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I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him; The evil that men do does live after them… June 29, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, The Left.
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I’m genuinely interested in the responses to my previous piece on Blair. So let’s consider what I was trying to do, what I did and what I was critiqued for possibly doing.

Firstly I was trying to reflect in a fairly dispassionate way on the power Blair had. That was a power which transcended political division and yet was clearly very human. I think it is indisputable that he retained enormous power in that even after the Iraq War, and the passions that it engendered, he was still able to shape a third election victory. Now one can read that a number of ways. Perhaps the Iraq War simply didn’t upset many people as widely as it did deeply others. And the way in which the Conservative Party still held onto a significant vote share while Labour still maintained a majority of the seats might indicate some truth in that.

I think I noted that on many issues I felt his government was craven. Education, health and social services are three that I mentioned. I have noted before how even the traditional Labour right in the 1950s and 60s was more to the left than the current incarnation of the party (incidentally did I ever mention I was a member of British Labour in the early 1990s?). The ideas that underpin my socialism and in particular the implementation of a blanket state education from primary to third level simply didn’t register on the radar of New Labour. And I’ve critiqued the way in which substance was almost always overwhelmed by style during the Blair premiership. Indeed the only positive notes were to recognise that Brown had maintained at least some element of redistributionist instincts (marginal though, still marginal) in Number 11 and Blair had done reasonably well in relation to the North [incidentally I don't agree at all that any other PM would have done as well. British Labour has rarely been a true friend of the North. I can think of quite a number of faces around the cabinet table - even today - who would have relished the opportunity to play macho gestural politics on the issue to the detriment of any sort of progress. It is also arguable that had he not had so much of his reputation banked upon it that he might not have made such a great effort in the last two years to see some sort of resolution].

Now I’ve been taken to task, albeit gently and I truly appreciate that, for finding so many kind words. I genuinely am at a loss to find anything other than a ‘more in sorrow that anger’ tone to the post. And that sorrow is because I find him a fascinating personality. I think he was uniquely talented in his ability to deal with people. I think he had a capacity to reach beyond the Labour party (actually I’m certain there is a thesis on how he managed not to reach within much of the Labour party) and speak to different sectors of the society. To recognise these strengths is in no way to applaud the ends to which they were shaped. Quite the opposite. The problem is that these were opportunities missed. That personality could have wrought much more significant changes in British society. Perhaps a serious engagement with the European Union. Perhaps some sense that they were engaged on the transformative social politics that is necessary, now more than ever as the saying goes.

But I’ll tend to shy away from the rhetoric of disgust, the politics of condemnation. I can’t be bothered for one thing. Secondly I think it is a bit pointless. We know the history. We now need to work out how to avoid repeating it. Blair supported some atrocious decisions, but largely decisions that would have been made – such as the Iraq War – whether he supported them or not. I don’t think he was either bloodthirsty or stupid on the issue, but arguably far too egocentric to realise that his counsel would count for almost nothing in Washington during the course of that war. Had Britain not joined in the invasion that invasion would have happened. It was foolish – and wrong in light of what later came to light concerning the rationale for war – for them to support it. But again egocentricity masked in what ejh notes was a strange sort of piety won out.

And any leading politician will make decisions which will result in deaths. Worse than Bill Clinton who appears to have used the death sentence as an electoral crutch? Better than George Bush who did the same? I don’t know. In the end he appears almost an example of how the individual is shaped by historic forces and processes rather than the contemporary vogue for believing the opposite.

I have political differences with him that I will continue to have. But I have political differences with everyone. And I think it is perhaps implicitly a little contradictory to take the line that he was unimportant say in relation to the North and not then to accept that he acted as pretty much all centrist politicians of this era, whether or left or right, act. Who else who came to power as British PM in this period would do much differently? He cut his cloth according to his measure. And as for being a liar, every politician I have ever met, and I’ve met more than my fair share, have been liars. But then every human I have met has been a liar to some degree. I expect some level of dissembling, it goes with the territory. So he was hardly sui generis.

