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April 06, 2005

Blair

I agree with basically all of this. And it's one of the things I find most galling about Blair's support for Bush, and Bush's complete unwillingness to moderate key policies to help Blair. Tony has been one of the left's brighter lights in recent years, leading a resurgence of Labour and creating a clear and compelling model for liberals. And then he went and threw it away on our unconcerned leader and his incompetent and immoral wars. Now, with election coming, he's battered and bloodied because he tried to be a liberal hawk in a neocon war and got burned for it, and so, I fear, will the left.

Now, I've no reason to believe that Blair's support for Iraq was anything but sincere. Some backed the war on gut, anti-tyranny grounds, and right or wrong, their convictions led them. Blair seems to be one of these. But he's destroying his government and derailing his agenda by refusing to admit the mistake, and he's isolating himself from ideological allies by allowing the Iraq War to define him. Now maybe it'll just lead to a Liberal Democrats-Labour hook-up, something I'd find defensible if not necessarily ideal. But in any case, by weakening himself, he's hastened the end of the Labour project. Don't believe me? Check out this Luntz focus group. The guy threw away the third way to go to war the wrong way. Clinton lost control of his attempt thanks to his own sexual appetites (and an obsessive right-wing Congress). It'd be nice if just one visionary liberal would put the movement ahead of themselves for awhile so other leaders could have a model untainted by disgrace...

April 6, 2005 in International | Permalink

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Comments

Come on Ezra, no one (conservatives, liberals, anyone) puts any "movement" ahead of themselves. The movement is the means to an end, which is power...

Certainly neither Clinton nor Blair were "new socialist" men.

Posted by: Matt | Apr 6, 2005 12:39:19 PM

The thing is, Blair had lost the trust of the British people before the Iraq situation. Obviously it cemented the problem, and for many people turned their feelings from mere distrust to active hatred (this especially in "Middle England", ie natural Tory voters who switched to Labour in 1997). There were a series of scandals and episodes that showed a basic lack of judgement - Blair has now appointed his best friend Peter Mandelson to three important positions, even though the latter was involved in two career ending scandals. Similarly it's widely expected that Blair will bring Blunkett back into the cabinet after the election. He really doesn't grasp how badly that sort of things go down with the public. Over the course of the last seven years more and more people have realised that Blair worships power, money and celebrity. That's not to deny his heartfelt convictions on Iraq and Africa, but the man quite transparently and naively thinks that all rich people deserve all their wealth, that there's something inherently virtuous in fame and power. While the former has kept "business" onside, most people find the latter disturbing. Britons have a real love-hate relationship with celebrities. Many, many people have an unhealthy fascination with their private lives, but they're only built up in order to fall - Brits want to be reassured that celebs fuck up like everyone else. Hence celebrity worship in Blair's mode is alien. Tony keeps on trying to pretend that he's an ordinary guy, but the more he does the more people realise how unlike them he is. One thing most Americans probably don't pick up on is the way he changes his speech patterns, even his accent, depending on the audience. Before he was PM, this worked, but when his every speech is on television, the trick comes across as insincere. This is a guy who bought two flats for £500k his sons to live in while at university, who's just bought a £3.5m house, who gets freebie holidays off Silvio Berlusconi and his other world leader mates, who was educated at public school and Oxford but when he's on an estate in London adopts an Estuary English accent.

A related point is this: Blair's relationship with Bush isn't some anomaly. It's not the result of Iraq. His next closest world leader friend is Berlusconi, for God's sake. Then Putin. Blair prefered Clinton (there's a fantastic photo of them at the party conference a while ago where the fawning look on Blair's face is priceless), but that was because he admired Clinton's political skills.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Apr 6, 2005 1:34:25 PM

Damn, Ezra, you link the Dailykos thread with my Liberal Democrat headbashing, but without the comments!

Well, I know your Lib Dem kind all too well--flee and wilt at the first sign of criticism! You would have Tony do the same. Thank God he knows that Labour is not about apologizing, not about Liberal Democrat preening, carping self-worship. The most important for Labour is NOT that I must, at all times, be holy and above question in the perfection of my political beliefs. A party on that basis is a doormat party, and Thank God that's what the Liberal Democrats will always be.

Posted by: Marshall | Apr 6, 2005 2:11:54 PM

Ezra, Blair knew by July or August of 2002 that Bush was going to go to war in Iraq, period, and all the lead up to the war afterwards was more or less for show. Blair made the choice to go along with Bush for the sake of maintaining Britain's close strategic relationship with the U.S. far more than out of some idealistic determiniation to oust Saddam Hussein.

Posted by: David W. | Apr 6, 2005 2:46:04 PM

I tend to agree with Matt - the problem with Blair starts well before the Iraq war and the general petering out of his policies, domestic and foreign, is less some failure to achieve lofty goals as it is the problematic nature of what he used to initially get to the top - the Clintonesque mix of narrowly tailored approaches, overzaealousness to compromise on what most would consider principles, and an urge to push image over substance. The Iraq war just completes a picture. The problem is that the dissent from Blair, such as it is, is still within Labour - it's hard to see how Conservatives can capitalize on that dissatisfaction when they're in even worse shape - which is when Americans on both sides nod sagely and say "just like America", but it's not. The Tories are not analagous to the Democrats, and Blair and Bush, while tied at the ankles on Iraq, diverge on their approaches to domestic ussues enough to offer little real guidance on parallels. Blair will stay in; Bush leaves in 2008, and Dems could well succeed where Tories are failing. Doesn't tell us much about anything, really.

