Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Episode 5: the Blair Strikes Back

With considerable dread, I read about Blair’s latest stunt, his own return to British politics.

According to the LibDemendent and the Grauniad, Blair doesn’t seek election, but wants influence on policy.

Well, well, well; don’t we all?  Power without responsibility; who’d have thought?

A radio call-in show on LBC Radio triggered a fair amount of nostalgic support from many of its callers, but not comprehensive support, contrary to the clear preferences of the show’s pro temp host of the afternoon of Monday 01 March 2017.

I think LBC captured the classic English mix of indifference with mildly belligerent hostility, spiced with the occasional delusional fanboi, to Britain’s former Prime Minister.

Yes, it is important to see all of Blair’s “achievements”.  The left-wing BBC has tried to summarise those “achievements”.  Unsurprisingly, the BBC misses completely the most important “achievements”.

As I recall, the Blair (and Brown) governments failed multiple times in multiple policies my tests of rational decisions for public policy.  Did Blair et al do the right thing, on the right evidence, at the right time and in the right timescale (the “rational decision” test)?  Did Blair et al set out to eliminate “unforeseen consequences” (posh words for admitting one screwed up the planning stage, in some cases deliberately)?

On balance, the Blair & Brown governments failed at least one element of the rational decision test in major decision policy choices, just like every prior government, contrary to the (now obviously) fake impression conveyed by the Labour Party manifesto of 1997.  It was an elaborate party election con-trick.

To me, the Blair (and Brown) governments demonstrated typical aspects of any and all Labour governments.  In particular:
  • Illiteracy in economics.
  • Illiteracy in finance
  • Illiteracy in domestic politics (including elements within its own Labour Party!)
  • Illiteracy in international politics (notably resulting in the war in Iraq)
  • Illiteracy in European politics (as demonstrated by the Lisbon Treaty)
  • Illiteracy in constitutional function and strategy, but just enough knowledge to be expedient and undermine normal operation of constitutional functions.
  • But perfect fluency in “media management” such that all government messages were so riddled with omissions that no government communication could ever be considered complete, accurate, valid, trustworthy or even remotely useful.  The consequences still live with us today.

Here are just a few key examples.

