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Tony Blair’s crucial contribution to the mess must never be forgotten

I would not want to get on the wrong side of this scribe when words don’t fail him:

But this? This hole in the air encased in a suit of clunking verbal armour? This truck-load of clichéd grandiloquence in hopeless pursuit of anything that might count as the faintest apology for an idea? Words fail me.

Thus does Matthew Parris muse upon the oratical inadequacies of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. If Brown is now the main object of your rage and loathing, then read the whole thing. You will surely enjoy it greatly.

But what matters to me is not whether Brown is now a doomed and hopeless failure, for clearly he is. But how much more of my country will he quadruple-mortgage? How much more of my country’s earth will he scorch? And, later, how much of the Labour Party as a whole will he take with him into the history books and nowhere else? Not that much more, not that much more, and the more the better, is what I am now hoping (against hope) for.

Now is as good a time as any to confess that I was one of those people who used once to accuse Samizdata sage Paul Marks of not “getting” New Labour.

My problem was that I did really believe (and do still believe) that when Blair said that he was not in favour of wrecking my country’s finances, he did truly mean it. Time and again, Blair outfaced his party with that very proclamation. I don’t believe in ruining Britain, he would shout at his massed ranks of idiot followers. So fire me, he kept saying. And the massed ranks of idiots, despite being enraged by this exasperatingly sensible talk, kept not firing him.

My problem was not that I was wrong to notice these protestations of fiscal virtue, or wrong to consider them significant. Where I went wrong was in understanding their actual impact.

I didn’t think that Blair was ushering in any sort of libertarian nirvana, no way. Nor was I relaxed about the damage being done by Blair to the legal system and to the criminal law and to the regulatory regime. Europe was, as it remains, a continuing disaster. But at least, I thought, this time around Labour will not smash up everything economically. But actually, the whole Blair “political achievement” made it possible for Labour to break Britain with a ferocity and completeness that has no parallel in recent British history. The more we trusters trusted Labour not to scorch Britain’s earth, the more earth they were able actually to scorch, and this scorching, of course, continues.

Old-style socialists were not trusted, and as soon as the danger signs appeared, as they inevitably did as soon as each successive attempt at a socialist-inclined government had got its flamethrowers working and scorching, voters and investors reacted accordingly. This time around, too many (me included) thought that it would be different, until such time as even we could not doubt the unique scale of this particular disaster. To the precise degree to which we thought things would be better this time, they were actually worse, and it was cause and effect.

Did Blair do this on purpose? As the catastrophe started to unfold, did he realise what he had done, sticking his killer grin on the front of the latest and greatest Labour assault on Britain’s economic viability? Did he care? Does he care? Frankly, I don’t care. I now, still, regard Blair more as a destructive force of nature rather than as a deliberately evil man, but in practice, what does it matter? What matters, as we have become used to hearing as other pettier disasters have unfolded in recent years, is to make sure that nothing like this can ever happen again.

The point is not just that Brown has been and is still a catastrophe. That’s a given. The point to ram home, now and for as long as his name is ever remembered, is that Tony Blair was also a catastrophe, and arguably a much bigger one. For without Blair, there could have been no Brown. Burying the Labour Party for ever, as it deserves, does not merely mean keeping the horrid memory of Brown and his cloth-eared blunderings alive. It means remembering how Tony Blair made those blunderings possible.

So, let us learn the big political lesson of this catastrophe, to ensure that, indeed, the catastrophe can never happen again. And it is this. When the Labour Party sounds bad, it is bad. When it sounds good, it is even worse. Only the idiots in the Labour Party now can be blamed for Brown, and not even they really voted for him. But they did allow him to clamber unopposed into the driver’s seat of the wrecking and burning machine, and for that they all deserve their particular places in hell. But many more Brits voted for Blair, because they thought that even if things were not automatically going to get any better (as the idiots were singing – remember that?) then at least, fiscally speaking, they wouldn’t get that much worse.

Clearly Britain will never “vote Brown” in the future, any more than it did this time around for Brown himself. But Britain did “vote Blair”, and this it must never do again.

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20 comments to Tony Blair’s crucial contribution to the mess must never be forgotten

  • John K

    Tony Blair was a mediocre barrister and accomplished actor with huge self belief, but there is no evidence that he was actually able to count. He had no influence on economic policy at all during his term of office. The deal he stuck with Brown was that Brown would de facto be the economic Prime Minister, which he was. He did not even discuss his budgets with Blair.

    Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand Blair, but the economic mess we are in is all down to Gordon Brown. He has been running our economy since 1997, and he has run in into the ground. In any sort of just society he’d be doing the Mussolini shuffle under a lamp post.

