Olympics for London is cause for most celebrations owing to its convenient excuse to destroy the last remnants of the old East End to 'open the way' to more homogenised corporate development. Liverpools' City of Culture 2008 is similarly being used as an excuse to bulldoze most of its culture in favour of iconic abortions of ego.
The nuclear family has gone supernova. Blair seems happy enough about this, continuing to strip all tax advantages to marriage, making divorce even easier and offering no support to family units trying to function as family units. At the other end of the scale adult children crippled by University loans and unable to afford a place of their own are often unable to fly the nest. Greater numbers are subsenquently living with their parents even into their 30's, independent adult lives unbegun. At least two future timebombs tick.
Blair has been trained by voice coaches, body language experts and stylists more than any previous PM, though perhaps his dress style remaining ropey was a deliberate choice lest we think he had been too polished
A friend recently opined that Tony Blair had done more to undermine respect for leadership than any other PM. Thinking about it, this seems entirely true. He has got away with stuff of gargantuan proportions that no other PM has ever got away with, not to mention let an awful lot of civilised society that was worth retaining slide down the toilet surreptitiously and unceremoniously. People are voting with their feet - they are not walking to their polling stations any more. They have lost interest in the whole politics business. Which potentially leaves the way clear for any passing meglomanic to get elected on the slimmest majority and do whatever the hell they want! They'd only be following TB's lead after all. Bad things happen when good people do nothing, as they say.
BIZARRE STUFF UNDER TONY BLAIR'S PREMIERSHIP!
The encouragement of binge-drinking in a society already plagued by it with the introduction of 24hr drinking.
The encouragement of supercasinos in a country already drowning in a sea of personal debt.
The onward march of health and safety to the point where the cost of implementation is putting some businesses out of business.
The persecution of the grammar school in an era where 'all' children are supposed to have a fair chance of a good education and we keep being told we live in an increasingly competitive world.
Tony Blair - Pros
He has at least begun to take global warming seriously and urge other leaders to do so.
He may have helped the Northern Ireland situation.
He has brought in anti-ageism legislation. Implementation will take a little longer.
He likes cats.
To sum up, I feel we should rue the passing of John Smith more with every day - or 'The Best Prime Minister We Never Had' as various glowing tributes had it at the time. Even the fact that he was not English and bald (apparently it's a little known truth that no one ever votes for the bald guy in politics!) did not seem to detract from his popularity. John Smith was a politician you could take seriously. Just enough ego but not too much. Just enough charm, but not too much. A seriously vast brain. A presbytarian work ethic, a caring family man. Doubtless he would have had his faults too, but he was one of the few political arguments for Cryogenics or Cloning that come to mind.
Ah well, at least I can smugly console myself I never voted for the Cheshire Cat and didn't trust his queasy smile from the start.