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Martin Jacques

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  1. The smell from No 10 increasingly resembles a stench. No one knows whether the cash-for-honours affair will end up with charges, and of what kind, or a decision by the police not to proceed. But even if it is the latter, the stain will remain; the overriding feeling that Tony Blair's premiership was tainted with wrongdoing will persist. It will be like Harold Wilson's lavender list, but far, far worse: the whiff of corruption will be manifest, even if the police can't make charges stick. The chances of any Brown administration lasting very long now surely look even slimmer. The legacy of New Labour, already damaged beyond redemption by the debacle in Iraq, threatens to be defined by malpractice and malfeasance. We should not be too surprised. There has always been something less than wholesome about New Labour. But Blair for a long time had an easy ride. There was the whopping majority. There was the relief that the Tories were finally gone. There was the grand hyperbole. There was the fact that here was a leader (the first) who was a product of the new educated middle classes and who spoke their language, a modern man no less. There was his militant rejection of all that old cobblers about socialism, ideology and old Labour (by which, of course, he meant the Labour party). There was the fact that he was reassuring, that he believed in the legacy of Thatcherism, that he was never going to threaten the established order. During those rose-tinted years, what passed for analysis of the New Labour phenomenon rarely rose about tree-level. But from its inception, New Labour contained within it what were profoundly corrosive tendencies. Blair's election as leader was a coup d'etat conducted with the connivance of the Labour party against itself. The party had lost all self-belief and conviction: it was anybody's. Blair was neither one of them nor part of it. His was an alien body in a party demoralised by defeat. The anomalous nature of Blair's position was celebrated by most of the media: but it contained the seeds of disaster. The party felt utterly dependent on him, prepared to do his bidding whatever that might be, while he felt no sense of accountability whatsoever towards it. The party was his punchbag. He was a free agent. Then there was New Labour in office. From the outset, it invested an extraordinary importance in the media and in the consequent need to control the news agenda. Advisers - which almost invariably meant spinmeisters - were liberally dispersed around the ministries. The civil service, another potential check on overweaning government power, found itself relegated and demeaned by Blair's political appointees. Figures such as Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, masters of the dark arts, emerged as decisive figures within New Labour. The message was everything, substance a pliant handmaiden, truth the first casualty. Spin, of course, held the people in contempt. If the media could be squared, then so could the public. It was the antithesis of accountability. New Labour was, from the beginning, a control freak. It was true of Blair, as it was true of most of his acolytes and advisers: that was the way they did politics. It all stemmed from a hugely exaggerated belief in the power of the media, in the idea that controlling the media agenda would deliver the country. Blair, as a political leader, and as a product of the media age and post-60s confessional honesty, traded in trust. He told it like it was, he was one of us, he could be trusted. But trust in the hands of a politician is a double-edged sword. There is a suggestion of affinity, but also the implication that things could safely be left in his hands, that we should not concern ourselves unduly, that we should leave things to him. Blair's notion of trust is a bespoke product of the era of personal politics, where a sense of emotional authenticity has supplanted older notions of ideology and political principle. Accountability depended on trust rather than policy, on style rather than content. This was the Blair appeal: but in time its vacuous and implicitly authoritarian character came to be exposed, most brutally in his contempt for the public over Iraq. By trust, Blair meant personal empathy, but in practice this was merely a cloak for accentuating his own power: paradoxically, trust implied a growing loss of unaccountability. Blair is not a loose cannon. His political course has been more or less entirely predictable. He has been a loyal proponent of the neoliberal agenda and a slavish supporter of the US, whatever the hue of the president. What could be more conventional than that? But his style of political leadership has been highly unusual. He has consistently turned on the party that he led, often displaying antagonism bordering on contempt. He has been consumed by a desire to be apart from it, and to be in no way constrained by it. And this served to nurture a lack of accountability, a belief that he could do whatever he wanted. The same went for his relationship with the civil service and the use of his spinmeisters as a praetorian red guard. And, ultimately, it was also true of his relationship with the public. His contempt for them was evident in his belief in the all-consuming power of the media and his own ability to control it. Control freaks never trust the people, nor do they feel properly accountable to them. Seen in this light, the latest turn of events that has led to more than 90 people being questioned by the police, four of them while under arrest, is not entirely surprising. Blair believed that he could play fast and loose with the Labour party (he didn't even bother telling its treasurer about the loans) and - to the party's eternal shame - has got away with it (with barely a whimper of opposition even on Iraq). He believed that he could control the media by playing fast and loose with the truth through spin, and managed to get away with that, at least until some point in his second term. And it would appear that No 10 believed that it could somehow replenish the party's coffers to fight the last general election by playing fast and loose with the law. It may still get away with whatever it did, but in the mind of the public it will be forever condemned as guilty. There was always something rotten at the heart of New Labour: the police investigation marks the moment of its recognition. It is a sad comment that so many people were taken in by New Labour for so long. And the price? The party could yet implode and find itself condemned to opposition for many years to come. