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The Blair Legacy: What did the British Expect?

Paolo Bassi | 09.07.2007 08:00 | Anti-militarism | Birmingham | London

Why is there such anguish over Blair's legacy? Labour in power serve the same interests as the conservatives and Blair was part of that tradition.

Paolo Bassi
July 4 2007

The Blair Legacy: What did the British People Expect?

After being bluntly informed by British polls that he is untrustworthy and an electoral liability, Tony Blair finally resigned from the leadership of the Labour Party – as if he had a choice.

The tired, painfully self-righteous Blair in 2007 is a far cry from the young leader who in 1997 ended 18 years of Conservative rule promising a fairer Britain. Most of the British working class probably believed him just as they had placed their hopes in previous Labour governments. They had forgotten their history.

Labour in power is a collection of mostly upper-middle class men from elitist universities and largely devoted to maintaining the social order. Like the Democratic Party’s in the US, Labour serves as a safety valve for the aspirations and frustrations of the British working classes, who are indoctrinated to believe that Labour is their sole, realistic hope of a better life. Once in power, Labour cleverly dissipates these misplaced hopes. Blair’s “New Labour” was simply more honest about its role in that tradition. The mask had been removed to the point where Blair felt uncomfortable even using term working class. Labour’s rightward drift has removed any semblance that ordinary British people have a party to represent their interests.

Domestically Blair has been an utter disaster for the average Briton. His servility to big business, the wealthy elites, spin control of news, cronyism and sheer arrogance plunged British politics to new lows.

Everything that old Labour held dear has been damaged. Education is as elitist as ever but now also a confusing mishmash. By the time they are three years old, working class children are already a full year behind in their development compared to privileged children. In the universities, poor students are finding it increasingly difficult to take on the debt required to graduate. Once again universities are becoming the preserve of the wealthy.
Despite Michael Moore’s simplistic adulation of the British National Health Service (NHS) in his documentary “Sicko”, British people know better. While infinitely better and moral compared to the private American system, the NHS has been damaged and bullied by Blair. While doctors are certainly wealthier, other NHS workers have fallen behind. Dental treatment under the NHS has almost disappeared leaving the poor with no coverage.

Even as class has become more diffuse in the popular culture and seemingly less important, in reality it is as strong a national addiction as ever. Social mobility is today more difficult than it was several decades ago when the class system seemed more entrenched.

The inability to move up has been exacerbated by the housing boom which has priced out millions of working people, while placing recent home-owners under dangerous debt levels. An entire generation, and beyond, face being life-long tenants, living in perpetual insecurity.

Just like house prices, the wealth gap has skyrocketed during Blair’s decade. The differences between rich and poor in Britain are now at levels that would have made Margaret Thatcher proud. Twenty years ago, such growth of inequality would have been inconceivable under a Labour government. As the wealthy leave the rest further behind, the idea of a common citizenship based on shared values, such as those represented by Labour’s “Britishness” tests become absurd.

In any country ,it is usually the government that sets the tone of public discourse, and popular culture is, at least in part, a reflection of this. During the last decade, by any standard, British public culture has been dumbed down and degraded. Vulgarity, voyeurism, obsession with celebrity and wealth, exhibitionism and sheer stupidity form the diet of popular culture. Even the elitist, self-appointed guardian of British culture, the BBC, has not been immune to this race to the bottom. Perhaps the present state of public culture is a reflection of a deeper shared feeling that the future will not be as good as the past.

Internationally, Blair has behaved like every other Labour and
Conservative leader since WWII. British capitalism has vast amounts invested in the US and the two systems generally co-operate. The thinking since WWII has been that British corporate interests overseas are safe as along as the US is dominant. From this viewpoint Blair’s had loyally served those who own Britain.

At a personal level, Blair has certainly been more deferential to Washington than other British leaders. The wealth and military power of Washington, with its gloss of moral purpose, seems to have utterly seduced our Tony. In the eyes of the world (outside the US) Blair had reduced himself to Washington’s lapdog. Blair may have lacked the intelligence to hide his craving to be associated with power, but he was perfectly rational. By serving Washington he was ensuring that British corporations did not miss out on the rich returns in Iraq.

Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, is undoubtedly more intelligent, but he too will follow the same path–only with a different presentation and possibly a few more crumbs for the poor. The British elites and foreign billionaire exiles can sleep easy knowing their interests are safe with Labour.

Tony Blair’s reign will of course be remembered for the assault on Iraq – a country with historic ties to Britain and one that had done no harm to Britain nor was militarily capable of it.
Blair’s war on Iraq began long before the 2003 invasion. Low-intensity aerial attacks by Anglo-American bombers went on for more than a decade after the 1991 first Gulf War. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died during this period through disease, malnutrition and bombing. Blair, along with John Major, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are all responsible for this slaughter. The farcical WMD inspired invasion of 2003 is in a class of its own. It was quite simply a vicious, unprovoked attack on a defenseless country. A 21st Century version of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” could be set in today’s Iraq.

All this killing just to ensure that Washington’s geo-political goals are met and British capitalists get a share from the forced privatization of Iraq’s state assets. The Iraqis were not only invaded and humiliated but will also be robbed.

If there is anything good that can be said of Blair’s foreign policy, it is that he brought climate change to the fore. However, even here, he was willing to deviate from but not directly confront Washington.

Like his ally George W. Bush, Blair presents himself as a principled Christian. Perhaps this faith is what deludes Blair and allows him to sleep at night, convinced he is doing his Christian duty by defending the interests of the powerful.

As far as the world is concerned, no matter how many bibles Blair clutches or how hard he prays with Bush, it will never wash away the blood of the innocent Iraqis. This is the real Blair legacy, a direct outcome of his deadly hypocracy and servility to corporate power.

Like Henry Kissinger, Blair too should be careful where he travels in the future. Britain is a signatory to the International Criminal Court and all it would take is a judge and a government with enough courage to arrest Blair for war crimes. There would be millions of witnesses ready to testify.

Paolo Bassi
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