Sep 012010

There were three discrete blocks of information I could have chosen to focus on this evening.  From 7pm to 8pm, we had the journalist Andrew Marr interviewing the prestidigitator Tony Blair.  My overriding feeling at the end of the taped version I eventually saw was one of terrible sadness.  I once liked Tony Blair very much.  I don’t any more.

But not because of anything he said in the interview.  Rather, because of how he’s saying it these days.

I have to say that I also felt considerable anger towards Marr himself – with regard, at least, to his own professional behaviours and those of his colleagues in the trade.  Comparing then and now, I mean.

Tonight, he showed a remarkable perspicacity and persistence as he politely but firmly pursued Blair’s honed obfuscation on the subject of Iraq.  Meanwhile, when it mattered, during Blair’s reign itself and alongside his media pals, he took the rather easier route of choosing to faithfully transmit the obfuscations without so much as an “Excuse me Prime Minister but that’s arguably a load of hogwash”.

Interesting subjects were covered too, mind.  The subject of liberal interventionism will never go away since it attempts to address the immorality of oppression in sovereign countries with a dose of what I assume to be relatively good faith.  It does also, however, allow those at the top to substitute carefully engineered but hardly populist long-term policies of economic realignment with short-term policies – often of an enormously florid and vote-gathering nature – which accentuate those tendencies certain politicians always exhibit of abusing the services of our armed services.

But, in the end, as I have already said above, from my remote standpoint as a mere Labour Party member, when I now think of Tony Blair I can only bring to mind lost opportunities.

In a sense, David Cameron’s behaviours in the past few months surely indicate that he must be only too aware of such dangers, dynamics and realities.

Curious, isn’t it?  I sometimes wonder if Tony Blair continues along this path whether he won’t in some bizarre and back-to-front way end up appearing to be Cameron’s heir.

Instead of the other way round.


When I started writing this post, I wasn’t intending to talk very much about Tony Blair.  The sadness has overtaken me.

The sense of a lost generation is gathering, I think.

I do not know if that generation will most importantly be Blair’s or more tragically my children’s.  But something, somewhere, for someone or other, will soon break quite awfully because seven years ago, at that crossroads of Iraq, Tony Blair and Andrew Marr and all their media pals – whose sacred job it was to create a conduit of communication of democratic trust in British society – seriously messed up in just about everything they ended up doing.

If that Andrew Marr interview with Tony Blair indicates anything of use to the rest of us mortal souls, it is that during Blair’s time the media was peopled with clever individuals who could have said and done far more on behalf of the truth and ourselves than – in the event – they chose to do.

In fact, when Anthony Painter talks about a collective responsibility in relation to the Blair years, the collective he may really be thinking about could quite easily be our journalists.

Our challenge, now, in the light of all this, is surely to understand why this conduit didn’t operate as it should have done and ensure that, next time round, everyone is more clearly aware of where their true responsibilities ought to lie.


So what else did I see this evening?  What else made me ponder?

What about the Labour leadership hustings on Channel 4 from 7.20pm onwards?

Little to report, I’m afraid.

All I can say is that David Miliband’s eloquence worries me, Ed Balls’ confidence bemuses me, Diane Abbott’s purity puzzles me and Ed Miliband’s youth makes me want to ruffle his head of hair as I do my eldest son’s quite frequently.

Meanwhile, Andy Burnham seems kindly enough and makes me feel he’d be pretty good as my local MP.

That, however, is the problem of allowing oneself to see politicians through the eyes of the television camera.  A terrible error of judgement I managed to avoid committing until today.

Fulsome apologies, incidentally, to you all for describing you all in such a superficial way.  Sadly, the format of the debate degenerated all potential for dialogue and conversation into what became a question of policy ping-pong.  Jon Snow didn’t help by providing the candidates with quotes from Tony Blair which were batted dutifully back and forth with the respect generally afforded an oracle of questionable wisdom.

If only a different format had been chosen.  A competency interview, for example.  But I suppose that would be expecting too much – either from even a well-intentioned TV station or, indeed, an eager and I’m sure deserving cohort of leadership hopefuls.

My wife and daughter probably got the best deal this evening.  Nicole Kidman in “The Golden Compass”.

Next time round, I might just consider joining them.

Sep 012010

Anthony Painter has a stout and yet at the same time emotionally measured defence of Tony Blair on his website at the moment.  Well worth reading.  I don’t agree, mind – but that is the glory of online publishing.  We can read and disagree almost instantaneously.  Painter’s conclusion here:

The Blair years were good for Britain on balance and he was a good Prime Minister who made a monumental mistake. He was an expression of Britain at the time and now we are moving on. To pour scorn on Tony Blair is to pour scorn on ourselves. I for one consider it better to assume a standpoint of collective responsibility rather than collective guilt.

Oh, and he won three elections- the only Labour leader in my lifetime to win even one.

