Since when did Tony Blair care about ‘the will of the people’?
Tuesday 12th December 2017
With Blair expostulating over Brexit again, CALLUM ALEXANDER SCOTT reminds us that the former PM had a very loose acquaintance with the concept of democracy
WAR criminal extraordinaire Tony Blair has once again been waxing lyrical over Brexit.
When asked by a journalist recently if his mission is to reverse Brexit, he replied with uncharacteristic honesty and clarity: “Yes, exactly so.”
In a slight change of tone from earlier statements where he emphasised that “the will of the people should prevail,” this time around he emphasised that “the will of the people is not something immutable” and that “people can change their mind.”
Of course, there would be nothing wrong with this statement if it weren’t for the simple fact that Blair is not, and has never been, a supporter of “the will of the people.”
To the contrary, he and his centrist disciples have always preferred operating as Blair himself described in an article for the New York Times earlier this year, like self-entitled “managers of the status quo.”
Indeed, ever the champion of the “will of the people,” he even revealed in 2015 his belief that a “government taking effective decisions” is more important than democracy itself.
This no doubt explains his unwavering support for, and dodgy dealings with, numerous dictators around the globe and why he and corporate media dictator Rupert Murdoch always had good time for each other. Blair is, after all, godfather to Murdoch’s daughter.
Here we should recall how, as British prime minister, Blair had zero care for the will of millions of people — specifically Britons and Iraqis but also the international community — who opposed the Iraq war, which we now know he sold to the public on false pretences.
Likewise, he cared little for the will of his own Cabinet. As his former minister for international development Clare Short has said, “No decisions were made in the Cabinet. It didn’t operate in the way that constitutional theory says that it should … He [Blair] didn’t want any clashing or discussion of ideas.” See also Short’s testimony to the Iraq Inquiry Panel in 2010, where she explains this in greater detail.
Former mayor of London and longstanding Labour politician Ken Livingstone has also spoken of how Blair’s party was one in which “dissent really wasn’t tolerated,” while the writer and professor Will Self has said that Blair used “the kind of tactics that one associates with emperors or rulers … who are not democratic.”
It is in fact well documented by politicians, journalists and analysts that under Blair the traditional machinery of party democracy was sidelined. Key decision-making was centralised and representative democracy was effectively replaced by what has been described as government by a “technocratic, managerial elite” who formed policy based largely on information drawn from focus groups and polling.
As one professor of politics has written, the key role of MPs during the Blair era became “simply to secure formal consent from their constituents for the government’s legislative programme by winning elections, by appearing publicly and in the media to be as generically inoffensive as possible to a broad cross-section of the public and above all by appearing unthreatening to key media outlets.” For a good account of all this, see episode 4 of Adam Curtis’s 2002 documentary The Century of the Self.
Blair’s autocratic approach to government is also well documented by scholars for its unprecedented use of information management, PR and spin.
Andrew Marr called Blair’s New Labour the “most media-obsessed government” of modern times, and there is by now a vast body of literature on the relationship between Blair, New Labour and the media, with many commentators and academics likening the extent of the information control and opinion management to a Gramscian project of unsettling proportions.
The effects of all this were to vastly reshape British politics and politicians, and indeed the media’s relationship to them, for decades.
Accordingly, David Cameron would later describe himself as the “heir to Blair”, while he and George Osborne would openly refer to Blair as “the master,” asking in times of difficulty: “What would the master have done?”
And as former Conservative MP Ken Clarke revealed in his memoirs last year, Cameron was a “PR-obsessed control freak.
“Media handling and public relations are now regarded as the key elements of governing,” he wrote, while “a small army of … PR experts … have far too big a role in policy-making … Next week’s headlines are given more priority than serious policy development and the long-term consequences.”
While Blair has many legacies, it is perhaps one of his most pernicious to have reduced Britain’s already limited form of representative democracy to what is effectively a centralised, “top-down” government of managerial elites who perpetually seek to maintain power by controlling information and public opinion.
Certainly Blair is no champion of the will of the people unless, of course, their will happens to align with his.
As the renowned US theologian Reinhold Neibhur wrote, “Rationality belongs to the cool observer, but because of the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason but faith and the naive faith requires necessary illusion and emotionally potent oversimplifications which are provided by the myth-maker to keep [the] ordinary person on course.”
This is Blair’s political philosophy in a nutshell. He sees himself as the rational myth-maker, keeping the ordinary people in check, and his penchant for fostering “necessary illusions” and “emotionally potent oversimplifications” is precisely why he’s acquired the nicknames “Tony Blur,” “Phoney Tony,” “Tony Bliar” and “Teflon Tony” (because dirt never sticks to him).
It’s also why he’s managed to convince the world for so long that he’s left-wing. With remarkable self-delusion he’s even managed to convince himself.
But he’s not left-wing. He is in many respects ultra right-wing, not least because of his disdain for the will of the people.
We should always remember that Margaret Thatcher was asked at a banquet in 2002 what she thought her greatest achievement was. She replied: “Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.”
As Blair himself put it, “On a personal level she [Thatcher] was immensely kind and generous to me when I was prime minister … I always thought my job was to build on some of the things she had done.”
Chief among these things was of course New Labour’s extension of the neoliberal economic model, which has not only done immense harm to the social and economic fabric of British society but has also led to the huge transfer of power from the public to the unaccountable private sphere.
Renowned British sociologist and political scientist Professor Colin Crouch has coined the term “post-democracy” to describe our current political situation.
He writes that, while elections are held, governments fall and a degree of free speech exists, the collective will of the population is mostly ignored by “small circles of a politico-economic elite” that overwhelmingly control the levers of power.
This is the way that Blair likes. It’s the system he’s helped to construct and, as a member of the super-rich, borderless global elite, it suits him just fine.