Dead Men Left

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Blair: TINA

Nick Cohen has stayed off the anti-war movement for a week or two, so I'm equally inclined to be less sniffily critical about his work: as pointed out in the comments box to an earlier posting on the Young Ones tendency, Cohen still manages to write decent and often damning pieces on the conduct of the Blair government at home. It is peculiar, however, that he is so guileless when describing its foreign policy; why should a government Cohen evidently views as repressive, indifferent to social injustice and often downright anti-democratic domestically be magically different - significantly better, even - abroad?

This does suggest a thought-experiment: try to imagine, if possible, that the Blair government had spent six years since it was elected doing everything we might expect a "good" Labour government to do: not bring about socialism, obviously, but clearly attempt to adopt a series of social-democratic, progressive reforms, along the lines of, say, the 1945 administration. (It is, admittedly, a huge imaginative leap, but bear with me.) As I said, this need not be a perfect government, merely one whose policies for its first six years had acted to definitively improve people's lives. In its seventh year, this nonexistent government went quite mad and supported George Bush's invasion of Iraq. Would that be enough to leave it condemned? Could it still count on the support (even if critical) of a principled left? I would suggest not: a government that could do such immense harm abroad would annul whatever achievements it could count on domestically. As an elementary principle of internationalism, even the most thorough-going reformist government plausibly imaginable would be irreprably tarnished by the invasion of Iraq.

The situation described is essentially the reverse of Cohen's view, and it looks somewhat odd. (Though in truth, even a "good" reformist government like Atlee's launched Britain's nuclear bomb programme, engaged itself in the Korean War, was decidedly lukewarm - until given several kicks - about colonial independence, and so on.) But I suspect that, for many of those still declaring support for the Blair administration, it is roughly how they view things: counting the miserly "achievements" of Blair as the best plausibly available - and with a somewhat wilful ignorance about the shocking facts of poverty and inequality under Blair - they can forgive and forget the Iraq war. Alas, the Iraqis have no such option: and the systematic reverses in the social-democratic consensus that Blair has effected render the notion that any "left" should still offer its support to Blair as obtuse in the extreme.