No, the problem with Blair is not that he did these things, which almost any politician would ultimately have to do, but that he did them in an almost egregious and off the cuff fashion. That he abandoned the project even as he said he was strengthening it. Or as Nick Cohen, who still wrote the best critique of New Labour in Pretty Straight Guys wrote:

Blair and his entourage looked, smelt and sounded like an elite. They had abandoned the Labour Party’s traditional hope of creating a more equal society and cheered on the rich. For the aristocracy of wealth which mattered more than the aristocracy of birth, Blair was everything it could have desired. Its wiser members knew the Tories couldn’t stay in power for ever. By changing the Labour Party, Blair had removed the possibility that the Labour Party might change the country.

Now that would indeed evoke disgust…

I return to his personality which was, like it or loathe it, remarkable and the real tragedy that had it had truly fixed moral and ideological moorings it could have been used for the force of good which in his own mind he clearly believed and still believes he is.

It wasn’t.

But this leads to a question as to why we expect[ed] better. He was a Labour Prime Minister. As Easterhouse put it so much more eloquently than I “You have to draw the line Sometime And I draw mine at Labour’s house-trained socialists, the lowest form of hypocrite” (not all are hypocrites, not all are house-trained…) …. That he did well on Northern Ireland is in itself remarkable. I’m not for a second suggesting that we got off lightly. Clearly we didn’t (but it could have been worse – for example had it been a Conservative government in power during that period). And here too he was author of his own misfortune.

The incredible rhetoric of May 1997 was never going to be fulfilled on this earthly plane… and there are too many ‘I’s’ in the above post.

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Comments»

1. sonofstan - June 29, 2007

I think you’re probably right that other possible Labour PM’s might have taken a different line on the North to the detriment of the ‘peace’ process; my point in reply to your previous post was more that the primary actors did much more, as I think did the Irish govt.

Do you think the Brown administration will show a more robust commitment to egalitarianism in relation to health and education? I hope so; GB sounds like a socialist some times, and as Polly Toynbee keeps pointing out, he has smuggled a great deal of positively egalitarian policy through from no. 11

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2. chekov - June 29, 2007

“Do you think the Brown administration will show a more robust commitment to egalitarianism in relation to health and education? I hope so;”

Fool me once, shame on you;
Fool me twice, shame on me;
Fool me for 107 years….

It really amazes me how people can attach such significance to a change of leader. Lets see, we have:
Same institutions
Same personnel minus one,
Same dependencies (ie, groups whose support the government requires in order to govern – e.g. media, unions, business confederations…)
Same relationships to external institutions (EU, US, WTO, G8, ) and dependencies, agreements and so on with them.
Same economy, trade, supply routes, neo-colonies, etc….

And

Zero concrete indications that Brown has any notion of a new programme or a significant change in any policies, major or minor.
Zero meaningful evidence that Browne has had any significant policy differences with Blair on any major economic issues whatsoever.
Zero evidence of any broad displeasure within the capitalist class with Brown’s tenure in no 11 – in a very competitive climate too, where companies expect governments to provide a climate which makes it easy for them to make a profit.

Even in the unlikely event that Brown wanted to make significant changes, he wouldn’t be able to without assembling significant forces behind it. You can’t introduce major policy changes without preparing the ground – the media and the various market mechanisms would monster you for a start, and you’d probably have all of the relevant unions out on strike too. Once you’re in power and dependant upon particular support bases, it’s very hard to shift tack, since hanging onto power is at least as difficult as getting it – competitive market you see and you would not find a lack of rivals willing to woo your former support base for a move against you.

Basically, the chances of major, or even meaningful, changes in policy are very slim. More of the same with a slight variation on the cast and a subtle shift in presentation style is what we’ll get. Any variations are likely to be caused by the chaotic unfolding of events and will bear no clearly identifiable correlation with who happens to be the front man.

“as Polly Toynbee keeps pointing out, he has smuggled a great deal of positively egalitarian policy through from no. 11″

Toynbee is engaged in the admiration of a wholesome and nutritious nut while ignoring the fact that it is in a state of post-digestion, embedded in a large turd.