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...2006665,00.html
  2. In President Bush's inauguration speech, he pledged to support "the expansion of freedom in all the world", deploying the words free or freedom no less than 25 times in 20 short minutes. The neoconservative strategy is quite explicit: to bend the world to America's will; to reshape it according to the interests of a born-again superpower. There is something more than a little chilling about this. Even though the Iraqi occupation has gone seriously awry, the United States still does not recognise the constraints on its own power and ambition. This was something that Europe learned the hard way: two world wars, the rise of the United States and the Soviet Union, and the anti-colonial struggle have taught our continent the limitations of its own power. That is why Europe today, with the partial exception of Britain and France, and exemplified by Germany, is so reluctant to use military force. The United States, of course, is the opposite. It measures its power not by its relative economic and technological prowess, which would suggest restraint, but its military unassailability, which implies the opposite. Nor is this attitude simply a product of the neoconservatives. It also draws on something deeper within the American psyche. The birth of the United States and its expansion across the American continent - the frontier mentality - was an imperial enterprise, involving, most importantly, the subjugation and destruction of the Amerindians. This is lodged in the national genes, it is part of the American story, and it helps to inform and shape its global strategy and aspirations. It is not difficult, of course, for the United States to throw its weight around in the Middle East, a poor and defeated region, one of the big-time losers from globalisation. The world's superpower versus a failed region is a hopelessly unequal contest, especially when the former can rely on the support of its regional policeman Israel, to do its bidding. But this is not the dominant story of our time, even though the Bush regime, in its desire to exploit the country's status as sole superpower, has chosen to define this conflict as the central narrative. History will judge differently. The rise of China and India will have a far more profound effect on the world than a small band of Islamist terrorists. Indeed, there is something faintly bizarre about the psychotic worship of American values, the incantation of its applicability to each and every country, at a historical moment when, for the first time since its emergence half a millennium ago, the modern world will, in the not too distant future, no longer be monopolised by the west. It is not difficult to imagine that, by the middle of this century, both China and India will rank among the top five largest economies in the world, with China perhaps the biggest. Nor is this just an economic story, which is how it is generally told. With economic strength comes, in due course, political, cultural and military influence: such has been the case with the emergence of all great powers. The fact and significance of this, of course, has been hugely underestimated. The dominant view of globalisation is that it is overwhelmingly a process of westernisation: indeed, the neoliberal form of globalisation espoused by the Washington consensus has deliberately sought to define it as such. The prevalent western view is well-articulated by Chris Patten in his book East and West, where the differences between western and east Asian countries, like China, are explained simply in terms of historical timing. The closer they get to western levels of development, the more they will come to resemble the west. Or, to put it another way, there is a singular modernity, and that is western. Given that modernity is not simply a snapshot of the present, but a product of history, not only a function of markets and technology, but the creation of a culture, then this is utterly mistaken. One cannot make sense of American modernity - and how it diverges from European modernity - without understanding its history, in particular that it was a settler society, without any prior experience of feudalism. If Europe and the United States differ because of their diverse pasts, even though they palpably share a great deal in terms of history, culture and race, then how much more true it will be of countries like China and India, whose civilisational roots - from religion and ethnicity to history and geo-location - are completely different to those of the west. The main historical form of intimacy with the west, in the case of India, was colonialism, which for China was only a marginal experience. China and India, of course, will take on board a great deal from the west in their modernisation. But that can only be part of the picture. They will also draw from their own history and culture. The outcome in each case will be a complex hybrid, its character varying from country to country. In