Saturday, 1 January 2022

Arise Sir Tony

What unites New Labour throwbacks and a section of the left? Their excitable response to Tony Blair news. And wasn't there some news last night. The Queen has bestowed upon His Blairness a knighthood, but not just any knighthood: a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter is the highest honour a British sovereign can bestow, and Blair joins virtually all his prime ministerial predecessors save Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home as a recipient of the honorific. Naturally, he's thrilled to bits as are his acolytes and epigoni. Those who believe he should be in irons at the Hague, less so.

There is a concerted establishment effort to launder Blair and absolve him of his pivotal role in the Iraq War. As he likes to say, he's proud of the fact he helped topple a repulsive dictator. One, we should remember, the Anglo-American alliance were very happy to support until Saddam Hussein slipped his leash. But the question is what is a reasonable blood price for regime change? Not only are there the hundreds of thousands killed directly by military assault and a decade's worth of sanctions, but we also have the warlordism and the rise (and fall) of ISIS. A bleak catalogue of appalling devastation and death that, in all likelihood, would not have happened if Blair hadn't provided George W Bush the political cover his Middle Eastern adventure needed. But it's okay, those affected by his actions seldom if ever come into his orbit. He doesn't have to sit across a dinner table from an Iraqi, whose family's bodies laid for months in the rubble of their home. One unforeseen political consequence was how Blair's decision has limited subsequent governments' room for manoeuvre. The invasion of Libya happened, bombs were dropped in Syria, the RAF are active, if largely unreported, participants in Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, but undoubtedly there would have been less jaw jaw and more war war were it not for the disaster visited on Iraq and the exposure of the lies that justified it. For providing such a drag on Britain's ability to make war, it's a wonder the establishment are patting him on the head.

But, lest we forget, there was more to Blair than a war of dubious legality and humanitarian provenance. While no one seriously thought his 1997 government was going to imperil capital and unleash the Marxist hounds of hell, his 10 years in power bedded down rather than unpicked the Thatcherite settlement. Only Labour politicians are daft enough to treat neoliberal macroeconomics as articles of faith, but time and again government intervention in the economy was ruled out. Except for when the state was selling off what bits of the public infrastructure the Tories didn't get round to, or creating new market opportunities (mainly outsourcing) in public services and the NHS. On this score, John Major drew up the blueprints and Blair's governments took over and made their own. The Private Finance Initiative, faux competition between state-run services, expanding neoliberal governance, all provided capital with guaranteed public sums and the residual class consciousness befitting a period of class peace. Profits were up, employment was up, public amenities got a lick of paint, and pleasingly the collective power of the working class declined over the Blair and Brown period. For a party of the trade unions, they did everything they could - and then some - to prevent the re-emergence of a collective or collectivist consciousness. A point underlined by the Iraq War protests, which were overwhelmingly pacifistic and found their protest vote outlet in ... the Liberal Democrats.

Apart from services rendered to capital and tradition, there is a very personal reason why the Queen might decorate Blair in this way. On 31st August, 1997, Princess Diana met her untimely end in a Parisian tunnel. That morning a hesitant and borderline choked Tony Blair dubbed her the 'People's Princess' - an oxymoron if there ever was one - but a tribute that certainly caught the mood. Who was out of step with public feeling was the Windsor firm. As Diana was an arm's length exile from court, the stuffy institution paralysed by protocol and inflexibility did not have the wherewithal to respond to the outpouring of popular grief. Indeed, The Sun launched a campaign to get the Queen to fly the flag atop Buckingham Palace at half mast. The visible distance and refusal to respond might easily have spilled over into a terminal crisis for the monarchy. Remember, it had been plagued by scandal, leaks, and its legitimacy was under some pressure. But, to put no finer point on it, Blair saw it his duty to intervene to support it. He urged the Queen to appear in public while the machinery of government swung into action. There was inescapable wall-to-wall coverage, public events and normal TV and radio programming cancelled, and the emotional fervour it fanned originally settled on the perceived need to protect Diana's boys, before expanding to the rest of the front rank royals. Within a year the kind of press the Windsors had early in the decade was a memory.

Blair knew his hip, vague brand of modernising changey-progressivism, which counted for little when it came down to it, potentially sat uneasily with Britain's own hide bound and creaking peculiar institution. Embarking on his own programme of constitutional reform with the devolution referenda, he chose to embrace the monarchy, give it good PR and a soup├žon of humility, and align it - the thousand year old symbol of national continuity - with his flash-in-the-plan project for a "young country". Whether Blair received political blessings at the time for his obsequious efforts is a matter of debate, though it doesn't seem to have done his ratings any harm. However, while he helped the monarchy get a nip and a tuck, its long-term popular legitimacy appears to be eroding again - if the mass indifference that greeted Prince Philip's funeral is anything to go by.