Let’s recall that the UK is number 2 in the world’s neo-liberal economies (not including the various banana republics and offshore tax havens such as Jersey, the Carribean and Ireland due to their insignificant size). It’s the most Atlantacist focused economy in Europe, has repeatedly been the brake on European social and economic integration – a reluctance premised on the insufficently neo-liberal requirements of the French and German polity. Economic inequality has continued to grow without abatement since the Thatcher era – and she was supposed to be really right wing. We’ve had rampant use of PPPs, the cutting off of funds to the NHS, a 3% drop in corporation tax and so on, all under Brown’s watch.

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3. ejh - June 30, 2007

I think he was uniquely talented in his ability to deal with people.

I don’t think this is true and I think this may be what you are missing. He was extremely plausible, that’s for sure. He was a lwyer and had the capacity a lawyer often has, to appear to promise something to everyone without actually saying or denying anything. But time after time, people who had dealings with him felt, very definitely, that they had simply been used and lied to. Now these weren’t naïve people, these were experienced politicians: Mowlam, Ashdown, Dobson, all sorts of people. Brown, come to that. Their view might well be that his way of “dealing with people” was simply to string them along and then be nowhere to be found when it mattered – if, indeed, he wasn’t having them “briefed against”.

But he could make an empty speech really well and the TV correspondents loved him, so he got away with it and got away with it. But even the scribblers hated him in the end.

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4. ejh - June 30, 2007

Buy the way it must be twenty years since I’ve seen Easterhouse mentioned and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them described as “eloquent”. That particular song is sixth-form poetry if I ever saw it.

But a great deal better than the subsequent album.

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5. sonofstan - June 30, 2007

Chekov, I’m sure we could all do that kind of gnostic trot rant if we wanted; telling me all of that is a bit like a preacher answering an innocent enquiry about the weather with a homily on the omnipotence and omniscience of God and the impertinence of mortals in trying to guess his intentions – I get it, ok?

I don’t expect socialism in one country – all I wondered was whether things like the progress under Blair towards rising – and unequal – tuition fees in universities might be reversed or at least halted, whether the support for ‘faith’ schools might be withdrawn, whether the meaningless targetting culture in both health and education might abate a little…

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6. WorldbyStorm - June 30, 2007

I was being a little bit ironic in my use of the word ‘eloquent’ (never heard the second album though)! Those are good points ejh with regard to Mowlam et al…yet, the reality is they returned to the well again and again and disillusion was rarely an immediate process. So one has to wonder just what sort of dynamic was at play here.
I tend to agree with sonofstan re Chekovs comments. But I have a slightly different critique. I genuinely think that leadership changes do have impacts on a society, that they can lend a certain tone to debates and even policies. But even that is to overlook that progressive changes do happen even in the most unlikely places and how different governments can be responsible for minor but useful changes. Six years ago myself and three others were involved in a very unpleasant dispute in a group of companies. We were unionising the companies fast, got seventy people into SIPTU in the space of a year, from warehouse staff, shopfloor through to managers and salespeople (not easy with the latter two groups). One major point that assisted us in this was the then recent change in the law regarding redundancy payments which had gone from half a week per year of service to two weeks per year plus service. Suddenly people who had ten year careers could say, well if the group tries to fire us we wind up with half a years salary. That gave a stability to the struggle it wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Now, that was a relatively minor change in social welfare structures, and who knows whether it was because despite PD FF retained some populist impulse, or the money was there or whatever, but it helped. And consider that the ‘workers’ party Labour with FG introduced no such reform, whereas a party allied with explicit neo-liberals did
It’s not all a Manichaean struggle between the system is rotten and nothing can be done outside of a revolutionary context which doesn’t seem to be close on any meaningful scale, and let’s just give up and accept the crumbs from the table. We have to use what we can…

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7. soubresauts - June 30, 2007

“I return to his personality which was, like it or loathe it, remarkable and the real tragedy that had it had truly fixed moral and ideological moorings it could have been used for the force of good which in his own mind he clearly believed and still believes he is.”

I guess so, and… now I remember what really was Blair’s finest hour. It was when he had the biggest audience of all. Princess Diana’s funeral. Yup, the boy done well that day, as did Earl Spencer and Elton John.

He was a performer. What a pity he didn’t become a professional performer, say, a comedy actor, like his father-in-law.

