(A guest post by Gus of 1820 fame.)
Amongst the acres of hagiography written about our departing Prime Minister a number of glaring inconsistencies leap out at this reader about the decade of deceit that is drawing to a close. LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s look at some of the most glaringly obvious of these…
1. He produced great constitutional change
The first great myth about BlairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time in office is that he was responsible for the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s constitutional transformation. This is arrant nonsense. He grudgingly inherited the reality of devolution in Scotland, which had been created from the hard work of a civic based constitutional movement, not handed down as so much benevolent crumbs from a Labour government running scared by support for independence. His input was first to install the tax-raising clause in the referendum (eagerly dubbed the Tartan Tax by the Unionist press in anticipation of its rejection). His wrecking bill failed. He followed this by describing Holyrood as a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœparish council.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢
In Northern Ireland, touted as BlairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s greatest achievement, a far stronger claim for those responsible for transforming the political landscape are Gerry Adams and Mo MNwlam (in that order). AdamsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ bravery in guiding the republican movement to abandon its armed struggle and disband the IRA canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be underestimated. But this story doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fit the fast-building myth-making weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re experiencing.
2. He created a Britain Ã¢â‚¬Å“more at ease with itselfÃ¢â‚¬Â
A bewildering raft of commentators have been banging on about BlairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s legacy is to leave Britain a country Ã¢â‚¬Å“more at ease with itselfÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Having systematically and shamelessly induced fear and distrust in people itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s difficult to see where this claim comes from. Remember the tanks at Heathrow? The CCTV that follows us everywhere? The ASBO culture that acts a youth policy? Should we assume that the growth of the BNP in England or the SNP in Scotland is a sign of our being at Ã¢â‚¬Ëœease with ourselvesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢? Or the existence of Bellmarsh? This vague notion has little value or reality. Maybe ne of the DimblebyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wear a tie n Question Time but children are still seized from their beds and locked up in Dungavel.
3. He was a Great Communicator
That Blair was a great communicator is a line re-tread by journos up and down the land, but is it true?
Feebly we are offered his line about Diana being the Ã¢â‚¬Å“PeopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s PrincessÃ¢â‚¬Â, a line so fabulously cheesy, incoherent and plainly nonsensical it is staggering. His oratory was stilted, staccato and famously verb free. His PR was good but contrived by backstage henchmen and often to cover-up policy that was wafer-thin, dysfunctional (or often both).
4. He was an international statesman Ã¢â‚¬â€œ responsible for the Blair doctrine – Liberal Interventionism
The greatest lie about Blair Ã¢â‚¬â€œ put about by his incessant media team is the nauseating idea of his Ã¢â‚¬Ëœliberal interventionismÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Pundits casually tag on Iraq to his checklist of achievements and failures, as if you can equate unleashing a savage round of slaughter and mass confusion which have destabilised the geopolitics of the world with, say, child family tax credits.
Writing from Baghdad Patrick Cockburn wrote recently Ã¢â‚¬Å“On a quiet day yesterday police picked up 21 bodies of murdered men. Nobody knows how many corpses lie at the bottom of the river or in shallow graves in the desert.Ã¢â‚¬Â Four years ago British troops distributed a message from Blair promising: Ã¢â‚¬Å“a peaceful, prosperous Iraq, run by and for the Iraqi people.Ã¢â‚¬Â Four years on, none of this is true.
5. He tackled global poverty
Blair has made a great play of his international commitments. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an unspoken link to his spurious Christianity. The reality is he liked hanging out with Bono and being interviewed by Bob Geldof. This sort of posturing allowed Gordon Brown to attend the Make Poverty History March despite his neo-liberal policies being the focus of its anger.
The G8 agreed to increase aid from rich countries by $48bn a year by 2010. When Tony Blair announced this to parliament, he said that “in addition … we agreed to cancel 100% of the multilateral debts” of the most indebted countries. He also stated that aid would come with no conditions attached. These were big claims, all of which can now be shown to be false.
In recent evidence to the Treasury committee, Gordon Brown made the astonishing admission that the aid increase includes money put aside for debt relief. So the funds rich countries devote to writing off poor countries’ debts will be counted as aid. Russia’s increase in “aid” will consist entirely of write-offs. A third of France’s aid budget consists of money for debt relief; much of this will be simply a book-keeping exercise worth nothing on the ground since many debts are not being serviced. The debt deal is not “in addition” to the aid increase, as Blair claimed, but part of it.
Far from representing a “100%” debt write-off, the deal applies initially to only 18 countries, which will save just $1bn a year in debt-service payments. The 62 countries that need full debt cancellation to reach UN poverty targets are paying 10 times more in debt service. And recently leaked World Bank documents show that the G8 agreed only three years’ worth of debt relief for these 18 countries. They state that “countries will have no benefit from the initiative” unless there is “full donor financing”. In this like much else his claims are overblown or non-existent.
6. He made climate change a world issue
Tony Blair regularly made the claim that “Climate change is one of the most important challenges facing our planet todayÃ¢â‚¬Â. But what did he actually do about this? It was, he claimed ne of the great benefits of his special relationship with George Bush that he could influence American policy and bring them on board for Kyoto. This never happened. While early noises were positive nothing came of this. In fact its possible to chart the influence the other way from the Us onto the UK policy. In 2005 he said (on 15 September at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York) : Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m changing my thinking about this.Ã¢â‚¬Â Adding: Ã¢â‚¬Å“no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problemÃ¢â‚¬Â; instead, what countries would be prepared to do is Ã¢â‚¬Å“develop the science and technology in a beneficial way.Ã¢â‚¬Â The main question, Blair argued, was how to put incentives in place to do that, in circumstances where Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think people are going to start negotiating another major treaty like Kyoto.Ã¢â‚¬Â This is one of his most lauded victories and is in reality one of his greatest failures. Like his recent rejection of taking seriously his carbon footprint by curtailing his flying, Blair is strong on rhetoric and pitifully weak in practice.