  • TB wrecked the country. GB is just the icing on the cake.

  • TB wrecked the country. GB is just the icing on the cake.

    Just tryin again.

  • John K

    Blair had a collosal influence on economic policy. He got lots of people to vote for it, and then to carry on believing in it even when it was going wrong. Could Brown have done all that?

  • Jim

    Its amazing really, we had TB as PM for what, 10 years, and now its as if he never existed. He’s disappeared up his own grin. You have to admire the timing of his handover to GB. The ultimate hospital (or morgue) pass.

    But while GB was in charge economically, TB was ultimately in charge. The buck stops here and all that. If he thought (or was advised) that GB was way out of line he should have sacked him. But he didn’t so must bear a good deal of the blame.

  • I must admit I am inclined to give Blair a free pass.

    There are two distinct phases to this: the creation of the boom and the reaction to the bust. Of the two the reaction – the bailouts, the supersplurge – is by far the worst. And has nothing to do with Blair.

    When it comes to the boom, sure Blair has to take responsibility but in his defence it was a funny one with China’s productivity disguising severe inflationary pressures and do we really think any other politician of whatever stripe would have done any different?

  • Won’t get fooled again? Maybe, but if Cameron’s the new Blair, it doesn’t matter if you don’t vote Labour again, we might still get Blue Labour.

  • Andrew

    What made Blair dangerous was not just what he was, but what he was fronting for. Even if Cameron is just the same sort of unthinking or ruthlessly mendatious charmer, promising all things to all men and that “things can only get better”, blah blah blah, which he may well be, he will only be as bad as Blair in his consequences if the Conservative government’s economic decisions, whoever makes them, turn out as badly as those made by Blair/Brown. I have no fondness at all for the Conservative Party, but Conservative economic decision making has rarely if ever (historical comment welcome), been as bad as Labour’s during the last decade or so.

  • DavidC

    There was always something uneasy about the Blair government. Jim makes a lucid point – “we had TB as PM for what, 10 years, and now its as if he never existed”.

    Inside I feel the pity and the terror of the waste of it all.
    Everything I loved about this country gone, all gone.

    No, Labour – I’m just going to forget you. You can’t frighten me. You’re just not important anymore. I forget you. Go join your leader with his head in the sand and be forgotten.

    And then maybe the land will become fertile again.

  • Ian B

    The strange disappearance of Blair from the public consciousness does make one raise an eyebrow. To be conspiratorial, considering Tony’s slimy capacity to evade the consequences of his actions, can we have all been cunningly led astray? Was it not a palace coup at all that displaced him, was it instead orchestrated by Blair and his acolytes so cunningly that even Broon was led to believe he was a machiavellian plotter, rather than the dupe he really was? Had Blair recognised that the jig was up, quietly converted all his assets to gold and smuggled himself out in a hay cart with Brown left behind to take the blame? Did the media agree as one to put all the blame on Brown? Is it suspicious that the entire media began Brown’s premiership fawning over him to build him up, applauding his masterful masterliness, then suddenly pulled the rug from under him? Is this what Blair planned all along? Perhaps not, but a plot is more fun than coincidence, is it not?

    I cannot think who it was, a journalist of some type, who I remember reading, who said that whenever one is talking to Blair, his eyes are always darting around the room seeking his next opportunity; that the “pretty straight kinda guy” is an utter fraud; that he is a calculating chancer, the kind of person you wouldn’t trust at all. I sometimes feel sorry for Brown (if only for nanoseconds at a time); this charmless, gurning, second rater who lusted for the poisoned chalice and was, perhaps, deliberately handed it after all.

  • Kevin B

    Maybe you’re right Ian B, but I still have a suspicion that, as the runes are read in the approach to the next election, many in the Party will hanker for the Prince Across the Water and Gordon will retire to spend more time with his family, thus paving the way for a triumphal return of the TOne to sweep all before him.

    And then the bickering and backbiting will begin again.

  • Matthew Parris: a true wordsmith. But it’s journalism, it’s preaching to the choir. Admittedly, there were so few facts in GB’s speech it was difficult to refute them. But compare it with The Market Ticker’s analysis of a Tim Geithner interview. (Link)He ends with this killer quote from a former IMF chief economist, which points to a key problem: the ruling-class mentality, not individual personalities.