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8. ejh - June 30, 2007

His father-in-law gave a marvellous interview in the Daily Telegraph about a decade ago in which they were unwise enough to suggest that the unions “ran the country” in the Seventies. He promptly (and quite rightly) went off on a rant about how people like them had run the country for a thousand years.

Of course it is normal for a father-in-law to dislike his daughter’s choice of mate but rarely with more cause than here….

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9. ejh - June 30, 2007

And as for being a liar, every politician I have ever met, and I’ve met more than my fair share, have been liars. But then every human I have met has been a liar to some degree. I expect some level of dissembling, it goes with the territory. So he was hardly sui generis.

I think this is wrong as well because it misses just how much of a liar he was: of course lying and politics are no strangers but we really are in “tallest man in the basketball team” country. I believe Alan Watkins (veteran Westminster correspondent) described his administration as the most dishonest he had ever come across and I don’t think that was nostalgia talking. It was off the scale.

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10. chekov - June 30, 2007

“Chekov, I’m sure we could all do that kind of gnostic trot rant if we wanted; telling me all of that is a bit like a preacher answering an innocent enquiry about the weather with a homily on the omnipotence and omniscience of God and the impertinence of mortals in trying to guess his intentions – I get it, ok?”

I’d reverse your comparison. It was like answering an innocent enquiry about whether god would send us a bountiful harvest this year with a dismissal of his existence. “Oh but to be able to dream without reality pricking my bubble.”

I also don’t see where the ‘trot’ stuff came from – de-emphasising the influence of individual leadership is not exactly a trot trait.

“I don’t expect socialism in one country – all I wondered was whether things like the progress under Blair towards rising – and unequal – tuition fees in universities might be reversed or at least halted, whether the support for ‘faith’ schools might be withdrawn, whether the meaningless targetting culture in both health and education might abate a little…”

My point was that there is no reason, beyond wishful thinking, to suspect that any of the above is on Brown’s agenda and lots of reasons to think that they aren’t.

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11. chekov - June 30, 2007

“It’s not all a Manichaean struggle between the system is rotten and nothing can be done outside of a revolutionary context which doesn’t seem to be close on any meaningful scale, and let’s just give up and accept the crumbs from the table. We have to use what we can…”

Quite, which is why it’s important to distinguish reality from wishful thinking. Incidentally, the fact that both the minimum wage and the redundancy reform both came in under PD/FF is a good example of what I mean by “Any variations are likely to be caused by the chaotic unfolding of events and will bear no clearly identifiable correlation with who happens to be the front man”.

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12. Worldbystorm - June 30, 2007

Actually there is a counter argument which is that PD neo-liberal, or actually slightly neo-liberal, policies drove the minimum wage, after all the US has had same for what is it – decades now? And the same might be true of better redundancy payments. I’m sure there’s a strong right ideological case which could support same. So for all we know they could have been couched explicitly within a right ideological economic approach (indeed there is an argument that a well managed workforce given certain rights is better for business…). But I don’t actually think a) that events are quite as chaotic as you suggest – since one of the joys of representative government is that it delays processes – and b) I’m fairly sure it was trade union pressure which finally led PD/FF to accept enhanced redundancy rights. But in that instance perhaps Ahern as head of government was significant because of his much vaunted ‘ability’ as a labour relations interlocuter… Would Charlie McCreevy have been likely to support such measures, or Mary Harney on her own?

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13. chekov - July 1, 2007

It seems to me that whenever I make such points on here, people respond to the counterposing of revolution and reform. For example:

“It’s not all a Manichaean struggle between the system is rotten and nothing can be done outside of a revolutionary context which doesn’t seem to be close on any meaningful scale, and let’s just give up and accept the crumbs from the table.”

The problem is that I haven’t actually made such a comparison, not here and it’s one that I rarely make (since there is no meaningful left reformist movement around). The responses are mostly based on imagining of what I probably think and not on the content of my posts. If you read the above comment #2, the same arguments could be put by an ideological right winger – the point is not predicated on the reader agreeing with my political point of view and it wouldn’t be too easy to guess my point of view from the comment if you didn’t already know it.

