All You Need to Know About Tony Blair

This is a blog primarily devoted to American politics, although we make significant forays into foreign politics as well. But the following is not significant just in terms of its consequences for Britain. It is significant because it demonstrates the utter bankruptcy of Tony Blair's "model" for the American Democratic Party. I often get annoyed with people who bash the "DLC" (understood broadly, not simply as the organization) because I think the centrist tendancy and centrist ideas are vital to the Democratic Party, in terms of developing ideas and winning elections. However, what the following demonstrates is that Tony Blair is essentially a right wing politician. He is not a "modernizer." He is not a "centrist." He is not "DLC." He is a right winger who has successfully managed to take over a political party broadly out of sync with his own politics and instincts.

Anyway, I write this as a response to a fantastic article penned for today's Guardian by Jonathan Freedland. A quick note on Freedland: he is a genuinely centrist columnists, sympathetic to New Labour, if not a "true believer." Thus, this makes what Freedland has just written important: that Tony Blair is a right wing politician leading a center-left party. Many (falsely and disingenously in some cases) claim that people want Blair gone because they want to take the Labour Party back to the left, to Old Labour, to uncompromising socialism. Hardly. We want Gordon Brown to take office because we want to take Labour back to the center, back to New Labour. Hence the confusion some people have when they observe Brown is not a full-blooded socialism. Well exactly. But he's also not a right winger either, which is what Blair is.

On to Freedland's words, which I will quote for you at length:

You've got to hand it to Rupert Murdoch - he still knows a good story when he hears one. Like any good journalist, his antennae twitch, and he is overwhelmed by the urge to tell the world what he knows. No wonder he was bursting last Friday to tell a New York gathering about his latest confidential chat with Tony Blair. Turns out, he whispered, that while the PM was in India, he had watched BBC World's coverage of Hurricane Katrina. "And," Murdoch explained, "he said it was just full of hate for America and gloating about our troubles."

Of course Murdoch couldn't keep that to himself. For that one little sentence speaks volumes about the British prime minister, about what he believes and where he now stands. It is a gem, worthy of the closest examination.

Freedland's article just gets better. Keep reading . . .

What follows next is a description of Blair's contentious relationship with the BBC, especially regarding the David Kelly affair.

The fact that BBC bias was on Blair's mind at all is the second striking aspect of Murdoch's indiscretion. What does it say about Blair that his prime reaction to seeing the images of despair and suffering from New Orleans was not to wonder about the state of modern America but to rage against the BBC? How refreshing it would have been if Blair had shared with Murdoch, privately of course, his concern that a society so rich had done so little for its poor. Or his shock that a technological and military superpower could be so slow to save its own. Or his disappointment that Hurricane Katrina's victims seemed to have been colour-coded, that those who managed to get away were white, while those left waving from rooftops or floating, lifeless, in the floodwater were black.

But no. This was not what made Blair shake his head in fury in his Delhi hotel room. What he saw on the BBC appalled him all right, but his ire was stirred by the messenger, not the message.

It was left to Bill Clinton, Rupert's host, to subtly point out Blair's error. Not for the first time, he offered a remark that sounded like a defence of Blair but that, on closer inspection, made clear his disagreement with him. (The ex-president has done the same on Iraq.) He said he too had seen the specific report the PM had apparently referred to but had found "nothing factually inaccurate" in it. Still, he admitted, it was "almost exclusively" designed to criticise the Bush administration's response to the crisis.See the difference? Blair, as summarised by Murdoch (and Downing Street has not disputed his account), accuses the BBC of hatred of America. Clinton accuses the BBC of excessive criticism of the current US administration. That is a huge distinction, the same one cited in their defence by countless critics of the Iraq war. Their objection is not to America itself, but to this specific US government. Their stance is anti-Bush, anti-Republican perhaps, but not anti-American. Clinton can see that. Blair cannot. He believes that if you are outraged by Bush's lethargy in the face of a terrible catastrophe, then you are "full of hate for America" and gloat at its troubles. In fact, the opposite is true.

The Clinton comparison is a very important one that makes a subtly devastating point. Clinton - the center-left "modernizer,""third-wayer" par excellence - exposes Blair for what he is.

Freedland is just getting warmed up, though, as he really goes in for the kill later in the article, however.

