Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Blair Decade 1: Blair Swears

With the Dear Leader about to depart, I shall be posting a series on the Blair Decade. Everything written elsewhere is and will be, predictably enough, narrowly political. But recent happenings at Westminster will prove as lasting as a Jeffrey Archer novel. The real legacy of politicians is to be found elsewhere, in the marks they leave on the national - and international - imagination. What counts, as ever, is culture. So, to begin:
Today, the Observer's Andrew Rawnsley reveals that Blair has asked for the swearing to be removed from Alastair Campbell's diaries. That Blair swears in private is unremarkable - most people do - but that he asks for the evidence to be removed is significant. For me, it echoes the 'I did what I thought was right' theme of his farewell speech at Trimdon. As everybody pointed out at the time, Stalin and Pol Pot could say they did what they thought was right. In spite of Kant's best efforts, the unsupported urgings of one's conscience are no guarantee of virtue. But Blair does seem to believe that his conscience is sufficient, that it is a special, private garden which he waters daily and to which he permits limited public access. This garden is a haven of ultimate virtue and must, especially now that he is stepping down, be seen as such. Swearing might suggest that Blair's privacy is a pub rather than a garden, hence his sensitivity on the matter. Blair's conscience is easy to mock and, when set alongside the cynicism of his day-to-day political dealings, very easy to satirise. But, as his self-defined court of ultimate appeal, it shows his need to seek refuge from the implications of the value-free, postmodern politics of which he is the master. The question is: has he discredited the appeal to conscience? I suspect, for the moment, he has. But his conscience/destiny approach should be seen for what it is - a desperate attempt to find moorings in the floating world which he so enthusiastically embraced. In this, Blair is not so different from the rest of us.
More to come

9 comments:

  1. will he be regarded as the Sven Goran-Eriksson of British PMs?

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  2. I'm not sure Sven could claim so convincingly to have meant well.

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  3. River of DeceitMay 27, 2007 5:03 pm

    Despite Blair's monumental arrogance, i think people will look back on him with nostalgia.
    That Brown isn't a showman some people see as a good thing. It is in a way. But people have become so unconsciously addicted to Blair's showmanship that they'll miss it, and dislike Brown for not being any good at it.

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  4. Why don't we forget Blair and his conscience for a moment - can we say that years of the Blair government mark the end of the Socialist dream? I speak as a socialist who recognizes that the enemies of equality and decency have won - thanks to the catastrophes of Stalin, Mao - and the architects of the Berlin Wall. The spectacular demise of the latter along with the brutal farce of the GDR - became, metaphorically, the pall bearers of all our hopes. Blairism or Merkelism is sadly the future of our pseudo democracies...

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  5. Chris, the idea that anybody who doesn't call themselves a socialist is an enemy of equality and decency has an interesting structure. It is akin to saying those not for us are against us. Hermetic tribalis is what brought socialism down.

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  6. Socialism is a goner in the West. The best we can hope for is some form of enlightened social democracy. For sure, capitalism is in the ascendent right now. If the majority of people have money in their pockets, they tend not to quibble too much over things like inequality. I have just come through a general election in Ireland, where the Labour Party yet again failed to make an impression, despite the outgoing government's appalling record on public services, child poverty, educational disadvantage, infrastructure etc. etc. Why? Because most people consulted their bank balance and decided the economy was more important than society. Very shortsighted. I do sympathise, Chris.

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  7. If the majority of voters have so much money in their pockets that they don't care to quibble too much over things like minute differences in equality, then "society" is probably doing just fine. A very wise judgement by "the people".

    Socialism is a goner in the West for two reason: Most of the critical changes that 19th century socialists wanted to make in society have already occurred, so on that score there's no need for socialists to stick around, and in the second place, it turns out that socialism isn't that good at planning for the long-run.

    France is a great example of the latter. While things aren't too bad there now, they are going to have a HUGE financial crisis over the next few decades, as the Boomers seek to retire, but the remaining workers will be far too few to support them.

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  8. We are not talking about minute differences, Oroborous, but very significant differences. In fact, the gap between rich and poor has never been greater in Ireland. The number of people living in poverty may be smaller (as many have been promoted to the ranks of the working-poor and should be happy to be scraping by!), but their experience of inequality is all the more acute. In my view, the economy and society are not synonomous. The government here thinks they are and is privatising everything it can get its hands on. I don't believe in the economy, I beleive in society. I don't want to pay less taxes, I want to have good public services. I don't want a bigger car, I want a better public transport system. I don't want a bigger house, I want everyone to have a house. I don't want more prison places, I want better social services. I could go on but I am beginning to sound sanctimonious. Forgive me, I am tired after a long election campaign.

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  9. River of DeceitMay 28, 2007 11:16 pm

    I think alot of people lean towards your view, Neil. They don't want more Thatcherism. Just because extreme nationalisation failed doesn't mean extreme privatisation is the answer.

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