Here, and elsewhere on this blog, my points have essentially boiled down to an evidence based assessment of the likeliehood and significance of left reforms emerging from particular governments or leaders. I’m not saying that reforms are useless (I don’t think that) or that the only useful reform is a revolution (I’m actually very hostile to ultra-leftism), I’m just pointing out that the probability of meaningful progressive reforms emerging out of the Brown government, or out of the Green participation in our government, is, on balance, extremely low and any dispassionate analysis of the facts will inevitably lead to such a conclusion.

It’s a measure of how low that social democracy has sunk, and how slow its supporters have been to realise the fact, that they are willing to invest their hopes into people and groups which require them to ignore the actual evidence of what those people believe and what they do in favour of wishful thinking, a thinking that is increasingly of a metaphysical or Hegelian idealistic nature and completely without any materialist analysis – with personalities and their inner thougts as determinants rather than the forces, institutions, economics and contradictions which make up the bread and butter of traditional socialist analysis.

I also find it quite rare for people to provide counter arguments in favour of an alternative probability assessment – I just get called a cynic and/or an ultra-leftist. Another sign, that I’m right ;-)

“ut I don’t actually think a) that events are quite as chaotic as you suggest – since one of the joys of representative government is that it delays processes – and b) I’m fairly sure it was trade union pressure which finally led PD/FF to accept enhanced redundancy rights. But in that instance perhaps Ahern as head of government was significant because of his much vaunted ‘ability’ as a labour relations interlocuter… Would Charlie McCreevy have been likely to support such measures, or Mary Harney on her own?”

Strictly speaking, events are chaotic [see eg: http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/1576/01/MPRA_paper_1576.pdf). That is not, however, to say that they are not amenable to analysis, just that the analysis will be limited to broad brush strokes and if it misses something important, no matter how insignificant it might seem to the outcome, the predictions may turn out to be utterly wrong.

My point is not that things happen at random – chaotic systems are deterministic – but that there are a bunch of forces at play which influence events and the particular group who hold parliamentary power is a relatively minor factor in what actually happens. You can’t totally ignore it as a factor – since powerful people are always liable to do something stupid, vain or counter-productive, and they can even go mad – however, in a system with stable institutions and relatively constrained and dependant political leaders, these quirks get flattened out in the long-run. Therefore, while they’re important for short-term and micro-analysis, they’re almost irrelevant for long-term and macro-analysis in most modern polities.

In the case of the minimum wage and statutory redundancy, the ruling class have generally been strongly supportive of social partnership (with good reason) and in order to maintain it, from time to time they had to give certain concessions to the unions. The minimum wage and redundancy reforms were certain to be passed in that period, no matter who was in government. Sure, if McCreevey had been the decision maker, he might have refused to go along with it, but he would have had to get a new job as soon as the multi-nationals experienced the first wee hint of strike action messing up their exceedingly pleasant business environment.

You could jump through all sorts of hoops trying to imagine neo-liberal ideological rationales for the minimum wage, but that’s a flight into the land of make-believe. In reality, it’s hugely obvious that mimimum wages are precisely the types of things that the PDs are against.

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14. WorldbyStorm - July 2, 2007

