A while ago, Shuggy went off on one of his cross-posted grumps. This time is was about Tony Blair and how pleasing his departure will be. Now I probably like Blair slightly less than Shuggy, yet I couldn’t summon up any energy to give a shit either way about his impending resignation.
Here’s the best I can offer to explain why (feel free to pick at this if you think I’m using too much shorthand).
Looking at Shuggy’s post, there were two outstanding features: Firstly, an annoyance with Blair’s illiberalism, his managerialism and so on. Secondly, frustration with Blair’s supporters. Those who tell us that There Is No Alternative (TINA). This latter point is, I think, the key to the others though.
Whether it refers to the inductive and bastardised Hayekianism (?) that was Thatcherism, or the more complex muddle that is The Third Way, TINA is a peculiarly British phenomenon. And – I would contend – it is entirely a product of our remarkable degree of political centralisation.
We have no bicamereralism to speak of here. No separation of powers. Our local government is terrifically weak and undignified and cabinets are picked by the Prime Minister – not the other way around. Even New Labour’s nod towards decentralisation – devolved administrations – are confined to policy areas that are, at best, administrative rather than visionary in character.
This is, to my mind, the dog that has never barked in this country. We are massively centralised in a way that no other liberal democracy that I can think of would tolerate.
I can only turn to textbooks to fully understand Thatcherism, but ‘Blairism’ is something I saw at close hand. I know, slightly, a lot of the people that buttressed the project. And I’m inclined to believe that it was the same as Thatcherism in one way; that is was a project that you couldn’t define easily to a visitor from outer space. It wasn’t intellectually coherent in the way that other ideologies are.
Yet, if you lived in
That position had simple objectives: to remove the Tories from office and deprive them of it for the foreseeable. Do as much good as you can, by all means, but the real service that you do your country is to deny the Tories the chance to fuck things up any further. Brian Clough (pbuh) always used to tell his players that “as long as the other team haven’t got the ball, they can’t score”. And it’s a reasonable story to tell your activists as well. It still partly explains my own continued willingness support Labour. Impoverished ambition, I know.
The slavish shadowing of lower-middlebrow tabloid approaches to education or law and order can be understood in the context of a developed version of Kinnockite ‘realism’. We get ill-thought-out policies and political short-termism, precisely because there is an army of people who have a simple job: ensuring that the Prime Minister is offered only easy choices. Everything he does must be structured to ensure that he will not be blamed for the consequences.
He must not be ‘embarrassed’ to use the nauseating shorthand of this shower of tosspots. In politics, we are all Pawns, Bishops or Rooks to our King. In other countries, the game is more multi-dimensional. Managerialsim, in particular, must surely be seen as a direct consequence of this ecology at the top of government? The need to communicate acheivements and win arguments rather than actually doing anything that is subjectively worthwhile.
But in a state as centralised as this, all government must surely be thus? Oddly, it could also explain the occasionally pleasing clarity that we see in the
This state of affairs places almost every other politician – particularly those that are not the leaders of the ruling party or the main opposition party – in a specially nasty position. They are obliged to participate in this fraud. The alternative is an impotence and obscurity that is even more complete.
For this reason, I'd always argue that politicians deserve more pity and less scorn. In their youth, many of them put all of their chips on the ‘I want to change the world’ square while their peers were off learning a profitable trade. By the time that they reach a good enough vantage point to see that they have signed a faustian pact, it is too late.
So, Shuggy, the real problem isn’t Blair. It isn’t even the messianic ‘TINA’ position adopted by his supporters. It is the bizarre level of political centralisation that we quietly tolerate in this country. None of the likely successors to Blair seem inclined to change this (indeed, Irn Broon is likely to be even worse than Mr Tony in this respect).
It doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government will get in again next time. The remedy I’d propose here is a campaign to promote decentralisation and local democracy – a campaign that aims to reduce the malign power of the media, the civil service, business, political parties and pressure groups. The remedy is to offer more power to individual elected representatives at all levels (and to have an elected second chamber).
I won’t bother launching it now though - this post is already far too long.