Posted by: weboy | Apr 6, 2005 2:49:26 PM

Wow!

All the above comments are spot on!

Ginger Yellow is especially good on how Blair tries "to be all things to all people". For example he has been to look foolish previously by claiming to be a big supporter of various sports teams and then showing he doesn't know anything about them.

The UK Labour party will win, not necessarily on policies or even votes but because the electoral system is incredibly biased in their favour:

A Labour win by 8% gives a majority of 150+.
A Conservative win by 3% gives a LABOUR majority of 1.
A Conservative win by 8% gives a conservative majority of 1.

In short if the US Presidential election was based on this format we would now have President KERRY.

The most likely result is a Labour majority of 50-75. This would result in Blair stepping down in a year or two and being replaced by Gordon Brown.

Brown differs from Blair in a number of ways:

Brown is a big admirer of the US economic/business system and takes his holidays in the USA (Blair ponces of Euro aristos).
Brown is a supporter of public sector provision of education and health (Blair went to private school and is more pro-choice).
Brown is hostile to the Euro and EU in general (Blair is supportive - he wanted to be EU "President").
Brown would be less interventionist on foreign issues (Blair likes to play the caped crusader).

Looking at my crystal ball I would then predict a Conservative victory in the following election as there would be a huge backlash among English people against such an obviously Scottish Prime Minister like Brown (Blair too is Scottish but pretends to be English).

BTW Blair lost trust over Iraq NOT because of the war but because of the reasons for it.

Posted by: Boethius | Apr 6, 2005 7:42:02 PM

The UK Labour party will win, not necessarily on policies or even votes but because the electoral system is incredibly biased in their favour:

Er, sort of. (Compare the 1951 election, where Labour won the vote-share and the Tories had a working majority.) The necessary swing for a Tory working majority is because they still haven't recovered from the thumping they received in 1997, where they were sent packing, for the most part, from urban Britain. There are lots of problems with FPTP, but the whittling down of the Tories to a rural-exurban party isn't one of them. Blame Major and William Hague for that.

Posted by: ahem | Apr 6, 2005 8:59:17 PM

Ahem

I'm a supporter of FPTP and am aware that the side with fewer votes sometimes wins (Bush/Gore is an example of course). However it so happens that the bias is unprecedently severe in this case. A look at any election results will confirm this.

As to the state of the UK Conservative you are right in blaming John Major (the British Jimmy Carter IMO) for destroying the party of the Thatcher era (significantly though Blair has not changed any of her policies, indeed he has reaped the economic benefit of them) but wrong in blaming Hague who was a highly capable leader, certainly much better than Howard.

Posted by: Boethius | Apr 6, 2005 9:17:55 PM

Interesting. Ginger Yellow's comments are useful, but I'll add something

My take on Blair. Unlike Clinton, Blair is instinctively a right winger who I view as kind of a trojan horse for the Labour Party. Clinton governed from the center, but he is in his heart a leftwinger. Blair isn't. He has basically transformed the party into a kind of center-right populist party that has completely marginalized the Tories and their natural role. (Basically, he has done to Labour what Al From and the most hardline DLCers would like to do to the Democrats - purge the party's left half and become a center-right party of governance by picking off the "left" wing of the GOP as well)

My guess is that if the Labour Party continues on its current trajectory, the Conservative will not be a major party within 2 decades, maybe sooner. The Liberals will become the left opposition and the Conservatives will become a minor third party primarily concerned with things like stopping immigration and Europe bashing. Alternatively, the Conservative Party will survive if Labour turns back to the left under G Brown, in which case I imagine it (ie Labour) will eventually merge with the Liberal Democrats. Either way, the continued existence of a Labour Party in any traditional sense makes no sense in contemporary British society - as such I think, we are in the process of witnessing a significant realignment of British politics.

Boethius is thinking some what wishfully in arguing Major is the "major" reason for Tory decline. Thatcher had become quite unpopular by the time she was deposed - poll tax in particular. Major was a pretty bad leader, but arguing that his poor leadership was the problem and that a more ideologically pure Tory party (ie more right wing party) would have maintained the position it held in the 80s is complete wish fulfillment, kind of an ideological inverse of Naderism on the US left (i.e. if the voters were given a principled, clearly defined left option, the voters would choose it).

Posted by: Ben P | Apr 7, 2005 2:21:24 AM

"For example he has been to look foolish previously by claiming to be a big supporter of various sports teams and then showing he doesn't know anything about them."