The more I read the more I like. But a couple of thoughts. You appear to be contradicting yourself when you say that the ruling class have generally been strongly supportive of social partnerships but then say that minimum wages are precisely the types of things that the PDs are against. Actually the PDs were very largely for the minimum wage seeing this as a sort of ‘cover’ which they could present as being pro-labour (in the broad sense) and it nicely slotted into their ‘enterprise agenda’.
Regarding chaos, I have to disagree. Certainly markets (such as those in the example you offer) are chaotic – to some degree or another, but not entirely so. Whether one can apply the same methodological approach to political systems and structures appears to me to be more dubious. A political system, a government or indeed any institution is not a market. Of their nature they attempt to apply order in a way in which a market doesn’t. The market itself is the framework, that is the order, that which happens within it can be chaotic or not. A political structure is both structure and instrumentality, in that it seeks to apply an ideological, philosophical or economic order. Now, it’s fairly apparent that this order may be transitory or may indeed be entirely negated by events, but that’s a different issue.
I actually agree with you in the sense that there is wishful thinking regarding the likelihood of left reforms emerging say from Brown. But… it’s not entirely so. The political space in contemporary societies is quite narrow and pitched essentially towards a sort of soggy social/christian democracy. A bit left, a bit right. There already are left reforms built into our societies in a way which leftists of the 1890s (or to take a more Irish point, 1912) of whatever stripe would probably find remarkable. Brown is clearly of a managerial left tradition (which can and does wind up seeming and acting in a fashion which is often indistinguishable from the centre right – for more see below).
Whether the wishful thinking is down to a metaphysical nature I don’t know. I think in a way that’s true but there is also an element of the opposite. That the raw materiality and domnance of the market, and the necessity to oversee complex processes within contemporary societies has led the left along a path of managerialist technocracy, perhaps at the expense of the idealistic. And then…taking bread and butter issues as a significant factor the failure of state socialist models to really provide even that minimum level of has weighed heavily on the largest sectors of the left. And those beyond the largest sectors are sometimes economically illiterate (or rather economically literate in terms of a very specific analysis drawn from the most limited reading of classical Marxism – and you’ll know the groups I’m thinking of here with their continual revision of the economic and social events of the 20th century through whatever political analysis is in vogue) and therefore have no serious part to play in articulating an agenda that might actually convince significant numbers of people that there are and remain alternatives.
Or in other words, we know there are problems here, but if we want to get to there we must know the intermediate stages of the journey.
If I’ve seemingly counterposed revolution and reform in reference to your posts I think that’s a very fair criticism on your part.

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15. ejh - July 2, 2007

taking bread and butter issues as a significant factor the failure of state socialist models to really provide even that minimum level of has weighed heavily on the largest sectors of the left

That’s true to a degree but it’s also true that the social democratic models of Western Europe were able to tackle homelessness, provide healthcare and deal with the worst excesses of poverty in a way that their free-market rivals and successors were not: and this without their economies resembling that of North Korea.

This is not as well known as it ought to be, presumably because it involved higher taxes, more influential trades unions and a general failure to understand that the priorities of the metropolitan professional classes should be the priorities of everybody.

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16. WorldbyStorm - July 2, 2007

Couldn’t agree more ejh. Yet these successes have been obliterated in the memory by those who think the ‘free’ market carries all before it.

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17. Redking - July 3, 2007

Well done WBS on another balanced piece on Blair-I agree with you 100% on not getting into the rethoric of disgust or “politics of condemnation”. I wonder if many of those anti-Blair commentators on here are actually (or have been ) Labour Party members?-politics being tribal most members I’ve talked with despite disdain for Blair admire the fact he was the most successful Labour leader in history and despite the war and all the rest delievered 3 terms. The Tories will be very glad to see the back of him.
And , in the absence of a lie-o-metre or a despise-o-metre is it possible to verify that he was the most despised PM in recent history or is such an assertion merely the subjective view of the author?

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18. ejh - July 3, 2007

What’s your point? Given that neither the proposition nor its negation can be proven, of course it’s a subjective view. Historical judgements always are: there’s nothing unusual about this one. But it’s a judgement with some powerful evidence to back it up.

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19. Redking - July 3, 2007

Yes-and some subjective views hold more weight than others but I’m not so sure there is such powerful evidence to back such an assertion, although its clear Blair obviously arouses strong emotions in (some) people.
I feel (although I may be wrong) that history will be kinder to Blair than some current views both here and elsewhere.

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20. ejh - July 3, 2007

I can’t think of any British prime minister – and this is not a field where deceit is rare – who has had his dishonesty mentioned as a major characteristic by so many observers. Not since then end of Old Corruption, anyway. I know my British political history fairly well and I can’t think of anybody to match Blair.

As for what party members think – well, my great-aunt was a member for half a century and more and I’m aware of the effect (and the value) or party loyalty. But he didn’t half shed a lot of Party members, Blair. He didn’t half lose a hell of a lot of friends. Including people like me, who voted for Labour every election in our lives up to and including 1997. But not now.

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21. WorldbyStorm - July 3, 2007

ejh, is it likely that you might change your mind at some point during the Brown leadership? Or to put it a different way, what would they have to do to entice you to give even a reluctant or conditional support?