My response here:

Those who marched against the Iraq War should feel neither responsible nor guilty for what happened. Those, like myself, who straddled two cultures uncomfortably and at the same time chose unwisely, should feel both. But Blair committed the cardinal sin (and as that is his belief system, so that is the word I shall use) of believing he knew better than his god. I, and many other people, at least did not do that.

Blair is no less complex – though in different ways – than the Brown he is now kicking whilst down. What irks many people I am sure, myself included, is he seems to deny this complexity in himself even as he accuses his opposition (I mean his Labour Party comrades) of the same condition. His ability to crystallise and make simple the complexities of life means he is a good political narrator. But a good political narrator does not an honest one necessarily make. And – from what I can gather after today’s unseemly interventions in what should be a leadership race he absents himself cleanly and fairly from – he is most definitely not being honest with himself.

So how can he be honest with anyone else?

Therein lies our rage.

So there you have it.

As always, the two sides of Tony Blair – two sides which I am sure will divide us to the bitter end.

In the end, a consolidator not a reformer.

In the end, a divisive figure not a bringer-together.

In the end, a man who talked himself into a war using the very same eloquence he used to talk the rest of us into voting for him.

In the end, a grand narrator who was brought down by his own gift of the gab.

In the end, someone we dared to trust who dared to renege on that trust.

Sep 012010

Firstly, today, from my brother Stan, in response to my previous post on political innovation, this came to my attention:

I think they need something similar in the Netherlands after the sharp shift to the right in voting patterns of the last few years.

There is still no new government almost three months after the election. The latest coalition negotiations appear to be about to break down.

The largest party (VVD) wishes to cut 18 billion Euro from the Dutch public sector. This equates to a loss of money from the economy amounting to over Eur 1000 per man, woman and child – over Eur 4000 per family of four.

Makes Cameron’s cuts look insignificant.

Then, hard on the heels of informations such as these, this afternoon we apparently have confirmation that the scale of proposed cuts looks like it’s pretty much the same here in Britain as presumably sooner or later it will be in the Netherlands.  For the moment, at least, that is to say, for Londoners:

Ken Livingstone has cliamed Londoners are under attack from the Government – with £5,625 worth of spending per Londoner to be cut over the next five years. The former Mayor of London says the Coalition’s drive to eradicate the deficit with the help of Boris Johnson will save £45billion in spending, with many services across the board either scrapped or limited.

Sound suspiciously like a rule-of-thumb set of decisions, these.  Back-of-the-envelope calculations and all.

Will politicians never change?

Sep 012010

Memoirs are generally selective acts of self-justification.  A sense of true self-awareness is a rare asset – and by self-awareness, I mean a respectfulness towards those who are still alive coupled with an honesty about what really happened and the part we played in it.

I haven’t read Tony Blair’s memoirs – and do not know if I shall.  I have already enjoyed and admired the reticence (not spin) of Alastair Campbell’s heavily edited diaries.  I am not sure, however, that I am looking to chew the cud of New Labour for very much longer.  Next Left has a beautiful piece on how this is perhaps more a generational than political shift we are witnessing – and, therefore, I suppose by implication a wiping-clean-of-the-slate act of political rebooting even a David Miliband might not be able to constructively negate:

Whatever Blair’s critics say, he has a central place in Labour’s recent political history. But it may be a generational as much as a political shift which makes it quite difficult to find an obvious torch carrier for a next generation continuity Blairism.

As a reasonably informed and at least virtually active member of the Labour Party, I have more than a passing interest in building on the achievements of the past.  Nevertheless, I do feel that the “narrative” Blair was so good at (that is to say, how you tell it and not just what you do), although important, is not everything.  Those attracted by the power of a powerful narrative can soon allow themselves to get swept away by its – and their own – eloquence.

That is the danger of unleashing a polished political storyteller on a voting public eager for solutions.

We need leaders who can convince us they will not let this happen again.

I am still waiting for a candidate to show me they understand.

In the meantime, I ponder the truth and wisdom of this particular thought.  I’ve been unable to find the original quote on the web, so if you know where it comes from, please contact me with the author’s name and exact references.  In the meantime, my inelegant paraphrase:

Be very careful who you choose to compete against for you will soon become very like them.

In politics, we often cannot choose our competition, so the danger is evermore prevalent.  Pyramid politics, that duplication of corporate structures from both business and political opposition, is a perfect example of this.

A difficult and quite thorny issue very few people seem happy to face up to.  Instead, we get a flood of memoirs all talking about the pain and anguish of high responsibility.  As I tweeted this morning:

Blair’s book, like so many others, will be about almighty pressures of responsibility. So why concentrate it all in a figurehead then?

Thus it is that I suggest, if not the competition, at least we can choose how we proceed to deal with the process.

Just so long as we are aware of how similar we will inevitably continue to be to those we claim to oppose.