Dead Men Left

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Also from Ed, some chunks from Richard Gott, in the New Left Review, on Blair:

Blair’s many biographers have pored over his life’s choices to reveal the figure of a grey and essentially conventional lawyer, with little aptitude for management, poor inter-personal skills [I'm not sure about this bit; most accounts I've heard have Blair down as personally charming, if utterly shallow - not that it matters] and deep ignorance of the outside world, who frequently evokes religious faith as a substitute for rational thought. This is one of his two most unusual characteristics. Blair is not an ordinarily religious man; he is by many accounts a ‘religious nut’, a ‘New Ager’, a man who obeys his own inner voices and takes scant notice of religious authority. He had to be rebuked by the principal Catholic archbishop for taking Catholic communion when nominally a Protestant, and cautioned by the chief Protestant archbishop against moving too close to Rome. He consistently ignored the warnings against the invasion of Iraq made by the Pope and the Anglican archbishop, both of whom were outspokenly hostile to the eventual war...

His swift rise to the top was an indictment of the Labour Party’s recruiting capacity over the previous thirty years. Tony Blair might have been no great shakes, as some people recognized at the time, but he was all there was. The intelligent and the ambitious in Britain had abandoned the attempt to work their way up through the major political parties as long ago as the 1960s. Many of them had chosen instead the loucher, and more immediately remunerative, worlds of commerce, culture and the media. An honourable career in government service, as an elected politician or ill-paid bureaucrat, had little appeal for the British elite in the late 20th century. The electorate has taken note of this defection.

The Labour Party that chose Tony Blair as its leader in 1994, and the New Labour Party that first presented itself to the voters in 1997, was already a pale shadow of the historic Labour Party of Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson. The progressive institution in which middle-class intellectuals once rubbed shoulders with the working class, in government and in local party organizations, was a thing of the past. The members of Blair’s cabinet could hardly scrape up a first class degree between them, while the decimated ranks of labour itself were scarcely represented. New Labour was a bourgeois party that had shed its working-class trappings and lost its intellectual edge. Its task now was to represent the aspirational middle class constructed during the Thatcher years, picking up the relay of Thatcherism while giving neoliberal policies a more human face. Some Labour Party supporters might have perceived Blair as a cuckoo in the nest, but most people saw that he could talk the talk and walk the walk—and do so better than most.