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“Goodbye. I don’t think we’ll miss you….’ but we probably will. June 28, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, The Left.
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Well, so said Cherie, in a parting shot to the media. Very droll, and naturally this will spawn a thousand blog posts inverting the meaning. So perhaps not entirely clever. Yet the truth is that Blair will be missed.

It’s amazing to think it has been just over ten years since he first took power, and remarkable to reflect upon how that ten years saw his reputation, if not his project, founder in the most catastrophic fashion possible.

Except, it didn’t. Not really. Even after the Iraq War debacle he retained sufficient authority to fashion a third Election victory. One can point to the lack of vigour of the Conservative Party and suggest that was the reason why they failed. But it was arguably something else. They simply found no purchase on a politician, who whatever one believes (and I can sense Chekov reaching for the keyboard here) was possessed of a consummate ability to read and manipulate both the political and the emotional. I find it most interesting in my own case, since much of what he represented was completely at odds with my own political beliefs, and even then I could feel myself warming to him.

Now that might be a generational issue, in that he spoke, to some extent, the same language as I did (although he would be thirteen years older than me). Recognisably of the contemporary period, casual, relaxed, efficient. And yet, this is all fluff in the greater scheme of things. Except, it wasn’t.

That capacity to, in some sense, reflect back the personality of those he was with was a crucial aspect of his political success. And cast your mind back to the Women’s Institute conference where they slow hand clapped him, I think in 2000. A shocking moment where his ability deserted him, reflected in the response and reflected again in his dismay at what must have seemed an incomprehensible reception. There wasn’t so much talk about the ‘forces of conservatism’ after that.

And yet this concentration on the personal, on the man, masked a government that by any serious progressive yardstick had some fairly significant questions to answer. Granted the man in Number 11 was dispensing largesse on a grand scale, and one hopes that that is indicative of his future approach. But on a superficial level there was a sort of vacuity to the enterprise. An approach to politics that reified rather trivial aspects of contemporary British culture. Not great in itself, but the government itself in its perpetual cycle of reform of education, health, social services appeared caught on a treadmill that across ten years had no particular purpose. Worse again was a curious blind spot to business interests, one which appeared almost credulous as to their good nature. And appallingly a remarkable lack of judgement when it came to dealing with Ministers who had transgressed. To see the same faces return within a dismally short period to time to high office was both arrogant and a negation of any sense of right and wrong.

Not that there was no sense of right and wrong. The hard work on the North proved that. But unfortunately, as with Iraq too often the sense was simply wrong.

His reputation is not quite in tatters. No man who can be welcomed by Nelson Mandela is beyond redemption. But even that visit had the sense of Blair seeking some sort of temporal forgiveness. Too late. Too late. To be wrong was one thing. To make no apology for being wrong and to make no apparent effort to overturn that wrong was what has sealed his fate.

As he slouches towards Jerusalem that too is perhaps another effort at redemption. I don’t share the scepticism of the new role of Middle East peacemaker, in the sense that an envoy, any envoy, might just make some headway. But I expect almost nothing to come from it. And whatever about the bizarre scenes emanating from Northern Ireland over recent months (one has to ask when the real Ian Paisley will return)…somehow bridging the gap between Haifa and Ramallah is going to be exponentially more difficult than that between Paisley and McGuinness.

Perhaps he will confound us all. Perhaps there is still some small service to be performed (and isn’t that a revealing word in itself). But I suspect that his reputation, diminished as it is will simply diminish further. A grave day indeed when even Ian Paisley must offer the kindly word and wish him ‘Good Luck’… a day when he is given a standing ovation in the House of Commons, perhaps as much an indication in its own way as to the failure of his project, the disaster of his policies and his still enduring personal charm that he could elicit such a response.

Still, we’ll miss him. Whatever else politics was, it wasn’t dull. The problem is that dullness is not the worst of all possible political environments and the furies that Blair in part encouraged (although did not, in fairness, initiate) will probably continue long after he has left the stage.