But let's not overlook one of the key aspects of Blair's attack on the BBC - the fact that he voiced it to Rupert Murdoch. There is a political pander here, which is no crime but hardly edifying to contemplate. To state the obvious, Murdoch is a global broadcaster who has long had the BBC in his sights. He despises all it represents, starting with its status as a public, rather than commercial, organisation. It is a direct rival. By slating the BBC, Blair was tickling Rupert, hoping, perhaps, that the tycoon would see the PM as an ally.

This deference to Murdoch, we know, is not new. The memoirs of the former spin operative Lance Price, before they were purged, reveal that Labour "promised News International we won't make any changes to our Europe policy without talking to them". It's worth remembering that one of the early accusations of Downing Street dishonesty in which Alastair Campbell was caught out was his 1998 denial to the lobby of the claim that Blair had intervened with the then Italian prime minister Romano Prodi on behalf of Murdoch. Campbell called the claim "a complete joke" and "crap" before having to admit that, er, the two leaders had discussed the matter after all. Murdoch was indiscreet on that occasion, too, confessing that Blair's report back on his call with Prodi had led him to change his business plans. He was clearly grateful.

So we know that Blair is solicitous to Murdoch, to the point of subservience. That is all of a piece with a choice of friends that includes Silvio Berlusconi, the ousted the Spanish conservative José Maria Aznar and, lest we forget, George Bush. How dearly Blair wanted to add Angela Merkel to that list, his aides briefing anyone who would listen that Gerhard Schröder was history and that Merkel would carry the Blairite torch in Berlin.

Therefore we owe Murdoch a great debt. He has given us a single sentence that says so much. It reveals a Labour prime minister whose every instinct is at odds with the movement he leads. The BBC or Fox News? He chooses Fox. The victims of Katrina or the Bush White House? His sympathies go to the White House. German Social Democrat or the Prussian Thatcher? He chooses Thatcher.

This is Tony Blair, utterly out of step with the party he has led for 11 years. There is no outrage, just a shrug of the shoulders. Next week at the party conference he will get a standing ovation, as out of reach as an American second-term president - there is no realistic way of getting rid of him. Instead Labour will just wait for the day he goes, off to meet his inevitable destiny - the US lecture circuit - to earn millions and eat fine dinners with the Kissingers and Murdochs, the Berlusconis and Bushes, who are for him what Labour never was: his natural home.

For all intents and purposes, Tony Blair represents a leveraged buy-out attempt by Rupert Murdoch of Britain's major center-left party. With Blair as leader, Labour cannot claim to be centrist even, much less center-left.

Tags: Ideology (all tags)

Comments

18 Comments

Clinton Center-Left?
No Clinton and Blair are exactly alike. Two politicians through their charm and guile forced their party to the center right for the sake of corporatism and later found themselves swimming with the far right sharks.

The only difference is that the US has a mandatory 2 term limit on the Presidency. God only knows what Clinton would have been like if he could have stayed in power as long as Blair.

But we can only geusstimate from his comments on the sidelines: Clinton is a right Dem to his toes very PRO-WAR, only against tax cuts NOT because it would endanger social programmes but because it detracts from fical responsiblity, told Kerry to dump the gays...

As you may recall, Clinton first remarks regards the media perception of Katrina were not too disimilar than Blair's.

"...you and I are not in a position to make any judgment because we weren't there." - Bill Clinton, former Democratic President He was also very quick to sweep under the rug how race had effected the rescue attempts and far too eager to get his picture taken with the Bushes.

However, unlike Blair, Clinton has had five years of not being in charge therefore not liable for the damage heaped upon the world by center-right/right thinking world leaders... so he gets the opportunity to say.."I would have done it differently"... but it is anyones guess that he really would have.

by Parker 2005-09-21 12:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Clinton Center-Left?
God only knows what Clinton would have been like if he could have stayed in power as long as Blair.

Four more years of peace and prosperity? Properly executed the warrant requested by Colleen Rowley and prevented the attacks of September 11? Strengthened the levees and properly respond to hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters?

I am past tired of Clinton's considerable legacy being put down.

by Alice Marshall 2005-09-21 03:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Clinton Center-Left?
I agree that Clinton would have read the many memos that warned of terrorists flying planes into buildings.

However, for a clue at what Clinton would have done just look at the DLC agenda which they can't mention without invoking Clinton's name every other word.

