Blair’s Illiberal Legacy

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Normally I steer clear of politics, but this post by Australian Guy Rundle on Blair’s legacy makes some trenchant observations about what happens when you start dismantling a liberal social order:

For the fact is that, under Tony Blair, Labour cut all ties not only with anything resembling democratic socialism, but also with social democracy, and even the most centrist notion of a left. It became a war party, buttressed at home by piecemeal social market programs and authoritarian control. Foreign and domestic policy were interconnected since the will to do what Labour governments should do — introduce irreversible progressive change — was never there. Instead, what was wanted was a disciplined population, increasingly subject to market forces, capable of serving Britain’s role of ongoing greatness.

Thus — and this is the other side of Blair’s failure — social mobility in the UK has decreased over the last 10 years. Under John Major, a kid from below the poverty line had more chance of getting out of it, of getting into university, to Oxbridge, to the professions.

Without increased opportunity, social welfare programs actually become regressive — they’re a sop to the poor, a consolation prize for their permanently shrunken chances. Because people start to get a bit angry about that — expressed these days in crime, booze ‘n’ drugs, violence etc rather than political activism — a huge surveillance apparatus has to be put in place.

So, Blair’s Government has become the one which has seen not merely millions of CCTV cameras, but now cameras with microphones attached to pick up conversations in a 20-metre radius, and, most recently, loudspeakers which bark at you if you commit “anti-social behaviour”. It’s the Government of the “foetal ASBO” in which children of criminal families are marked from before birth as potential criminals, to be tracked throughout life by social workers, probation officers, psychologists etc. The cumulative effect of these measures is simply to rot a free society from within. Public space becomes a place not of citizens, but of suspects. Trust and solidarity are undermined; fear and separation are enthroned…..

In all, it has deployed the ideas and language of social democracy — using the coercive powers of the state against wealth, to improve lives through lessening inequality — to the practice of coercion directed against the poor, to maintain order in a market-dominated society. The surveillance state treats the population as guilty until proven innocent — whether in Iraq or Bermondsey….

Social democracy means nothing if it is not about freedom — real freedom, the material freedom to make a meaningful life, rather than an existence in the surplus labour pool — as well as equality and security. Blair’s supporters continue to point to the myriad of piecemeal programs and accuse critics of being unrealistic. This is simply limbo-politics, always making you bend over backwards further, to go lower…

So, if Blair didn’t really believe in “irreversible progressive change”, what did he believe in? His parting words in the draughty room in Sedgefield say it all: “The British are special. The world knows it. In our hearts we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth.”

What a thing for a social democrat to say. What a thing. Not an expression of left patriotism, of love of country and community, of a hope that its virtues had been strengthened, that it had contributed to the greater human good. Instead, a braying chauvinistic triumphalism, a mixture of Kipling and cod-Americanism.

The article is worth reading in its entirety.

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