And his successor, if that is the correct word for a man who has waited, what…fifteen years for the job of Prime Minister.

One of the most remarkable aspects of his persona is how little we genuinely know about the man And I wonder is that deliberate, a ploy developed across the last decade or more in order to make his arrival at the centre stage a fraction less predictable, to let some aspect of humanity shine forth as it were.

The attempt at a smile towards the end of the speech outside Number 10 said it all. This wasn’t the sun coming out, this was the serious stuff given the most transitory (and somewhat unconvincing) varnish of human emotion. Normal politics is resumed perhaps. Normal division entrenched despite the Cabinet of ‘all the talents’. And it is all a world away from the informality of the last ten years, a world away from the aspirations of 1997. There will be no standing ovations in two years time, or seven years time (which is after all the best length of time in power Brown could credibly expect). He is a man in a hurry. The clock is ticking on his premiership as soon as it begins.

And before we greet the socialist millennium it is crucial to recognise that his fingerprints are pretty much on all the decisions, all the judgements of the last ten years. For all that I hope he does well. It was heartening that he was in contact with the Taoiseach yesterday, a sign perhaps that the new relationship may well endure. We’ll know more as the days pass.

But the sense of unreality remains. Prime Minister Brown. Strange. It doesn’t yet roll off the tongue.

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Comments»

1. ejh - June 28, 2007

It’s not an obituary, man, nihil nisi bonum doesn’t apply.

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2. Worldbystorm - June 28, 2007

Ah, I’ll let others with a greater enthusiasm for such things do the rip, maim and rend sort of stuff ejh…

…and in a way it’s damning with faint (very faint) praise…

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3. chekov - June 28, 2007

Might as well oblige with my one-word summation of his political career:

“tosspot”

In terms of his career trajectory, he got a lot of mileage out of playing the sincerity card, but to continue playing it after the WMD sincerity shattering debacle was poor judgement than no media control could overcome.

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4. WorldbyStorm - June 28, 2007

Much obliged :)

although, isn’t saying “To make no apology for being wrong and to make no apparent effort to overturn that wrong was what has sealed his fate” not radically different to what you say?

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5. sonofstan - June 28, 2007

A small point, but in your piece, as in many others over the last few days, Blair is given credit for getting the DUP and SF to work together. For many British commentators, this carries with it the unspoken assumption that those mad paddies wouldn’t be able to see where their interests lay without the altruistic ring holding of a kindly and sane Englishman; a familiar post- colonial meme.

To my mind, Paisley and Adams knew exactly what they were doing all along; they knew if they played the sectarian numbers game properly, they’d squeeze the SDLP and UUP and end up sharing power as the unrivalled political voices of their ‘communities'; all Blair and Ahern did was assist them in this weirdly undemocratic project.

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6. WorldbyStorm - June 29, 2007

I know where you’re coming from, but to be honest I think the internal logic of the GFA ulitmately dictated such events. I’m more impressed by the fact that Blair was willing to engage directly with and recognise the legitimacy of Republicanism in a way which no previous British PM during the modern period had done so. And that engagement transcended ‘post-colonialism’ and was simply a recognition that there were numerous players in this process rather than say the ‘kindly and sane’ English holding the ring between the Irish. As to your other points, I’d tend to see them in a different light which I’ll return to again.

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7. ejh - June 29, 2007

I can’t think of a political leader in British history who has been do widely despised. Not hated in the sense that Thatcher was, because she went out of her way to make enemies and to hurt them, but despised. Because he was (and is) such a liar, because of his abject attitude towards the White House, because of his cowardice in all things except makign war, because of the way in which he attracted and encouraged every ambitious and cynicial element in the Labour Party and repelled everything and everybody who was principled or thoughtful. And as much as anything, because of his outrageous, hypocritical piety, his conceit, his insistence that he was responsible for everything good while refusing to take responsibility for anything bad, his air of exaggerated patience when everybody did not go along with him despite the fact that it was never his habit to ask them first, his insistence on presenting himself as a man of the people while surrounding himself with courtiers and worse.

