How many wrinkles can a man have before they no longer call him smooth?
Bob Dylan it is not but I thought those words watching Tony Blair at the Leveson enquiry. The years may pass but the man does not falter. The interview lasted four hours except this was no grilling. I switched off the TV after Leveson decided to take on the valiant Tony as an assistant. ‘I wonder if you can help me,’ Leveson said something like, ‘making recommendations will be awfully difficult so perhaps you could give it some thought and drop me a line?’
Is this supposed to be famous British irony? The judge has asked a prime minister, who was godfather to the child of the same crooked press baron who caused all this mess, to recommend what might be an improved system. I know, I had to read that sentence again and I wrote it. This is a scandal that involves politicians, the police and a press that harasses innocent citizens. Oh, and just in case nobody remembers to mention, a press that has consistently told lies about the disadvantaged. Blair felt it all deserved a strategic accommodation if he was going to improve schools and the health service. You know, Blair may even believe it. Performance has consumed him like it does many actors. John Wayne thought he really did tame America and Blair tells himself he had principles. This is a man who is obliged to travel around in secure convoys and enjoy country walks in the confines of guarded compounds. Obviously, the protester who called him a war criminal and alleged that Blair invaded Iraq because he was paid to by JP Morgan is not the master of the accurate pithy sound bite. But Blair did lie about the weapons of destruction and his Government only created a case for invasion after he had decided to invade. There are also the continuing allegations of arranged extradition and the torture that followed which is why David Milliband not becoming the leader of the Labour Party is not quite the disaster that Blairites think.
‘Perhaps you could help me, Mr Blair.’ My, those words are chilling. Dracula has risen from the grave.
Blair, it seems, was never influenced by Murdoch. The relationship was formal and distant and they only became friends after he stopped being Prime Minister. Well, unless they moved it, Australia is an awfully long way to travel to merely say hello. I have the same relationship to the speeches and conversation of Blair that I have to the early drafts of my books. At the time they read okay. A couple of weeks later I ask myself how I could fail to spot the inconsistencies. Most of the time Blair speaks, he utters nonsense. At the time, though, he is convincing. It is that horrible tug of sincerity that always deceives the listener. This is the greatest political performer most of us will ever witness. Although, watching him at the enquiry, one has to ask questions about God. If he does exist why does he insist upon dreadful symmetry? Did Britain really need a Clinton double? Maybe it is is no more than fashion, a phase of treacherous supposedly left wing politicians that had to happen. The 70s were blighted by flared trousers and later we had Clinton and Blair.
These two men emerged after neo-conservatism and the obvious conclusion is that they existed because they were necessary for the left to appeal in a highly developed market economy. The philosopher, Michael Sandel, in his book, ‘What Money Can’t Buy’, argues that we no longer have a market economy. Instead, we have a market society where everything has a monetary value. The consequences have been horrendous, schools and hospitals run to make a profit rather than educate and heal. We now have leaders who can only speak to us about money. This is to be expected from the Tories but Labour was soon seduced by the market society. Admittedly, he smiled a lot but Labour elected a leader who agreed with Rupert Murdoch that the public sector and the trade unions needed right wing reform. We know why Rupert hates the public sector and unions. He hates paying taxes and ordinary people having a say in their workplace. Money shapes his beliefs as it did Tony Blair. Money worship became so ingrained that we were not supposed to challenge the millions that flowed into the wallets of the super-rich.
Tony smiled his blessing on it all. His only regret was that there might be people of real ability that did not get the opportunity they deserved. He ignored the losers and the fragile. Social compassion and that grin were always incompatible.
It is worse for me because in the beginning I defended him and argued that he was being pragmatic. Not only had 18 years of the Tories worn me down, I was becoming increasingly weary of hard core lefties that used their trade union positions for what seemed like anarchic posturing. I remember being at a birthday party of a writer. I was surrounded by writers, artists and intellectuals and they all condemned Tony for not being sufficiently left wing. I felt they were cocooned from the real world and were too quick to condemn. Well, I was wrong and they were right. As Cameron increasingly relies on the cliché, ‘it was only what that lot were going to do’, as he traduces the NHS and education we are made aware that New Labour provided far more of a mandate for neo-conservatives than the British people ever did. Pragmatism carries too heavy a price and it is always waiting when you get out of bed the next day. Of course, the experience of Clinton and Blair has been informative. Nobody can pretend we live in a democracy anymore or even that representative democracy can be sustained without eventually becoming a market society oligarchy.
So, thanks Tony, thanks for opening my eyes.
All of which should make us wary about taking persuasive performers too seriously because clearly some people can lie. Or maybe it is more complicated than that. Liking singers like Elvis is okay because although they expect to be paid handsomely when they warble they do not seek the glory that people like Blair and Clinton need, glory that will crush their enemies. Elvis shared his power on stage with his audience. Despite the capes there was always the odd self-effacing grin, the reminders that he was ordinary like the rest of us. Of course, I was also taken in by the smile of Tony Blair. But before we become paranoid about rock and roll heroes we can assure ourselves with the knowledge that the best of them insisted that we remembered they were only performers and that their job was merely to entertain. Tony Blair was a failed rock musician. Unable to create music he decided he still had to seduce and dominate. His ambition was enormous. This is why he is obliged to be religious. Forget God, there is a devil in Tony Blair and his will needs mystical power. Still, he was resolute in the enquiry and insisted that Murdoch and not Rebekah Brooks made the decisions. The statement smelled of loyalty and a secret pact. The question is to whom and why.
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