Tony Blair - The Real Legacy Of Blair.

Nathaniel Mehr 18/05/2007

We are by now quite used to the fact that nearly every media discussion-based item devoted to our soon-to-be-erstwhile Prime Minister is a showpiece for the most degenerate currents in the mainstream political discourse - from the sycophantic fawning of his supporters and sympathisers, to the disingenuous and incoherent protestations of his critics on the right, all truly cringe worthy in their own way, and all balanced out by a heroic lack of assertiveness on the part of the presenter or chair as the case may be. And yet the recent debate over Mr Blair's "legacy" appears to have plumbed new depths, as the nation's politicians and political commentators joined forces in an orgy of denial and indulgent drivel which in and of itself constituted the strongest evidence of the true legacy of Tony Blair's ten years as Prime Minister.

The issue of the Iraq war is admitted as a disaster in nearly every media analysis, dismissed in the opening seconds as a sort of preliminary issue, with the sort of casual sense of regret of a football fan bemoaning his team's failure in Europe before going on to analyse its performance in the domestic league and cup. This treatment of the Iraq war, as though it were a mere aberration rather than an outrage, is a measure of the extent to which imperialist dogma is entrenched in the mindset of the mainstream media. It is startling, though not altogether surprising, to hear among those agreeing, all to briefly and as a matter of course, that the Iraq war was a disaster, the voices of numerous MPs, especially among Conservatives and Liberal Democrats but equally among the so-called "left" of the Labour Party, who are far too honest to falsely claim that they had voted against the war, but are clearly not above adopting the path of least resistance by accepting the anti-war case in principle for the purposes of political expediency.

The eagerness to skirt over the Iraq issue is understandable from the point of view of the media and politicians who together played such a dominant role in initiating the bloodbath, or at least Britain's involvement in it. In truth, despite the considerable progress in popular anti-war protests in the West since the 1960s, we have never fully progressed from the traditional position whereby war is an industry like any other, and it is therefore not our place to determine policy - as in any other industry, a minimal level of information and consultation is all that is provided for, especially in these days of professional armies, beyond the days in which conscription at least provided, perversely, a sort of democratic check on how far a state could go in pursuit of military glory. No, it is not our business to stop wars, although we can express casual regret when they go wrong in a manner and with an effect entirely predicted, before moving on to the really important business: personalities, haircuts, who's got the nicest wife.

The debate on personality is entirely approved because it is so vapid and pointless in its nature that there is absolutely no danger that anything constructive may come out of it. So rather than consulting historians or public sector representatives to discuss Blair's legacy, serious news programmes wheel on Public Relations consultants and retired editors of The Sun newspaper to give their views on Blair's resignation and Brown's prospects. And it is this emphasis on presentation and slickness which the media have quite incorrectly identified as Blair's real legacy. The notion that Blair, or anyone in New Labour, is individually responsible for the emphasis on slickness and presentation is, of course, a nonsense. It was the mainstream media who demanded, as early as the beginning of the 1980s, a change of image from the Labour party, and New Labour responded by adopting a culture of "spin" (this is a euphemism - it means "lying"), which inevitably filtered through to every aspect of the Prime Minister's reign, whether it meant lying about his attendance at football matches in order to gain credibility among working people, or whether it meant lying about Saddam Hussein's alleged nuclear arsenal.

The temerity of these journalists is astounding - we have seen them, week in, week out, for an entire decade, scrutinising Mr Blair, his wife and his closest associates with all the journalistic insight of the cheapest celebrity gossip magazine, and yet they now claim that it was Mr Blair who was responsible for the cult of personality and style over substance which pervades our parliamentary politics. This is a cult that was introduced at the behest of powerful news tycoons with a aversion to democracy, precisely in order to dilute and undermine democracy, as a precondition for the electoral endorsement of the country's most widely-read newspapers, which provided the key to electoral success and high office. As such Mr Blair is only the logical consequence of the cowardice and mediocrity of a journalism industry itself consumed by spin and garbage, so much so that it is unable or unwilling to identify the true legacy of the Blair years - the crippling of the parliamentary democratic process, resulting from the systematic removal of socialism as a concept from the lexicon of the nation's mainstream politics, and the systematic removal of socialism as a movement from the legitimate and powerful base historically provided by the Labour Party. This is the real tragedy of the present poverty of the political culture, and although commentators are happy to repeatedly draw our attention to the culture of spin which is one facet of this state of affairs, they would do well to identify its root causes in some critical way rather than endlessly indulging themselves, and their readers, in the mere fact of its existence.

Over the past thirty odd years, there has been a sustained campaign, both among the mainstream media and among prominent politicians of both major parties, to discredit socialism and ultimately remove it from the political discourse, and from the political consciousness of the nation. The very concept of New Labour is a manifestation of that campaign, and in its politics and presentation it has very consciously striven to that end, so that when today Peter Hain identifies the Democratic Party in the US as the "sister party" of the Labour Party, despite the ridiculousness of that statement to anyone with even a superficial understanding of US and UK political history, the comment is taken seriously.

There are, however, numerous problems in our society which can only be satisfactorily tackled by a socialist solution. These problems are the very problems which the right wing press consistently identify and for which they profess such earnest concern - crime, housing, poverty, the threat of terrorism, drugs, social care, education, anti-social behaviour. What is the result if the option of the socialist solution is excluded from the mainstream political discourse, and hence excluded from parliamentary politics, while the problems themselves continue and dissatisfaction grows? Naturally enough, people will look to other solutions - demagogues of various sorts and, most worryingly, that most historically appealing solution, the racist solution. Perhaps in time, as parliamentary democracy fails to deliver solutions to the pressing social problems of our time, because the only serious solution is prohibited, people may lose faith in democracy altogether as a means of getting things done. This, then, is Tony Blair's great legacy: that under his supervision, a party traditionally steeped in a moderate socialist tradition has relinquished this, rescinded its past and metamorphosed into a party which compares itself to the Democrats in America, i.e. unequivocally pro-capitalist, so that the British electorate is denied the right to elect a government which might conceivably solve its most pressing social problems. The consequences of this change are potentially unspeakably disastrous.