future, international discourse - the word "international" is now invariably shorthand for the west - will no longer be overwhelmingly western. As these societies grow in economic strength and cultural self-confidence, so the global political and intellectual language will change. That language, involving concepts like democracy, civil society, freedom, a free press and an independent judiciary, is now almost exclusively western. But it will not always be the case. So which Chinese and Indian concepts might make the transition from national to global discourse and debate? In time, one would guess many, some positive, some regressive - just as has been the case with western values. But, for two reasons, it is still very difficult to predict what they might be. Firstly, because China is ruled by a communist party, the debate about it has been overwhelmingly conducted in terms of politics rather than culture: a profoundly rich and complex culture has been reduced to the colour of its government. Secondly, the relative backwardness of these societies has hitherto deprived them of self-confidence in the face of western hegemony. Their indigenous traditions and ideas tend to be viewed, even from within, as symptoms of backwardness and therefore as essentially parochial rather than cosmopolitan. That will change as these societies become increasingly self-confident. As a result, the west will be forced to engage with these societies and their cultures in a very different kind of way. There will be global competition between the different claims for universality. The cultural traffic will no longer be one-way. The pastoral concept of the Chinese state, for example, its obligation to take care of the people, that dates back to the responsibilities of the emperor, and is also related to the concept of the extended family, is likely to become an increasingly familiar idea. There is the Chinese concept of min jian, not easily translatable - either linguistically or culturally - but which might be described in shorthand as the expression of Chinese tradition, from superstition to folklore, in everyday life, which remains a potent force in all Chinese societies to this day. More obviously, the very different notions of the family in Indian and Chinese culture are likely to become globally familiar; indeed, in a limited way, they already are. The contrast between China and the United States could hardly be more striking. The former dates back thousands of years, the latter not much more than 200; the former is a product of an ancient civilisation, the latter an invented nation whose citizens bear allegiance to a political document, the constitution. It is little wonder that Americans constantly need to reinvent themselves: the Chinese, unsurprisingly, have no such problem, they know exactly who they are. The profound cultural differences are already being played out in a cinema near you: Hollywood versus the new breed of popular Chinese films. This is just a taster for the future, the beginning of what will later come to dominate the 21st century. American - and western values - will find themselves contested like never before. http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1406484,00.html
  3. There is a strange phenomenon. Britain is getting older. In fact, the population is older now than it has been for over a century. Yet at the same time our culture has never been more adolescent. Young people may be a dwindling minority, but they exercise an extraordinarily powerful influence on the cultural stage, from television and newspapers to film and art. The turning point, of course, was the 1960s. Until then, young people were largely ignored in a culture that was determinedly and stiflingly middle aged. A generation, who were brought up in very different conditions from those of their parents, rebelled in a way that remains unprecedented in western society. It is not difficult to explain - or understand - the 60s. The young were a product of the long postwar boom, not war and unemployment, and the baby boom lent them exceptional demographic weight. What is far more difficult to comprehend is why our culture, in the decades since, has become progressively more infantile. It is as if the 60s gave birth to a new dynamic, which made young people the dominant and permanent subjects of our culture. It started with the rebirth of pop music as a youth genre, but the concerns and attitudes of the young generation have since permeated areas that were never self-avowedly adolescent. One only has to think of Britart, for example, whose motif has been the desire to shock, or film, whose preoccupation with violence as spectacle is driven by the appetite of the young, to see how powerful these adolescent values have become. It is not that they are simply negative or offer nothing: on the contrary, there is much to be admired in their energy, scepticism and commitment to innovation. But they are also characterised by transience and shallowness, a desire to shock for shock's sake, and a belief that only the present is of value. A culture that succumbs to adolescence is a culture that is drained of meaning and experience, not to mention history and profundity. Nor is this obeisance to adolescence simply a characteristic of the arts. On the contrary, it shapes the character of much mainstream culture. Take newspapers, for example. The broadsheets, as we used to describe them, have become increasingly concerned with, and expressive of, the concerns of a younger audience: the growth of "personal experience" and lifestyle columns, the growing preoccupation with the personal rather than the political, the retreat from the serious. This is reflected in the falling age of journalists: there is less room, and declining respect for, figures of authority and expertise. The currency of knowledge and experience is steadily depreciating. The same adolescent tendency can be seen in television - with brass knobs on. A major moment in this process was the Big Breakfast, which brought adolescence, nay infantilism, to what had been a rather conventional television genre, namely breakfast time. The Big Breakfast was witty and irreverent. It was also devoid of any substance, childish with not a child in sight, the ultimate in inanity. It signalled the march of infantilism into the citadels of mainstream television. Its icon, Chris Evans, the television face of the new infantilism - which was soon to be joined at the hip to a growing addiction with celebrity - has since been devoured by the process that he helped create, but adolescent television has since come to dominate viewing figures, schedules and budgets. Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! are testament to its hegemony in the popular consciousness. The tabloids feed off these programmes, their agenda driven by adolescent television. And, as in newspapers, the average age of television controllers, editors, directors and producers keeps falling, with grey hairs less and less in evidence at a time when they are becoming evermore visible in society at large. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1366267,00.html
  4. The spectacle of a Labour prime minister becoming the water-carrier, mouthpiece, bed-fellow and intimate of the most rightwing president of the United States in the last half-century is hard to believe: indeed, five years ago it would have been unbelievable. Harold Wilson, to his great credit, resisted the deployment of British troops in Vietnam during the height of the cold war when the west was the west and the enemy was manifest. Blair has kept in step with the United States in a quite different context, namely the unilateralist turn in American foreign policy and the rupture of the west as we know it. Even more bizarrely, he is still in situ; worse, there has been no major challenge to his position from within his own party. Of course, the idea of Blair exploring the outer limits of his Labour belonging - and beyond - is hardly new. It has been his stock-in-trade ever since his election as Labour leader. "Think the unthinkable" was the message - though it never amounted to more than entertaining what previously would have been regarded as too rightwing. Neoliberalism became the new commonsense, privatisation was embraced with ardour, the notion of equality banished from the lexicon. This is all familiar territory. Yet we need to be reminded of it because, by any pre-97 yardstick, it is extraordinary. Apart from a very limited attachment to the state, this prime minister, by that old yardstick, does not belong to the left; he lies to the right of every Tory prime minister since the war bar, of course, his political lodestar, Mrs Thatcher. Yet notwithstanding all this, his position has never come under the vaguest threat from within his own party. Any previous Labour leader would have found himself isolated, beleaguered and probably banished. But not Tony Blair. Why? In 1994 the party turned to him, an outsider, an alien even, because it was desperate after 15 years in the wilderness. And it remains grateful for the fact that he has given the party two thumping election victories. But electoral gratitude is not the main factor. The underlying reason is that there is no serious, ideologically based opposition to Blair within the party. The left - in the broadest sense (most certainly including the likes of Roy Hattersley and Denis Healey) - has disintegrated. There is Gordon Brown, of course, but it has always been monstrously difficult to tell him and Blair politically apart: hence a conflict invariably described in terms of personalities. The reason for the collapse of the left could not be clearer - or more fundamental. Its parameters, its confidence, its mode of organisation, its narrative, its very being, depended on the existence of the labour movement. And it is the latter that has effectively disappeared. The trade unions are a shrunken and wizened version of what they were, pushed to the perimeters of political life, while the party itself has, in its New Labour guise, been reconstituted, such that in style, funding and apparat, it looks much like what a modernised Tory party might be. Labour has been shorn of its roots and meaning. The collapse of the labour movement is not just a British phenomenon, but one shared with much of Europe. There are two underlying reasons for its demise. The first is the loss of agency, the decline of the industrial working class and its consequent erosion as a meaningful and effective political force. It was the working class - in terms of workplace, community, unions and party - that invented and gave expression to the labour movement. The second reason is the collapse of communism. Of course, the mainstream labour movement in this country never subscribed to its tenets, but both the social democratic and communist traditions shared, in different ways, the vision of a better society based on collectivist principles. It is that vision that was buried with the interment of communism. For over a century, European politics was defined by the struggle between capitalism and socialism: suddenly, capitalism became the only show in town, both in Europe and globally. The result was the rapid deconstruction of the left such that it now exists as but a rump of its former self - not just in Britain, or Europe, but everywhere. There is also a specifically European dimension. Europe was the intellectual and political birthplace of socialism. It was the home of the modern labour movement. And it was from Europe that the idea was exported - to the US, Russia, China, Latin America and around the globe. The worldwide socialist project was a product of the expansiveness and self-confidence