My review of Geoffrey Wheatcroft's new book 'Yo, Blair!' appears in this week's edition of The Spectator.
The human commodity
Politico’s, 154pp, £9.99, ISBN 1842732067
Have two words ever said so much? President Bush’s unforgettable greeting to the British Prime Minister at the G8 summit in St Petersburg last summer epitomised how the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America had descended into one of complete servility. Can anyone imagine Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher or even John Major being addressed in such a condescending way? Geoffrey Wheatcroft can’t, and in his masterly 150-page polemic describes how under Blair’s calamitous premiership, Britain has ceased to be an independent nation. It’s a depressing story of corruption, personal vanity and mendacity unequalled in our country’s political history.
Blair, the self-proclaimed ‘pretty straight guy’, has presided over ten years of lies, spin and subterfuge, the culmination of which has been participation in the disastrous and deceitful war against Iraq. The warning signs were there from early on: someone who can lie about voting in the House of Commons against fox hunting, is, as Wheatcroft points out, also capable of giving grossly exaggerated and distorted reasons for entering needless and illegal wars.
Blair says things ‘which are not only untrue but that a moment’s conscious reflection would show could not be true’. He also demonstrates a remarkable ability to ‘delete words from his personal hard drive’. In September 2004, he abused Charles Kennedy, arguing that if the Liberal Demo- crat leader had had his way ‘Saddam and his sons would still be running Iraq. That is why I took the stand I did.’ Yet, in February 2003, shortly before the outbreak of war, he had told the House, ‘We are offering Saddam the prospect of voluntarily disarming through the United Nations. I detest his regime but even now he could save it by complying with the UN demands.’
Blair, as Wheatcroft says, is something far more dangerous than a common liar — he is a man with no grasp at all of the difference between objective truth and falsehood. He is in many ways the personification of Erich Fromm’s ‘marketing character’, a person for whom everything is transformed into a commodity, not only things, but the person himself, his physical energy, his skills, his knowledge, his opinions, his feelings, even his smiles.
The damage that Britain’s most prominent ‘marketing character’ has done to both his country and the world has been enormous.
One of the effects of Blair’s electoral success has been to dissuade more and more people from voting. After ten years of New Labour, politicians have never been so despised. By his endless war-making, he has destroyed one English tradition which had found a home in the Labour Party — the radical tradition of pacifism and non-interventionism. And by his attack on ancient civil liberties, carried out in the name of the ‘war against terror’, he has destroyed another — the liberal tradition.
Why was it all done?
Blair’s apologists would like us to believe that their man acted out of conviction, but the truth may be rather more prosaic. The going rates for retired politicians on the American lecture circuit are impressive: Bill Clinton gets $250,000 a time, and Blair, as Washington’s most loyal lapdog, will certainly be at the top of the scale. In addition, there are those lucrative book contracts. As Wheatcroft concludes, vast numbers of lives may have been cruelly sacrificed by the Iraq enterprise, but Anthony Charles Linton Blair will surely be a richer man as a result.