  • Privatization of Social Security
  • NCLB and school vouchers
  • Disregards of pro-choice
  • Anti-gay
  • Anti-union (Pro nafta and cafta)
  • Pro-corporatization$$$
  • Anti-poor (welfare reform)

The Republicans are lamenting their Dead agenda...at the moment their only hope of continuing onward would be electing the Clintons to office.
by Parker 2005-09-21 03:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Clinton Center-Left?
Peace at home, perhaps. But the prosperity was about to end anyway, built as it was on a stock bubble.  Clinton was a far more capable manager of the rightwing vision than any of the rightwing Republicans.  And much, much better at pacifying the natives.

This is the Clinton-Blair vision: show the conservatives that they can manage things better, without ever challenging the basic vision.  It's the flip side of Eisenhower/Rockefeller Republicanism, which was built on accepting the welfare state, but saying that they, as Republicans, could manage it better.  

The main point, of course, is that the liberal welfare state vision (1) was reality-based, (2) was humane & compassionate, (3) helped the vast majority of people, and (4) oh yes, it worked!  Therefore the Eisenhower/Rockefeller claim was still a claim to do good.  OTOH, the conservative (neo-liberal) vision is (1) ideology-based, (2) heartless and inhumane, (3) heavily slanted toward helping only the elite, and (4) a miserable failure that cannot even sustain itself on a stable self-destructive course.

Now, Clinton personally is a very likeable guy.  But his policies hurt an enormous number of people, and laid the groundwork for hurting many, many more.  The punitive "welfare reform" he signed, for example. Or NAFTA. Or the narrowly restrictive "free speech zones" we all despise--those started on Clinton's watch in response to the anti-globalization movement.  Sweeping roll-backs of constitutional rights in the name of "fighting terrorism"--that began with the Clinton-Gingrich legislative collaboration after the Oklahoma City Bombing, the "Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996", with its substantial roll-backs of the Great Writ of habeas corpus right at the very beginning--rollbacks that had absolutely nothing to do with fighting terrorism.  I could go on and on...

When people praise Clinton, they are simply perpetuating the politics of lowered expectations. And Clinton was the greatest master of that we are ever likely to see.  For that, I guess, we should be thankful.

by Paul Rosenberg 2005-09-21 04:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Clinton Center-Left?
Amen.
by Andy Katz 2005-09-22 08:35AM | 0 recs
Arf
He's not a right-wing extremist. He's a TRIANGULATOR who pulled many of the traditionally Conservative voters into the fold as "New Labour". But just because he's had to support seemingly un-liberal ideas like national ID cards I can't say that definitively ruins his legacy. Ariel Sharon after all is breaking up the settlements in Gaza and Koizumi of the LDP is smashing the Post Office of Japan into a private entity.

I'm not expecting pigs to fly or (Bush to support tax hikes) but Blair's just feeling the Indian burn of being in office for more than eight years already. He's cut bait on every single issue already.

by risenmessiah 2005-09-21 01:34AM | 0 recs
asdf
Its not simply ID cards. You need to follow British politics more closely. Since he was reelected in 2001, he hasn't done anything or pushed anything that I would genuinely call remotely progressive. All he talks about now is authoritarian law and order measures, privatization, and war mongering. Now, some of what he pushes has merit. And as my post makes clear, I am not at all averse to the modernization project more generally. But by this point, he really has become totally divorced from anything that could be remotely called progressive in the last few years. I think he has become much more right wing as he has been in office. Read Freedland's article carefully. Watch who Blair hangs out with, who he feels comfortable with - all right wingers: Berlesconi, Bush, Murdoch. He strongly rooting for Schroeder to lose the election, if not publicly, than privately.

Really, at this point and time, I'd call Blair a neo-conservative. And I'm not being hyperbollic. Take this from some one who closely follows British politics and have many contacts - friends and family - in Britain.

Ben P

by Ben P 2005-09-21 02:06AM | 0 recs
Read this passage more closely
So we know that Blair is solicitous to Murdoch, to the point of subservience. That is all of a piece with a choice of friends that includes Silvio Berlusconi, the ousted the Spanish conservative José Maria Aznar and, lest we forget, George Bush. How dearly Blair wanted to add Angela Merkel to that list, his aides briefing anyone who would listen that Gerhard Schröder was history and that Merkel would carry the Blairite torch in Berlin.

Therefore we owe Murdoch a great debt. He has given us a single sentence that says so much. It reveals a Labour prime minister whose every instinct is at odds with the movement he leads. The BBC or Fox News? He chooses Fox. The victims of Katrina or the Bush White House? His sympathies go to the White House. German Social Democrat or the Prussian Thatcher? He chooses Thatcher.