of Europe. But the latter has turned into the opposite. Europe itself is a declining continent, squeezed between the overweening power and influence of the US and the irresistible rise of east Asia. The latter, in their different ways, embrace very distinct values, cultures, histories and institutions from those of Europe. The global contraction of European influence has served to accelerate and deepen the crisis and confusion of the left. And yet, when all is said and done, there is something profoundly paradoxical about this story. The left may have been marginalised - but the imperatives that gave rise to it and which it sought to address are now more glaring and insistent than at any time since the second world war. Inequality, at both a global and national level, has been steadily increasing, an integral product of the neoliberal model of globalisation that has dominated the world order over the last quarter-century. And the consequences of this inequality have played a crucial role in helping to shape the present phase of global politics, namely Arab Muslim grievance, terrorism and American unilateralism. And then there is the other imperative - imperialism. It is ironic that a term, a concept, nay a phenomenon, so deeply associated with the left, should have returned with such a vengeance - in its most naked form since the collapse of the European empires - so soon after the demise of the left and when so many New Labour-style witchdoctors were declaring the old to be dead and history to be bunk. Welcome to empire and colonialism: history is back in town. And to think of those left-inclined writers, whose names we are familiar with, that rushed to bury the last remnants of their own history, by declaring the US to be a force for good in the world, the saviour of the developing world. In their rush to dance on the grave of the left they have dug their hole on manifestly the wrong side of history. The left, as history knew it, will not be reborn. But one can be sure that its concerns will find expression in new forms, albeit in a world where Europe counts for far less and ethnicity for far more. It is not, after all, as if the world has somehow got better since 1989 - or 1997, for that matter. On the contrary, a new kind of barbarism is now afoot in the world and one fears the consequences. The optimism of the postwar decades seems like a bygone age. If the left is dead, the concerns that gave rise to it are as powerful and urgent as ever. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1355532,00.html
  5. Martin Jacques is the former editor of Marxism Today and is currently a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics Asia Research Centre.
  6. It has become almost an article of faith in our society that change is synonymous with progress. The present government has preached this message more than most, while it is a philosophy that most people seem to live by. It is nonsense, of course. Change has never always been good. And recent surveys indicating that we are less happy than we used to be suggest a profound malaise at the heart of western society and modern notions of progress. The findings are not surprising. The very idea of what it means to be human - and the necessary conditions for human qualities to thrive - are being eroded. The reason we no longer feel as happy as we once did is that the intimacy on which our sense of well-being rests - a product of our closest, most intimate relationships, above all in the family - is in decline. In this context, three trends are profoundly changing the nature of our society. First, the rise of individualism, initially evident in the 1960s, has made self the dominant interest, the universal reference point and one's own needs as the ultimate justification of everything. We live in the age of selfishness. Second, there has been the relentless spread of the market into every part of society. The marketisation of everything has made society, and each of us, more competitive. The logic of the market has now become universal, the ideology not just of neoliberals, but of us all, the criterion we use not just about our job or when shopping, but about our innermost selves, and our most intimate relationships. The prophets who announced the market revolution saw it in contestation with the state: in fact, it proved far more insidious than that, eroding the very notion of what it means to be human. The credo of self, inextricably entwined with the gospel of the market, has hijacked the fabric of our lives. We live in an ego-market society. Third, there is the rise of communication technologies, notably mobile phones and the internet, which are contracting our private space, erasing our personal time and accelerating the pace of life. Of course, we remain deeply social animals. We enjoy many more relationships than we used to: cafe culture has become the symbol of our modern conviviality. But quantity does not mean quality. Our relationships may be more cosmopolitan but they are increasingly transient and ephemeral. Our social world has come to mirror and mimic the rhythms and characteristics of the market, contractual in nature. Meanwhile, the family - the site of virtually the only life-long relationships we enjoy - has become an ever-weaker institution: extended families are increasingly marginal, nuclear families are getting smaller and more short-lived, almost half of all marriages end in divorce, and most parents spend less time with their pre-school children. The central site of intimacy is the family - as expressed in the relationship between partners, and between parents and children. Intimacy is a function of time and permanence. It rests on mutuality and unconditionality. It is rooted in trust. As such, it is the antithesis of the values engendered by the market. Yet even our most intimate relationships are being