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22. ejh - July 3, 2007

I don’t know, really. They’d have to try quite hard since now I live abroad, voting is a damned sight more effort than it was before!

All my gut instincts lead me to support Labour but that’s not remotely enough any more: I’d have to have some positive reasons, not just keeping the Tories out.

I’d vote for Zapatero against Rajoy here (though that’s an idle claim since I can’t vote in national elections) so presumably it’s far from impossible.

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23. WorldbyStorm - July 3, 2007

I’ve been somewhat impressed by how Brown appears to be reformulating aspects of the UK govt over the past couple of days. Now, how much is optics is a moot question. But some of his ideas are not entirely unworthy, and it’s heartening to see him putting outspoken opponents of the war into cabinet…which actually I should have asked you before, was it Blair, Iraq, the nature of the leadership including Brown, some other factor or all four which led you to withdraw even partial support?

It’s tricky on the left. We’re continually forced to exercise choices which are ‘least worst’… or we tend to walk away – which I’ve done myself.

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24. ejh - July 3, 2007

The actual issue on which I decide “that’s it” was the proposal to lock up indefinitely people considered to have particular untreatable mental problems.

But in general, I didn’t have any enthusiasm for these people. Clearly they despised the very people most likely to support them, clearly they loathed the public sector, clearly they admired wealth, clearly their only interest in the newspapers was in courting them rather than in defending the subjects of their attacks…well, you know what I mean. They weren’t Labour people at all. Nor were they people who ‘recognised that the world had changed’ or any such cant as that – we’ve all done that to some extent or other. They were elite people, careerists, interested in offloading responsibilities rather than discharging them. I’m not interested in them.

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25. WorldbyStorm - July 3, 2007

Will Hutton sort of made the same point last night on Channel 4. He was very clear in suggesting that Blair was in no sense “of” the Labour Party… he was a bit more forgiving but tending the same way. Oddly enough much of what Blair said annoyed me intensely and for much the same reasons you’ve put forward.

That’s a very reasonable issue to break with them on. There has been a sort of modish and slavish adherence by them to whatever is the most recent theory of whatever area the spotlight falls upon as the definitive and final thinking on an area to the detriment of serious policy making. Mental health is one area, education another…

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26. chekov - July 4, 2007

“I’ve been somewhat impressed by how Brown appears to be reformulating aspects of the UK govt over the past couple of days. Now, how much is optics is a moot question. But some of his ideas are not entirely unworthy, and it’s heartening to see him putting outspoken opponents of the war into cabinet…”

Hmmm. The major ‘external’ appointements to cabinet were a cop, a spook and a representative of corporate capitalism. If he’d gone out and appointed an asylum-seeking lesbian nigerian factory worker to cabinet, I’d still have questioned whether it was a signifier of meaningful progressive changes, but if you find the current crop heartening, I suspect your rose-tinted glasses are being set to ever-deeper hues ;-)

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27. WorldbyStorm - July 4, 2007

Glasses set to deepest red, as well you know :)

Not sure though. I think we will see some moderation of tone, perhaps a shift in foreign policy. Low level stuff perhaps, but if it is even slightly more critical than before that would be a start. And while I take your point, particularly re Digby Jones, I think that the Labour ministers will have an advantage over the external appointments in their party hinterland. Again, it may not be much, but perhaps enough.

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28. Redking - July 4, 2007

That’s an interststing post (20) I’ve often wondered about the depth of contempt for Blair-as its clear winning 3 elections obviously tempers this. I also think the way the media has presented him at least since 2003 is a factor and indeed in broader terms the way the media relates to politicians -its just a less deferential society we inhabit and this must have consequences for drawing historical parallels. For instance would it have been possible for the media prior to the 1950s to have talked about say Churchill or Lloyd George in the same manner as Blair? Doubtful -different eras, polities etc and a much more deferential climate (one could also say they were politicians of greater substance etc)
And recently its been noted that the BBC has been unremitting in their oppostion to the Iraq war and by extension Blair and new labour, in a way that perhaps goes beyond the way they’ve treated other govts.

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29. ejh - July 5, 2007

the BBC has been unremitting in their oppostion to the Iraq war

Really?

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