This is Tony Blair, utterly out of step with the party he has led for 11 years. There is no outrage, just a shrug of the shoulders. Next week at the party conference he will get a standing ovation, as out of reach as an American second-term president - there is no realistic way of getting rid of him. Instead Labour will just wait for the day he goes, off to meet his inevitable destiny - the US lecture circuit - to earn millions and eat fine dinners with the Kissingers and Murdochs, the Berlusconis and Bushes, who are for him what Labour never was: his natural home.

From Jonathan Freedland, these are pretty powerful words.

by Ben P 2005-09-21 02:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Arf
I should also say: he was a triangulator. I think much of the American CW on Blair is pre-2001. If he were still the kind of politician I thought he was then, I would still like him. But he simply isn't. For whatever reason, Blair has steadily and quite rapidly moved rightwards - in terms of his instincts, and in terms of his policy - in the last several.

As to ID cards, I actually not esp. averse to them.

by Ben P 2005-09-21 02:12AM | 0 recs
Oy
I do follow British Politics, perhaps not as closely as you.

But I have yet to see Tony Blair agree with the Tories on breaking up the NHS or stopping devloution. Brown, to be clear, hashed out the coalition with Blair to form "New Labour" which is the DLC-ification of the Labour Party. Blair I believe is genuine in his attitudes, but I also think that the American political system has an internal check against terrorism. Our fixed election cycle mean that snap polls and sudden changes insulate us from change. Blair meanwhile, has to constantly worry about his authority being challenged in Parliament.

by risenmessiah 2005-09-22 01:59AM | 0 recs
Tony Blair
has always been Rupert Murdoch's creature. It is not an accident that the countries which led the war against Iraq, US, UK, and Australia, are all the countries where NewsCorp has the most influence.
by Alice Marshall 2005-09-21 03:21AM | 0 recs
About Blair
A telling recent moment for Blair was when he appointed 'respect tsar' Louise Casey.  It's a classic do-something-for-show move.  She's come out in favor of binge drinking and against 'evidence-based policy'.  So Blair doesn't really care about empiricism.  But we knew that from the way he signed on to the war, didn't we?
by RickD 2005-09-21 05:15AM | 0 recs
Growth in Britain for all income segments
Blair bashing is a popular pastime, and even among his fans he is more admired than loved.

But Blair has succeeded in one important respect: Economic growth in Britain has benefitted all income segments, not just the well-to-do.

Here the comparison to Clinton holds. Remember the 1990s? Many U.S. cities prospered as they hadn't in decades. We shouldn't be unmindful of the importance of sound economic management in a leader.

by tommywonk 2005-09-21 05:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Growth in Britain for all income segments
Nothing, absolutely nothing, can make up for lying your country into a war.
Nothing.
by Alice Marshall 2005-09-21 05:58AM | 0 recs
Take away Al From Redd, Marshall.....
Get rid of Al From, Reed, Marshall and DLC will be loved again.

It is not DLC per se, it is the disloyal, Republican talking points talking, netroot bashing,  spineless people who is the problem. They destroyed Howard Dean by lying about him when they know Howard Dean has been a model of DLC third way.

DLC reps and sens almost vote the same way as other Dems, so that is not the problem.

by jasmine 2005-09-21 06:54AM | 0 recs
Isn't Tony a religious kook?
Just wondering...
by Paul Goodman 2005-09-21 06:56AM | 0 recs
Blair
He doesn't support ID cards because he has to, but because he genuinely believes in them. He and his government have been more authoritarian and shown more disregard for civil liberties than any in living memory outside of WW11.

The gap between the poor and the rich under Tony Blair and New Labour is greater even than that under Margaret Thatcher.

Finally, by British standards, his religious beliefs do play a significant role in his politics. However, while like most British voters I feel a sense of distrust of any politician who wears his religion on his sleeve, I wouldn't remotely describe him as a religious kook. If he were a politician from continental Europe he would probably be a Christian Democrat.

by UKLIB 2005-09-22 06:15AM | 0 recs
The DLC are not centrists
They bash liberals more harshly than Rove does. They are fifth columnists in the Democratic party. The only difference between them and Republicans is that they are wishy-washy.
by peterbernard 2005-09-22 09:47AM | 0 recs

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