corroded by the new dominant values. There is an increasingly powerful tendency to judge love and sex by the criteria of consumer society - in other words, novelty, variety and disposability. Serial monogamy is now our way of life. Sex has been accorded a status, as measured by the incidence of articles in newspapers, not to mention the avalanche of online porn, that elevates it above all other considerations. Unsurprisingly, love - which belongs in the realm of the soul and spirit rather than the body - becomes more elusive. It is the deterioration in the parent-child relationship, though, that should detain us most. This, after all, is the cradle of all else, where we learn our sense of security, our identity and emotions, our ability to love and care, to speak and listen, to be human. The parent-child, especially the mother-child, relationship stands in the sharpest contrast of all to the laws of the market. It is utterly unequal, and yet there is no expectation that the sacrifice entails or requires reciprocation. On the contrary, the only way a child can reciprocate is through the love they give, and the sacrifice they make, for their own children. But this most precious of all human relationships is being amended and undermined. As women have been drawn into the labour market on the same scale as men, they are now subject to growing time-scarcity, with profound consequences for the family, and especially children. The birth rate has fallen to historic new lows. That most fundamental of human functions, reproduction, is beleaguered by the values of the ego-market society. Couples are increasingly reluctant to make the inevitable "sacrifices" - cut in income, loss of time, greater pressure - that parenthood involves. Parents are now spending less time with their babies and toddlers. The effects are already evident in schools. In a study published by the government's Basic Skills Agency last year, teachers claim that half of all children now start school unable to speak audibly and be understood by others, to respond to simple instructions, recognise their own names or even count to five. In order to attend to our own needs, our children are neglected, our time substituted by paying for that of others, videos and computer games deployed as a means of distraction. And the problem applies across the class spectrum. So-called "money-rich, time-scarce" professionals are one of the most culpable groups. Time is the most important gift a parent can give a child, and time is what we are less and less prepared to forgo. It is impossible to predict the precise consequences of this, but a growing loss of intimacy and a decline in emotional intelligence, not to mention a cornucopia of behavioural problems, are inevitable. Judging by this week's survey of the growing emotional problems of teenagers, they are already apparent. Such changes, moreover, are permanent and irrecoverable. A generation grows up knowing no different, bequeathing the same emotional assumptions to its offspring. But it is not only in the context of the changing texture of human relationships that intimacy is in decline. We are also becoming less and less intimate with the human condition itself. The conventional wisdom is that the media has made us a more thoughtful and knowledgeable society. The problem is that what we learn from the media is less and less mediated by personal experience, by settled communities that provide us with the yardstick of reality, based on the accumulated knowledge of people whom we know and trust. Indeed, society has moved in precisely the opposite direction, towards an increasingly adolescent culture which denigrates age and experience. In the growing absence of real-life experience we have become prey to what can only be described as a voyeuristic relationship with the most fundamental experiences. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1307401,00.html
  7. Tomorrow will be the tenth anniversary of the day Tony Blair became Labour leader. The Labour party was in a state of desperation. It had just lost John Smith, two years after its defeat in an election that it had half-expected to win. By 1994, Labour had been out of office for 15 years, during which time Margaret Thatcher had changed the face of Britain. The depth of its crisis was why the party was prepared to turn to an outsider like Tony Blair. He was not of the Labour tradition and never had been: he wore his relationship with the party lightly. The most formative influence on him was not Labour, but Thatcherism. Shortly after his election he "renamed" the Labour party New Labour: this was not a rebranding exercise, but a deliberate effort to distance the party from the Labour tradition. It soon became evident that New Labour was a very different animal from the Labour party. From the outset, Blair sought to demonstrate his strength as a leader by attacking the left - an easy target by then. In contrast, New Labour wore the clothes of Thatcherism effortlessly. There were continuities with the past - New Labour remains more committed to the state and public provision - but it operates on similar ground to Thatcherism, uses the same parameters and takes the the neo-liberal revolution for granted. Radical hyperbole may have been integral to New Labour. But that is all it was: hyperbole. While Thatcherism was an original project, New Labour was essentially adaptive and imitative. At its core was a deep pessimism: there was no alternative to Thatcherism, except a milder version of the same. This was obvious when it was declared, after the 1997 election, that the main objective was to secure a second term: staying in office was the summit of New Labour's ambition. The lack of any project to transform society explains the intellectual banality of New Labour. Again the contrast with Thatcherism could hardly be more striking. A