    The government, in its race to stop the bleeding, will typically need to wipe out some of the national champions—now hemorrhaging cash—and usually restructure a banking system that’s gone badly out of balance. It will, in other words, need to squeeze at least some of its oligarchs. Squeezing the oligarchs, though, is seldom the strategy of choice among emerging-market governments. Quite the contrary: at the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government, such as preferential access to foreign currency, or maybe a nice tax break, or—here’s a classic Kremlin bailout technique—the assumption of private debt obligations by the government. Under duress, generosity toward old friends takes many innovative forms. Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk—at least until the riots grow too large. Eventually, as the oligarchs in Putin’s Russia now realize, some within the elite have to lose out before recovery can begin. It’s a game of musical chairs: there just aren’t enough currency reserves to take care of everyone, and the government cannot afford to take over private-sector debt completely. The conventional wisdom among the elite is still that the current slump “cannot be as bad as the Great Depression.” This view is wrong. What we face now could, in fact, be worse than the Great Depression—because the world is now so much more interconnected and because the banking sector is now so big. We face a synchronized downturn in almost all countries, a weakening of confidence among individuals and firms, and major problems for government finances. If our leadership wakes up to the potential consequences, we may yet see dramatic action on the banking system and a breaking of the old elite. Let us hope it is not then too late.

    The French Revolutionaries confused principles with individuals, and executed King Louis XVI, against the protests of Thomas Paine who argued that killing the man instead of the concept of monarchy was a supreme mistake.

  • I suspect Tone will want to return. Problem for him is that I suspect the “New” and “Labour” factions could well split after the GE rout.

    Then Tone might have to be content to lead some kind of Social Democrat party built from the “New”‘s.

    Nick Clegg would blink, do a 360 and find nothing but dust and the sound of fading footsteps.

  • John K

    Blair had a collosal influence on economic policy. He got lots of people to vote for it, and then to carry on believing in it even when it was going wrong. Could Brown have done all that?


    As I said, TB was a great actor and a super front man. He was like the barker outside a circus freak show, getting the punters in, whilst GB was in the box ofice counting the cash. The thing is, TB never had a clue what GB was doing with any of the money, economic policy was GB’s domain under their seedy Granita pact, and he was characteristically jealous of it. TB was never even shown the Budget until the night before it was delivered, he had no say on economic policy at all. I think he liked it that way, he could boast about schoolsnhospitals at PMQs without having to worry his pretty little head about Gordon’s PFI scam, even assuming he could have understood it.

    TB reminds me a bit of Sting, not that he was a rock god (much as he would have liked to have been), but that Sting did not notice that his accountant had embezzled several million pounds from him. GB was like Blair’s accountant, and as long as Tony could strut his stuff, he was happy to leave the boring bread head stuff to the uncool Scottish guy. Of course, unlike Sting, it wasn’t Tony’s money that GB was filching, but that’s another story.

    Blair even managed to fuck up buying a couple of flats during the biggest property boom in history, and that took some doing!

  • Patrick Crozier

    In a way I don’t blame Blair either. The man is/was the pure embodiment of politics. Blaming that is like blaming the weather.

    More a case of fool us once shame on you, fool us again shame on us. The point is never again to allow any similar force of nature to ruin the country again.

    As for the idea of him coming back, why on earth would he want to do that, and why would anyone want him back? The idea is barking.

  • Ian B,
    The answer is obvious. Tony Blair is Kayser Soze.

    Though he looks more like a Cheshire Cat.

    I have had similar thoughts. Basically Blair stitched-up Brown in the Granita pact and then at what should have been Brown’s moment of ultimate triumph nixed the bugger again.

  • John K

    Nick M:

    Doubt it. I think TB had intended to serve a full third term, and would thus have been catching the shit for all this, but the extent of Brown’s disloyalty was such that he was forced out two years into this parliament. Since Grim Gordon had no clue that the culling was coming, I think it’s stretching reality to suggest that a man who had no input into the economic policy of his own government timed things with fiendish accuracy to fuck Brown over. Having said that, it doesn’t matter whether Blair planned it or not, that’s how it happened, and I somehow think that Blair does not lose a lot of sleep over it.

  • kentuckyliz

    I don’t think TB is bright enough to master and hatch a brill Machiavellian plot. Nor do I think he had a crystal ball. He’s just the British version of Clinton.

  • Ian B

    Intelligence and cunning are two different things. There are people who are not bright at all, but have an uncanny knack for knowing which way the wind is blowing

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Does anyone imagine that even if TB did know more about economics, that he would have told the Nutter with the Stutter that he should not spend all that money and build up a big budget surplus in case of any later trouble? I doubt it. Blair may have been dimly aware that a lot of prosperity was fuelled by debt, and could not last, but whether he felt there was much that that could be done, I dunno.

    As someone else said, Blair and his wife have both got huge mortgage debts and TB is on the lecture circuit trying to service the mortgage. He’s no Gordon Gekko.