If you can fake sincerity …

Our most accomplished Liar has been questioned by the Iraq inquiry today[1].  The meeja can still find a few people to defend him, but not many, and even some of his fellow war-criminals (such as Jack Straw) have now turned on him.  Having nothing to lose by it, he put on a show of defiance.

The chattering classes seem pretty sure that Iraq will be The Liar’s legacy.  I’m not at all so sure: Iraq will pass into history, and become just another Suez.  He’s done altogether more damaging things to us.  Let’s take four of them in ascending order of importance.

OK, the first is a bit of a cheat: it was probably historically inevitable.  So, first, and least important, he’s brought corruption to the heart of government.  We’ve had a slew of high-profile cases starting with Ecclestone, and … list left as an exercise for the reader.  This is ironic, given that “tory sleaze” was one of the things that lost the 1997 election for his predecessor.  But that sleaze was small-scale stuff typified by £1000 to a backbencher to ask a parliamentary question[2].  Not millions, not at the heart of government, no direct purchase of government policy (so far as we know).

Second, he’s dismantled historical freedoms including those parts of human rights that are actually worth something.  You don’t need me to tell you about detention without trial or shootings and kidnappings of the innocent (and subsequent behaviour that’s not consistent with an honest mistake).  That some (notably not all) in the police should ask for elements of a police state is fair enough; that the government should give them all they ask and far more is not.

I’ve put this second because … I’m not clear to what extent this is Blair himself, when his best friend was opening up a whole Gulag at Guantanamo.  Maybe one could make a case that it’s as serious as the next one, though a long way from his worst legacy.

Third, what he’s done with our constitution, having spent much of his early years in office playing with it like a small boy with his toys.  In particular, Scottish (and Welsh) parliaments that leave the Westlothian Question and the Barnett Formula as open wounds (and on the other side, North Sea revenues) plunge the countries that make up the UK into a relationship that can only go one way: increasing resentment and hostility.  Fixing it is going to be a real headache for a future government.

Fourth, head and shoulders above the sum total of Iraq and all the above, is his most terrible legacy: the awakening of religious tension as a mainstream phenomenon.  Before Blair, we would live and let live.  Most of us were rarely aware of anyone’s religion (except in Northern Ireland), and didn’t see religious symbols as a threat or a challenge.  For example, the headscarves worn by some malaysian and indonesian students were just a cultural thing: nothing to worry or get upset about for anyone.  If one were to observe anything more it’s that the wearers always seemed to be a lot more attractive than the stern, elderly Catholic nuns in similar headwear.  Now we have us-and-them: the basis for suspicion, fear and hatred.  We all know those scarves have religious significance, and they and other overt symbols have been turned into something divisive.

The worst legacy is what he’s done to our schools and public life: You can have any religion you like, so long as you renounce the Enlightenment.  By promoting religion (including fundamentalist nuts) in education, we’re fostering a generation of “us and them”, to regard each other with fear and suspicion.  Now that’s the kind of historic legacy that can be with us for centuries, as witness the fear and hatred of Catholics that had its roots in the Spanish Inquisition, and such events in this country as the Gunpowder Plot (the “9/11″ of its day) and still lives on in Northern Ireland.  Instead of bringing peace to Northern Ireland[3], his lasting legacy will be NI-style us-and-them nationwide.

[1] As with the previous inquiries, this is being conducted by government appointees.  This one is getting some better material for the press than before, because they know they won’t go away until they’ve been thrown a bone or two that people find credible.  We can only speculate on what isn’t being said.

[2] And the far better reason for Major to lose was the level of nastiness in his party, that first saw off Thatcher, then gave Major a hard time, and peaked under Hague before subsiding in defeat.

[3] He may have improved Northern Ireland itself, building on Major’s work, though the current outcome is to have crushed moderate politicians on both sides and given power to terrorists and other extremists.  I suspect that the relative peace there may be a consequence of “9/11″, and many of the IRA’s american backers suddenly losing their appetite for terrorism in the UK.  Along with lots of money paying them off.

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Posted on January 29, 2010, in politics, rants, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Several of these share a trait: they are examples of the people turning against parts of itself. The nation is drastically weakened by the police turning against photographers (“well against whom do you think you’re `protecting’ the country?”) and subsequent (deserved) distrust of authority. As you say, there used to be live-and-let-live; surely the solution is innocence and acceptance of all religions and none, not division (least of all when we don’t know if “we”, as defined by the position of the law in certain critical cases – BA – are supposed to be Christian, secular, humanist or atheist as a result of not liking fancy head-dress).

  2. I’d agree that the Iraq snafu is pretty minor, compared with these things. I’m not sure how much blame you can attach to the man himself, though.

    Item 1: yes, absolutely. Blair has brought you within inches of pure-blooded fascism. Oddly enough, I think Gordon Brown might have stopped (though not reversed) that trend. Brown is an idiot, but an honest idiot. But I don’t know, I’m too far away to have a very good feel for what’s going on any more.

    Item 2: again, yes. But this is closely related to Item 1. When you see “government” as the task of reconciling the forces and interests of factions within the state, then it becomes inevitable to see “the police” as a faction in their own right, and when you think of them like that, it’s natural for a government to want to make sure “the police” is, and remains, very strong. Because in this fascist worldview, “the police” is the frontline in the struggle to keep the populace in line.

    Tim mentions the War on Photographers. This is symptomatic of what’s been done to the police, these past 12 years: they now see the public as “them”, an external body, to be managed and manipulated, not as “us”, the great pool of decent, law-abiding people who would like to co-operate if only it were an option.

    Item 3: I had the same thoughts when he began tinkering in his early years, but I haven’t seen much sign of Scots/Welsh affairs deteriorating much since then. Seems to me that the current setup positions the Scottish Labour Party as the most determined opponents of the SNP – because if Scotland were independent, Labour would never win an election in England. (I note the second phase of the House of Lords reform somehow seemed to be forgotten. So now the upper chamber is entirely government-appointed. Funny how that worked out.)

    Item 4: This is where I’m not sure how much of the blame you can lay at Tony’s door. “Presiding over” these changes isn’t the same as “initiating” or even “allowing” them. Except in so far as it relates to items 1 and 2, it seems to me that the change in the UK hasn’t been very different from what’s happened in the rest of Europe, and the world for that matter. (Last time I was in Australia, I was shocked to see posters encouraging you to phone a hotline if your neighbours were doing anything suspicious.)

    Finally, I think – I hope – you’re being too pessimistic. Some of these things have happened before – during the war, for instance – only to be reversed later. In the present case, there’s been a lot of backlash to the War on Photographers, and a fair amount of pushback on other fronts. I think the pendulum will swing back. Remember, Spain and Portugal were fascist states until well into our lifetimes, and they managed to recover without significant bloodshed.

  3. vet – the crucial point about item 4 that distinguishes it from all the others as well as what’s happening in other European countries is what he’s done to our schools. He’s baking “us and them” into future generations!!! The tolerant majority stands to become the tolerant elite as today’s children and their children become tomorrow’s adults.

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