Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fail Caesar

Another variant on my Blair/Nixon comparison,
this one from Tribune 18 May 2007

Ian Williams

As Mark Anthony said about another military adventurist who came unstuck:

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interréd with their bones!

Anxious for their seats and for the patronage of the incoming Prime Minister, there may be few who care to take an objective poke around the political cadaver of Tony Blair to see what achievements may be secreted there.

In many ways, his going, with the director of public prosecution looming over his shoulder, has shades of Richard Milhous Nixon's impeachment-impelled exit from the White House.

In fact, Blair suffers from the comparison. In terms of actual achievement, despite the murky circumstances under which he was forced to leave, Nixon was the most liberal and progressive president since FDR.

A poke around his bones reveals that Federal spending on welfare and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well desegregation measures all reached a peak during his presidency. He stopped the war in Vietnam, recognised China, fostered détente with Russia, engineered arms control treaties, and ended the US's chemical and biological warfare programs. He ended conscription and was the last president to consider a comprehensive national health service. He passed the Clean Air Act, and empowered the Environmental Protection Agency.

In comparison, Watergate was almost a peccadillo, which allowed both conservatives and liberals, outraged at how he had co-opted the Democratic agenda, to unite against him.

Now back to Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, leaving with the purchasable peerages and the disastrous war clouding his reputation.

When Labour was elected Britain’s international standing was high. Robin Cook, Claire Short, Michael Meacher and others, were able to articulate a foreign policy that did indeed have an ethical dimension and certainly won a position of respect in organizations like the UN.

To put the eccentric New Labour “patriotism” campaign in perspective, Blair has left Britain’s international reputation at its lowest since Thatcher tried to cover for Apartheid. He has been told to butt out of the Middle East because of his criminal support for Bush, not only in Iraq, but also for opposing a ceasefire in Lebanon as Israel sowed its cities with cluster bombs. There was more distance between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan than between Blair and Bush, possibly the most unpopular president in the world.

Domestically, how can we reconcile the early New Labour guff about empowering citizens with the ID cards, the ASBOs, the attacks on civil liberties under the guise of anti-terrorism, the overflowing and privatized prisons, the lie detectors for benefit claimants, that intrude upon the life of British citizens?

But let us poke in the ossified remains of the Blair years. One senior minister complained during the first term that the government was actually doing a lot of good, but that they were not allowed to advertise it, and there is a lot of truth in that.

From the perspective of an exile from the Thatcher era, I suspect that those who stayed behind do not always appreciate how much better things in Britain really are now than when Labour first took over.

On my freeze-frame annual visits to Britain, the increasing prosperity has been clearly visible. Northern Ireland power-sharing and the abolition of most of the hereditary peers may still represent unfinished business – but they are further forward than any previous government has managed. The minimum wage, twice the US level, is a major achievement, along with parental leave and similar provisions. The expanding economy, and reduced unemployment and the increased resources for education and healthcare are big steps forward towards a more just society.

But too often it has been two steps forward and one step backward. The university top-up fees in England, the complex and expensive PFA partnerships retract some of those gains. And how many of these achievements were Blair’s rather than of the residual oldish Labourites in the cabinet?

It took twenty years for Nixon’s good to be disinterred, and even now the exhumation is a work in progress. One suspects it will take far less time for Tony Blair’s rehabilitation. He will probably be on the board of directors of Murdoch's News Corporation, which will assure him of an adulatory and amnesiac media across the English-speaking world.

But while we should not underplay the achievements of this Labour government, we should not forget that Blair’s cabal consciously tried to destroy the Labour Party as a mass organization with an active membership and to mutate it into mere PO box for large donations for re-election.

The Peerages for Sale wheeze was a political project that was almost certainly based on an idea by Bill Clinton. Just as Clinton stole the Democratic Party from what he called "Special Interest Groups" like working people, minorities and women, and handed it over to Wall Street, its purpose was to free the prime minister from any remaining accountability to the residual socialism of the unions and the Labour Party. Gordon Brown has always been much more aware of the party as an institution – one of his first jobs is make sure that it is not interred with Blair.

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