This is now and that was then. Blair bought the Queen valuable time, time enough for a toned down Prince Charles and a thoroughly modern Prince William to embed themselves in popular consciousness. Just don't talk about the rebellious royals or, cough cough, Prince Andrew. By royal decree, Blair has his just reward in time to see how, in the long run, his efforts at saving the monarchy are unravelling.

Image Credit


Robert said...

It's hardly surprising. The establishment look after their own and Sir Tony did a good job of neutering the Labour Party for them.

Unknown said...

Yes, indeedy... when Thatcher was asked in later years what her greatest achievement was, she quite rightly simply said, "the Labour Party" , ie, the new , thoroughly neoliberalised Blairite 'New' Labour Party , which carried on the Reagan/Thatcher privatising, light touch regulation, agenda unchallenged.

And yes, we all remember the very welcome extra cash from New Labour for then floundering, underfunded, NHS, and Sure Start, and tax credits , but those plusses were massively outweighed by the ultimately disastrous Thatcher/Blair UK 'business model, of PFI, deregulation of the financial spivs, ever more selling off of the private sector, the destruction of our core manufacturing sectors, the early introduction of private sector involvement in both the NHS (under that fake Lefty, Andy Burnham), and Education (the start of 'Academisation'). And of course, as Phil details, the utterly supine loyal poodle role Blair continued, and deepened, for the UK in relation to US imperialism , and the Iraq disaster.

But there is one more huge extra key policy Blair and his cronies enacted by stealth , that Thatcher didn't have the opportunity to implement, and the Left Liberal, 'open global borders', non-socialist, virtue signallers of the UK 'Left' cannot bear to even acknowledge , ie , in addition to keeping all of Thatcher's oppressive anti Trades Union legislation on the books, under Blair and Brown, New Labour , used the opportunity of the opening up of the new entrant labour-rich , low wage, old Eastern Bloc EU entrant countries, and the EU's ever freer mobility of labour rules between EU states , to further erode UK trades union bargaining power via a deliberate policy of securing that age-old capitalist ambition , - essentially unlimited labour supply , particularly in unskilled and semi skilled employment areas. This policy, never openly admitted by New Labour, was, (alongside the disastrous deregulation of the banking sector - which was to become a major component of the 2008 global financial collapse, a core objective of 'Blairism' . So much for Blair and Brown's supposedly sophisticated, unideological neoliberal 'business model', which Starmer and co simply wish to continue, it blew up the UK economy in very short order FFS ! even if it for a short while delivered some benefits in extra NHS funding and tax credits , etc.

Nothing Blair's New Labour (let's call it 'NuLabour' - it's just a cynical brand exercise now) did wasn't eventually copied by all of the old social democratic parties of Europe , but Blair's New Labour was a key pathfinder , and the consequences in all the states where traditional social democratic parties used to be massive and firmly holding on to the mass of working class voting loyalty, has today, been identical ,-, ie, the collapse of that traditional working class voting support, and the rise of Far Right populist parties to fill the political void .

BCFG said...

The investment by NuLabour, which came with giant strings attached, didn’t even last that long did it? Austerity basically undid any NuLabour investment, that and paying off loans and private companies, as a result of so called public-private partnership and PFI. We are at the stage now where footballers have to plead for children to be fed!

Everything about Blair was a con. Third way economics was nothing but another term for Thatcherite privatisation and extreme neoliberalism, no private company was ever forced to open its books and make its capital available to the public sector!

All Blair left us with was a marketised public sector, outsourced employees on worse terms and conditions, arms length management disorganisations and massively increased pay for ceo's. His was a clear continuation of Thatcherism.

Even the minimum wage was so weak it allowed anyone paying it to be exempt, allowed easy ways to circumvent and pass on the extra cost and massively increased the precariat nature of the economy, at the same time overseeing a rapid decline of trade unions.

And for the rest of the world, well it was mass deaths, mass displacement and horrific consequences the world is living with to this day and many years to come.

A truly worthy recipient of bourgeois honours!

The old slave traders should indeed move over and their statues toppled, they were heroes for a past age. Replacing them for this age, there should be a massive statue of Blair, and it should go right next to the one of Rupert Murdoch.

We can only thank the statue topplers for making room for these great heroes of the modern world!

Where I disagree with Unknown is that this paved the way for other nations. The trend was already underway there too. All you can say about Blair is that these European social democratic parties looked at Blair and thought, shit, this guy is actually winning. And this is the point, social democracy was no longer winning in the imperialist centre.

Advanced capitalism, liberalism, did not result in socialism and any transition to communism but in extreme individualism, atomisation, neo liberalism, biological annihilation and environmental destruction.

Add onto this the utter idiocy that is consumerism and we have the full effects of the civilising mission.

The only antidote to this miserable state of affairs is the end of exchange, which will rescue large sections of the population from the idiocy of consumerist life. And in order to implement this remedy we should be clear, the main enemy is not Donald Trump or the Putin or the Chinese communist party but is PhilBc, Yvette Cooper, Lord Boffy, Joe Biden, Macron and all the other fanatics of the status quo.