  • At the outset, Blair’s platform was the incoherent gibberish of social democratic market socialism, the so-called “Third Way”.  The platform itself is economically-illiterate and logically flawed.  The inevitable result was disjointed incrementalism.  Blair’ & Brown’s governments did not deliver to the people a credible government with a competent range of good quality policy choices.  If anything, their policy choices further damaged the institution of government, took with it a large chunk of Parliament’s credibility, and created a long and growing list of grievances for which Britain might need a civil war to clear the air.
  • One such damaging policy choice was zero percent interest rates.  Blair left it all to Brown, and never sought to supervise the crass policy errors that Brown, Balls and O’Donnell implemented.  The stealthy transfer of wealth from relatively modest savers to recklessly indebted ├╝ber-rich accelerated in earnest, and continues to this day.  The credit crunch of 2007 was more-or-less inevitable.
  • Examining the policy-making machine within the then Labour Party, there seemed to be no systematic attempt to empiricise policy-making within the Party.  Policy research was shrunken down to a marketing exercise, “How do we [mis-]sell this and get away with it?”
  • This mis-selling was perhaps the worst, most diabolical, aspect of the Blair & Brown governments.  The mis-selling was much more slick under Blair than under Brown.  The spin was relentless.  Voters eventually realised that every word from government was so riddled with relevant omissions that all government utterances and publications amounted to “fake news” (as we now call it).  The party that mis-sold itself as having the values of Robin Hood ended up serving the Sheriff of Nottingham nearly perfectly, and did an excellent job of covering it up.  The erosion of the electorate’s trust of politicians had, by the end of Blair’s years, become permanent and remains with us today.  It will require elected politicians to acquire a professional qualification of competent policy-making to cure the erosion of trust, and there’s no prospect of that happening in my lifetime.
  • Useful NHS “reform”  failed.  The only major reform that did get through was an employment contract with GPs in 2004 that helped to make the NHS even more financially unsustainable.  It suggests that Blair didn’t bother winning support within his own Party; Labour MPs torpedoed the necessary reform of the NHS, and they’re still ready to do so today.  The NHS remains financially unsustainable today.
  • A war in Iraq.  Blair relied on a “dodgy dossier”, carefully built on a series of carefully crafted omissions, just enough for Blair to deliver innuendo to Parliament, with sufficiently generous “plausible deniability” for Blair to use as an escape route (see also the Chilcott Enquiry, wikipedia).  A scientist, Dr David Kelly, proof-read the dodgy dossier, had problems with it, commented as such to the media, got grilled by Parliament for expressing his professional opinion at all (let alone to a journalist), and committed suicide in 2003.  The Foreign Office sought to gag a recorded telephone conversation between Blair and Bush.  See also journalist Andrew Rawnsley’s opinion on the matter in 2006 for an illustration of why this mattered at the time even to the unthinking left-wing readers of the Grauniad.
  • Blair championed the return of Thatcher’s rebate from the European contribution in exchange for “influence.”  The Lisbon Treaty demonstrated that Britain actually bought no additional influence for this unnecessary return of the rebate.  From the perspective of the UK state, losing the rebate was a pure giveaway.
  • On 17 February 2017, Blair gave a speech in which he effectively called for as many referenda as it might take to vote to remain at any, all and every cost.  Blair’s position seems to be the common one that the people were misled in the referendum by the Leave campaign (not the Remain campaign, of course, who in spite of Osbo’s Project Fear could do no wrong).  It struck me that Blair probably thinks that people who live outside the M25 are so gullible that they fall for anything printed on the side of a bus (but not, I note, when carved into an Edstone.  Are we plebs selectively gullible?).
  • Corruption arguably continued.  The Labour Party manifesto of 1997 promised the Human Rights Act 1998.  Subsequently, Blair’s wife Cherie Booth co-founded the Matrix Chambers, whose speciality was… human rights law.  Who else was going to be so lucky to be in the right place at the right time?!  In a private company, spouses of directors are rightfully held as “related parties” to directors to check against undue or corrupt influence.  Policy making, it seems, needs to be different.
  • Blair provided no useful template to his successor, Gordon Brown.  To be fair to Blair, there’s no evidence that Brown would have followed any such plan anyway.
  • House of Lords “reform” stopped at the point when the Lords had been stuffed with left-wing cronies, gaming the system on a strictly partisan basis, undermining the usefulness of the Lords as a more technical, legislative revising body.
  • Worse, the Cash for Honours scandal in Blair’s later years underlined just how cynically self-serving the political establishment had become.  One year after Blair’s departure from Number 10, the Parliamentary expenses scandal underlined the ruling elite’s systematic contempt for us plebby suckers that stupidly pay our taxes, thinking that such taxes are for the public good and will be used wisely at all times.  Like hell!

Hence the dread.

How should the European Union face this prospect of the return of Blair?

From a European federalist’s perspective, Blair return to British politics is a big risk:
  • On the one hand, Blair might well return Britain - and therefore its money - into the European Union.  The Commission would rather like the cash!
  • But, on the other hand, having Britain under the kosh is a painful and difficult experience: Britain would resume its attempts to subvert the process of integration, or simply leave the Union again.

Ironically, Blair’s return to British politics could further imperil the European integrationist project.

A savvy political operator in the European Union would “cut losses”: say goodbye to British money and keep on integrating (disenfranchising European national taxpayers in the process) without the British distraction.  For a Euro-federalist, Brexit is an opportunity too good to miss.  Blair coming along to sod it all up - returning to an era of Britain hobbling European integration - is likely to be unwelcome.

So the European Union should dread the return of Blair, too.

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