Editorial: Goodbye to Bambi
Enfeebled by their thrashing at the polls in 1997, the most damaging comment the Tories could think of about Tony Blair was to liken him to a political Bambi – a young, doe-eyed innocent deficient in any ambition or ability to control the wild beasts in his party and their scheming to bring back Clause Four. Those who were closer to the New Labour heart knew differently. Even before all the results were in on that night in May 1997, an iron discipline was being imposed on Bambi’s party. Jonathan Freedland, a Guardian reporter and a Labour supporter, was unable to celebrate Blair’s victory because he was brusquely ejected from the Hall as he was in a “forbidden zone” there. Three years later another Guardian writer, Andrew Rawnsley, recalled the situation: “Power within the party had been concentrated at the top. Discipline was everything. Dissenters were ruthlessly smothered and marginalized”.
According to Blair (and to most other politicians) “The only purpose of being in politics is to make things happen” – which leads to the questions of what are the “things” and whether it is worthwhile, in terms of human interests, that they should “happen”. Naturally, Blair is quite clear in the matter. In his farewell speech to the party members in his Sedgefield constituency he congratulated himself on what he had made happen during his ten years in Number Ten: “As for my own leadership, throughout these ten years…one thing was clear to me – without the Labour party allowing me to lead it, nothing could ever have been done” and in more detail: “…more jobs, fewer unemployed, better health and education results, lower crime, and economic growth in every quarter…The British are special, the world knows it, in our innermost thoughts we know it…This is the greatest nation on Earth”.
These extravagant claims are based on a number of minor changes in working class conditions which some people – Labour politicians – may choose to interpret as improvements but which, compared to the everyday grinding problems of capitalism, are insignificant. For example we were invited to vote for Blair’s party because they legislated for an increase in paid maternity leave from 18 to 29 weeks; because there has been a rise in rate of employment of lone parents, so that the poverty of people with children may be just a little less severe; because during Blair’s ten years at the helm recorded crime fell, after the passage of no less than 53 criminal justice bills, some of which have created a crisis of overcrowding in the prison service while alarmingly eroding some civil liberties.
At the same time the number of children officially assessed as living in relative poverty rose by 100,000 to 2.8 million, making nonsense of Labour’s stated objective of cutting this figure by half by 2010. Then there has been the matter of governmental sleaze, in which Labour assured us they would be a refreshing improvement after the Tories but which began with the Bernie Ecclestone affair and which was exposed in the recent scandal of the award of honours to anyone rich enough to “lend” the party large sums of money. And of course there has been Iraq, which deserves to be the event by which Blair is best remembered – the war which he secretly agreed with Bush to support, which he attempted to justify with lies about the existence of powerful weapons and which has now plunged that hapless country into a chaos of murder and destruction.
Blair began his time as prime minister with high hopes from an electorate deceived by the Labour Party’s propaganda machine that here was a new, fresh leader to usher us into a secure future. It took some years to expose him as a typically ruthless and manipulative, if highly skilled, practitioner of the cynical art of capitalism’s politics. He will not be missed.