Can anybody, by the way, think of any parallel to the outrageous and embarrassing six-week world tour with which he saw fit to end his Premiership?

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8. Donagh - June 29, 2007

I have to agree with every word EJH, but when the RTE news item appeared telling us that his last Prime Ministers Questions Time in Parliament was emotional my immediate reaction was rather unsubtle. I simply shouted ‘Fuck Off, Blair’. I wish he would, but now we have to endure the hypocrisy of him as Middle East Envoy for the Quartet, who’s thinking on the Israeli-Palistine situation is as blinkered as Blair’s. Anything positive from his premiership has been far outweighed by the damage he has caused.

I agree with sonofstan regarding his work in Northern Ireland. While there may be something with regard to his personal style of engagement, which may have some political weight in negotiations, broadly it would have been the same outcome under any other leader. The changes that have finally come about were initiated before Blair came into office and if anything he saw an opportunity for getting positive coverage and political dividens out a situation that has always been a running sore in British politics.

The fact that he was able to leave without a mark on him is testamony to the powerlessness of an angry electorate.

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9. soubresauts - June 29, 2007

It’s amazing that you, WbS, find so many kind words for Blair. Within months of first coming to power, New Labour were making clear that they were the political wing of the multinational corporations. Many of the election promises had been broken by then, and most if not all have been broken by now.

Blair was a UK version of “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”

It’s no coincidence that most Americans love Blair. They absolutely loved Thatcher, to an extent that most Europeans wouldn’t believe. And all that affection was quickly transferred to Blair. (Major got respect rather than affection; the latter came from Edwina Currie.)

Northern Ireland, fair enough. A word of praise is due. But wouldn’t Major, or any PM except Thatcher, have done the same?

I wonder what is wrong with “lefties” who constantly find things to praise in Blairite policies. If there are things there that further the cause of justice, fairness and peace, it’s a coincidence.

Do read a bit of Chomsky.

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10. Pavement Trauma - June 29, 2007

I can’t think of a political leader in British history who has been do widely despised.
That may be just a case of time bias (Neville Chamberlain?) but it is an interesting comment.

My take is that TB’s appeal was often on an emotional level – certainly more than any other politician I can think of, other than Bill Clinton. And when he went bad/was revealed to be bad/whatever people’s response was more emotional and hence stronger. Live by the sword, die by it, sort of thing.

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11. Pavement Trauma - June 29, 2007

Oh dear. WbS has had his leftie status quotation marked and advised to take a strong measure of Chomsky.

Is that the blog version of re-education camps? :-)

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12. soubresauts - June 29, 2007

Oh dear, Pavement, I wasn’t directing my bile-laden remarks directly at WbS; I had various other writers in mind, especially some in the Guardian and places like that.

Actually, I shouldn’t have been amazed if I thought WbS had an unbalanced number of kind words for Blair, considering his (presuming it’s not “her”) oft-demonstrated generosity of spirit and sense of fairness, qualities that Blair pretended to have. Come to think of it, I associate those qualities with Christianity, though not exclusively of course.

Anyway, considering all the qualities that make this blog a favourite, I don’t want to convey any meanness of spirit — except towards Blair as he rides off on his crusade.

Which reminds me… Has there ever been any discussion here of the idea that the EU’s expansion shouldn’t stop at Turkey but should go on to embrace Lebanon, Palestine and Israel — the ultimate Middle East peace plan?

Oh yeah, Chomsky. I find that Chomsky helps me to get back to basics. And I probably should get out more.

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13. Andy Newman - June 29, 2007

I largely agree with EJH, though I think Alex Douglas Home was despised more.

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14. ejh - June 30, 2007

Hmmm. In the absence of a despise-o-meter it’s impossible to make a precise judgement, but I wondered whether Home, at the top for only a short time, had less opportunity to develop contempt as deep and as widespread as Blair managed.

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