I was tempted to include that but didn't. The full details are quite stunning - he claimed early on in his tenure (maybe even before he was PM) to remember sitting behind the goal at Newcastle United watching his "teenage hero" Jackie Milburn (legendary Newcastle striker). The only problem being that there were no seats behind the goal when Jackie Milburn played (or many years afterward), and Blair was 4 when he stopped playing for them. Similarly Blair also once claimed to have run away as a teenager and got on a flight from Newcastle airport to the Bahamas. The only problem with this being that his father flat out denies this and also there have never been flights from Newcastle to the Bahamas. I'm loath to generalise from anecdotes like I'm about to, but it does seem symptomatic of the way he convinces himself of things that aren't true to suit his image of himself. One of his key problems these days is that even when you believe he's being sincere you still can't trust him.

Ben P makes some important points too - Blair is definitely an instinctive right-winger (economically). On the other hand, he is broadly social liberal (or rather multi-cultural - he has quite reactionary views on crime, for example).

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Apr 7, 2005 4:22:19 AM

I don't agree with a bunch of this stuff.

Boethius:
It is tough to underestimate the hatred for Margaret Thatcher in this country. Major didn't destroy the party--she did. Remember, she was never all that popular in that only 1983 can be seen as a resounding victory for her, and that came as a result of the Falklands. Her majorities came from the same spread-out support that Labour has now. And there is NO economic benefit of her policies. Gordon Brown has instituted his very own fiscal policy (for better or worse), and in the realm of monetary policy the ERM withdrawal closed out the Thatcher years once and for all. Finally, I happen to like William Hague, but don't give him credit for anything with a straight face. Every time I say the Tories should re-elect him, everyone bursts out laughing.

Ben P:
Blair has not come close to purging the left. The Labour base of yesteryear is firmly on his side, even with grumbling. The only former Labour voters he's alienated to a significant degree are Muslims, and frankly they're not numerous or spread-out enough to make a huge difference politically.

There is not a majority in this country for Liberal Democrat-style liberalism. Indeed, the word "liberal" is scoffed at by Labour partisans as an American wishy-washy label. Tony Blair just isn't as huge a departure from the traditional party system as you think he is--he took "middle England" from the Tories, which was bound to happen anyway to some extent since, as I said above, everyone hates the Tories. Perhaps Tony has kept them a bit longer than Neil Kinnock would have. But let there be no doubt: the swathes of Labour voters who have not strayed in General elections to date will not in the future.

Finally, anti-Europe and anti-immigration issues are not the issues of a small minority party. If the Tories ever get back to power, it will be because they successfully convince the electorate that Labour's attempts to ape their Powellite positions are transparently insincere.

Posted by: Marshall | Apr 7, 2005 5:27:20 AM

Blair a leading light of the left? Who blew it all on Iraq? A clear and compelling light for liberals? I give you: PFI and all its government debt-creating inefficiencies and the refusal to consider raising rates of income tax or to take social equality as a serious goal; Peter Mandelson and the Dome; the restriction of Jury trial, the restriction of the right to silence, and the imposition of state-sanctioned punishment on the basis of hearsay. None of these things have anything to do with Iraq, none of them were necessary given the crapness of the opposition, and all of them are central parts of the New Labour programme, apparently, including the sleaze. The basic premise of your post, that Blair is a good thing who has wasted his political capital on Iraq, is simply false. Blair is not as bad as Major/Hague/Duncan-Smith/Howard, and Brown does a bit of redistribution by the back door: that's all. It's hardly a glowing triumph.

Posted by: Rob | Apr 7, 2005 6:27:31 AM

"Blair has not come close to purging the left. The Labour base of yesteryear is firmly on his side, even with grumbling. The only former Labour voters he's alienated to a significant degree are Muslims, and frankly they're not numerous or spread-out enough to make a huge difference politically."

I agree he hasn't purged the left, except in cabinet and the PLP (through the huge numbers of new MPs in 97 and Blairite shortlists, rather than an active purge). But it's nonsense that the only Labour voters he's alienated are Muslims. I know many present and former Labour activists, only a handful of whom can stand the man. Many of them will hold their noses and vote Labour anyway (whereas many Muslims will not), but for two reasons only - the traditional Labour tribal loyalty and utter hatred of the Tories, and the hope (misguided in my opinion) that Blair will step down soon to make way for Brown. At the same time, many of them who have canvassed and voted for Labour in every election of their adult lives will be voting Green, Respect or not at all. Oddly enough, hardly anyone I know is switching to the Libs.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Apr 7, 2005 8:32:45 AM

A bit late to respond but I was rather busy yesturday.

I know that Thatcher was hated ("strong" leaders usually are) but that's a lot better than being despised as Major was.

If Thatcher had still led the Conservatives inn 1992 they would have lost that election (although probably by only a small amount). They would have then been spared the ERM, tax rises, infighting over Europe, sleaze scandals and many more political disasters. Instead the Labour party would have suffered them. The Conservatives would have remained strong and would have been reelected at the following election.

The US and UK political cycles were closely related from 1945 to 1992. The Conservative party's victory in that year was to it's own detriment.

Posted by: Boethius | Apr 8, 2005 1:41:34 PM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 8:34:40 AM

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