“I personally think these things are a bit impractical, actually to expect people to do that,” Mr Blair told Sky News in January. “It’s like telling people you shouldn’t drive anywhere.”
7. He has created a more open society
Another of the key claims made for BlairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s legacy is that he has created a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœmore open societyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s another one of those causal and hazy claims its both difficult to prove or deny. Proponents point to the signing of the Freedom of Information Act (2000), whist opponents point to its mishandling and misappropriation whilst also arguing that the most important and grave areas (such as the police and military) are protected from proper scrutiny and transparency.
As I write the news flashes up that the frontline firearms and surveillance officers involved in the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station will not face a disciplinary tribunal, the police watchdog announced today (see 2 Ã¢â‚¬Ëœa country more at ease with itselfÃ¢â‚¬â„¢).
He leaves a climate of fear and a (perhaps healthy) distrust and cynicism about politicians cultivated by a string of ‘scandals’ and abject cronyism. The public are always sold the erosion of civil liberties on the basis that decent citizens have nothing to fear. And we, the citizens, can easily feel the current move is all about the “other” – terrorists, paedophiles, anti-social yobs, Muslims, young blacks, the mentally ill. We always think it is other people’s liberty that is being traded, which somehow makes it all right. We do not realise that liberty is not divisible in this way.
As Helena Kennedy QC wrote in 2004: “Anti-terror laws cannot be vacuum packed; they seep into the policing culture and create new paradigms of state power. During a visit to India this spring, the home secretary suggested that governments may have to consider whether the burden of proof might have to be lowered from “beyond reasonable doubt” to the civil test of the “balance of probabilities” in terrorist trials. Two days later, the prime minister agreed that such a change should be considered, and he went further, suggesting that the lower standard might also apply to other serious crime.
What is introduced today for terrorism almost invariably enters general usage shortly thereafter. The right to silence was first emasculated in terrorism cases in Northern Ireland in 1988, but the erosion of the right was extended into all domestic law in the UK in 1994. The proposal to lower the standard of proof is now part of the new “pre-emptive” civil order proposals for terrorists, coming before parliament in the next session.”
The veil fell revealing the truth about the sort of organisation and culture heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d created most famously when an elderly party member was thrown out of the party conferece in 20005. Walter Wolfgang, from London, was ejected from the hall after shouting “nonsense” as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw defended Iraq policy.
8. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s created a more egalitarian, less hierarchical Britain
Is New Labour little more than, as Robin Ramsay famously described them Ã¢â‚¬Å“the last dribble of Thatcherism down the leg of British politicsÃ¢â‚¬Â? I think not. Last month’s Sunday Times Rich List recorded that the richest 1,000
people in Britain more than trebled their wealth under Blair. Their fortunes grew by 20 percent last year alone, to a combined Ã‚Â£360 billion.
London has been described as a “magnet for billionaires, ” attracted by the UK’s reputation as an “on-shore tax-haven” in which the wealthyÃ¢â‚¬â€many of whom earned their fortunes through asset-stripping, privatization and financial speculationÃ¢â‚¬â€pay next to nothing on their incomes. In contrast, the number of people living in poverty in Britain last year rose from 12.1 million to 12.7 million, a rise of 600,000 people, whilst the number of poor children increased by 200,000 to 3.8 million between 2005 and 2006.
9. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s transformed the Labour Party
Well he did that. Apart from moving the party away from its core ideals he also eviscerated its membership.
The membership figure quoted by Labour headquarters in April of 2006 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a number that is rarely released and has to be extracted from them with thumbscrews Ã¢â‚¬â€œ was 248,294. It was met with disbelief. It probably came from 2003 and included tens of thousands who had left the party over the Iraq war, or who were six months or more in arrears with their subscriptions. By July of that year a new organisation called Save the Labour Party forced HQ to confess to a figure of 208,000: half as many members as there had been when Blair won the 1997 election, and nowhere near the million members John Prescott used to boast of as being the partyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s achievable goal. People have left Labour in droves.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got worse since then. Labour Party membership has declined dramatically since 1997 and is now below the 200,000 mark – the lowest level since Ramsay MacDonald split the party in the 1930s. The membership has grown weary of being implicated in what the media call a Ã¢â‚¬Å“conspiracy of lies,Ã¢â‚¬Â and resentful of arrogant leadership. A YouGov poll presented to the Compass conference on 17 June found that only 25 percent of Labour Party members believe they influence Party policy, while three-quarters felt policy had been hijacked by rich donors whose influence has grown as membership has shrunk. All of which has ed t the issue barely whispered amongst the deluge of warm congratulations this week: cash for peerages
10. He goes out on a wave of popularity
Blair leaves at a time not of his choosing – an even more detested in Britain than his mentor Margaret ThatcherÃ¢â‚¬â€officially the most hated prime minister in recent history. Opinion polls record that his legacy is one soaked in the blood of the preemptive war and occupation of Iraq. Half of the population believe it is for this reason that Blair will find his place in the history books.
Blair leaves office as an unindicted war criminal and the first sitting prime minister in history to be interviewed as part of a police investigation (the “cash for honours” scandal).
The elections saw Labour lose control in Scotland for the first time in 50 years, and delivered the party its worst result in Wales since 1918. In England, where Labour was already at an unprecedented low, it was wiped out in 90 local authorities and lost almost 500 councillors. Overall, its share of the vote stands at just 27 percent, under conditions in which turnout never went much beyond 50 percent.
Though his departure this week was a contrived stunt there should be no doubt he leaves a discredited figure, forced out because heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d become a liability.