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Blair Will Be a Footnote in History 5 September 2006

Posted by David in Labour.
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Over Blairat Dizzy’sblog, a little discussion is going on about Blair’s defining moment. I have thought about this before, and struggled. What has Blair actually done? What will we remember this era for? The only answer really is that he invaded Iraq, but that was more Bush, with Blair just following along, poodle like. When we look back at the Blair era, what will we remember?

We can look back at Major and remember the ERM, “back me or sack me”, railway privatisation and of course, Maastricht. Looking back at Margaret Thatcher, and we see more defining moments than Blair has had hot dinners. “The lady’s not for turning”, the miners strike, Falklands War (a British defensive warunlike Iraq), right to buy, Westland affair, Reagan, Greenham Common, fall of the Berlin Wall, the poll tax and the tearful stab in the back. It’s no wonder she’s rated the most successful PM on the 20th Century. Both actually did something.

But Blair has had no defining moment. From the 1997 victory, nothing has really happened. There’s been no defining policy or stance, other than being a non-entity. There has been headline grabbing initiative after headline grabbing initiative, but nothing more than that. It has been a triumph of spin over substance. For much of his time in Downing Street, the question has been when is he leaving? When is Brown taking over? When we look back at history, Blair will be a footnote.

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1. Bel - 5 September 2006

Quite right. Blair has no defining moment. The so-called ‘achievements’ of Blair are as nothing when compared to those of other leaders.

‘Captured the public mood on Diana’s death’? Big deal.

‘Shoulder-to-shoulder with America on 9/11’? Hardly an achievement. Any right-thinking British PM would have done that.

‘Northern Ireland Peace Process?’ If it weren’t so tragic, it would be funny. Dismantled the Army watch towers in the naive belief that the IRA would disarm. Maybe they have disarmed, who knows?

‘International statesman’? Don’t think so.

‘Constitutional reform’? The reform of the House of Lords is a shambles. Also, don’t forget the bumbling attempt to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor without realising the existence of a standing order going back as far as 1660 required the attendance of the Lord Chancellor before the House could sit. Hubris plus incompetence.

I’ll tell you what I’ll remember Blair for: ASBOs in the womb, marching yobs to cashpoints, ‘eye-catching initiatives’, Peter Foster, ‘loans-for-peerages’, 45 minutes, David Kelly, Bernie Ecclestone, spin doctors, politicisation of the civil service.

That’s all for now.

2. dizzy - 6 September 2006

I do largely agree with you regarding defing moments in terms of policy. I think for me, what I was wondering was what “event” would be pinpointed in the historical timeline as significant in terms of strategic/tactical mistakes.

Thanks for the link.

3. BloggerAll - 25 September 2006

The unpleasant fact is that the world as we thought we comfortably knew it seems to have been pulled out from under our feet and Blairs premiership, for better or worse marks that change.

FALSE DUSK
Does anybody remember that ‘end of history’ philosophy by Fukayama ? Bizzare, but before history suddenly lurched violently onwards taking Blair with it, it seemed weirdly plausible – a strange calm before the storm. In particular there was that weird extended New Labour honeymoon. This was that period where a ‘Footnote in History seemed all too likely, if not an overestimation of the significance of the Blair years.

I remember feeling particularly exasperated by the lack of serious debate. Those on the left dewey eyed with their ‘victory’, or petrified of the consequences of stepping out of line. Those on the right ? Totally ineffectual with their back-handed complements – including the slightly hysterical (but oddly prescient) ‘but what does Blair stand for ?’ This we can translate as ‘that b****d pirate! he’s actually managed to take control of that bunch of reprobates and stolen our gold, destroying our cozy idea of the way things should be in the process.

And it sank into evermore desperately irrelevant stagnation when a seemingly bored press leapt on the concept of ‘Spin’, perhaps one of the longest running red-herrings in recent media history. I for one was not interested in interminable whinging by the press about how the Governments had suddenly matched them for proficiency in the dark arts. Do your job and pretend to give us truth for god sake do not witter on about political technique as if the concept has just been invented. It seemed to have gone all horribly post-modern.

DAWN OF THE HOLY BRITISH EMPIRE
Something of a distraction was the bubble of confidence expressed by Britpop britart, brit bloody t-shirts and so on. A dizzy headlong rush into the millennium. Aside from the discomfort of the situation in Yugoslavia, we needed no great statesmen at the ‘end of history’, just a grinning fatuous symbol of the fact that it was all alright now. Peace in Northern Ireland and the devolving of the UK to massage away any historical imperial guilt, closer links with Euroland and so on – we were going to carry on happy wealthy and secure into the next 1000 years living out the endless childhoods of a hyper-middle class.

YUGOSLAVIA, NOT 9/11.
This was the first cataclysm. I did not know it at the time, not until the events after 9/11 unfolded. It was the sight of those blue helmets standing around watching the Serbs lobbing bombs into market squares.

The fact that this was happening in Europe not only hammered home the potential uselessness of the institutions supposedly safeguarding the world after WWII. On top of this the situation paradoxically demanded that we further undermine the security that they were supposed to provide us and deliberately violate the sovereignty of another country – and in the process our own values.

The thing is at the time this War was framed in the context of values formed as a result of WWII (remember those emaciated faces behind barbwire ?), and it was particularly upsetting to see how these institutions formed to uphold these values might in fact frustrate their implementation right here in Europe. These values are so ingrained in us that later on, albeit somewhat blinded by our disgust for Bush, we could not see the irony of going on a march bearing placards ‘Not in Our Name’ but take little or no interest in 10+ years of devastating sanctions and the promise of a hopeless future inflicted on a relatively innocent people. And it would explain that rather desperate but popular oxymoron ‘legal war’ that we clinged to.

SO WHAT DOES BLAIR STAND FOR ?
Of course as we know, Blair jettisoned himself into the centre of all this (and in Yugoslavia its ironic to think much to the chagrin of the Americans).

So does the intended end justify the means ? Has the cynicism of our secularist materialist culture now corroded our religious belief in the left and right wings of politics ? What would we sacrifice to achieve our goals? Instrumentalism rules – or is this the fig leaf for the corruption of our values? And in the age of unprecedented power of the individual human being, not to mention smaller and poorer groups of individuals, are we willing to sacrifice civil liberties, what about the philosophy of pre-emption ? is it for example ok for global warming but not for rogue states ? Frankly the debate has hardly begun on the legacy of Blairs efforts on these problems let alone what we will do about them in the future

Before this expands into a full blown essay I would like to wrap up by pointing out that Blairs premiership sits at the centre of all these dilemmas, which extend into domestic policy as much as foreign policy and seem likely to worry us for some time into the future. Lets face it, Thatchers years may well seem something of a picnic, easily managed by blinkered old battleaxe compared to what may be fast approaching.
Added to this the fact that Blair made a something of a point of tackling the problems of his premiership head-on (successful or not !) I would counter that Blair has left a legacy of government that is likely to haunt us for some time to come.


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