radical vision requires big ideas that can inform and shape a bold strategy. Bereft of a project, New Labour did not need any big ideas: Blair made it clear from the outset that he didn't believe in ideology. Instead, New Labour's notion of ideas was as window-dressing rather than as part of a strategic perspective. It was Thatcherism's huge political ambition that informed and drove its thinktanks: in contrast, New Labour's thinktanks have been more like catherine wheels, transient, insubstantial and largely ineffectual. With a hole at its centre, spin and control have assumed enormous importance for New Labour. The advisers that Blair placed throughout Whitehall were not policy experts but spin-doctors: this was not 1945 but 1984. We now live in a world of make-believe. New Labour has, more than any other government, been responsible for dissembling and dishonouring the notion of the truth, corroding the quality of our public life and contributing to the growing cynicism towards politics. The contrast with Thatcherism is again striking. If you want to change the world, you must change the way people think: Thatcher understood this brilliantly. She transformed Britain by arguing openly and combatively, taking on the conventional wisdom, transforming the ideas in our heads. To New Labour, this way of doing politics is an anathema. Even the defence of the public sector - the most obvious line of continuity between New Labour and the Labour party - has been articulated in the most limited way possible. Though large and welcome sums of public money have been invested in the public services in the second term, Blair has always emphasised that they were dependent upon "reform", where reform, used interchangeably with "modernisation", is synonymous with privatisation. Indeed, New Labour has presided over a scale of privatisation of the public services that Thatcher could not politically have attempted. New Labour never argues any intrinsic case for provision being public rather than private, for the importance of the public realm: the argument is always reduced to one of efficiency, efficacy and method. Nothing more eloquently sums up the extent of its ideological retreat. In the same vein, even the laudable attempts to help the poorer sections of the population, emanating largely from Gordon Brown, have never been argued in terms of the merits of redistribution, but rather disguised in a welter of administrative measures. There is, of course, one exception to much of the foregoing: Iraq. On this Blair abandoned his normal timid ity and caution, ignored the focus groups, took on his opponents and argued his case. It is the only occasion that Blair has behaved like Thatcher as a political leader. And she would, of course, have taken exactly the same position. Indeed, Iraq is a reminder of how rightwing Blair is: the yearning to be a wartime leader, the echoes of our imperial past, the fawning attitude towards the United States. His only resort to political boldness, though, could not have been a bigger miscalculation: Iraq will stand as his epitaph. But what will become of New Labour? Sooner or later, the electoral tide will turn: perhaps it already has. And New Labour could well face electoral oblivion just as the Tories have. Blair and Thatcher both led their parties away from their traditions and their historical moorings. When Thatcherism became unpopular, the party had nowhere to go and it has paid a huge political price as a consequence. The same fate may well befall the Labour party. Its route back to traditional Labourism is now surely blocked, its membership is withering and its links with the trade unions fraying. Sooner or later, the electoral wilderness beckons, perhaps for a very long time. The price of New Labour - and Blair's leadership - could be very high indeed. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1264791,00.html
  8. The west is the traditional home of democracy. The fact that western countries share various, usually unspoken characteristics, however, is often ignored. They were the first to industrialise. They colonised a majority of the world, invariably denying their colonies democracy. They were overwhelmingly ethnically homogeneous. Developing countries, for the most part, have faced the opposite circumstances: takeoff in the context of an economically dominant west; the absence, in the context of colonial rule, of indigenous democratic soil; and far greater ethnic diversity. The west remains oblivious to the profound difficulties presented by ethnic diversity. As Amy Chua points out in World on Fire, democracy is far from a sufficient condition for benign governance in the kind of multiracial societies that are common in Africa and Asia. Democracy, the politics of the majority, allows the majority ethnic group to govern, potentially without constraint. Multi-ethnic societies, like Malaysia or Nigeria, require, for their stability, a racial consensus: democracy, resting on majorities and minorities, is deaf to this problem. Moreover, democracy works very differently in different cultures. In Japan, the Liberal Democrats have formed every government, apart from a brief interruption, since democracy was introduced more than 50 years ago. The political arguments that count take place between unelected factions of the governing party rather than between elected parties. The Japanese model of democracy - or the Korean or Taiwanese - may have the same trappings as western democracy, but there the similarities largely end. If it is mistaken to regard western democracy as a universal abstraction that is equally applicable across the world, it is also wrong to see it as frozen and unchanging. Indeed, there are grounds for believing that western democracy, as we have known it, is in decline. The symptoms have been well-rehearsed: the decline of parties, the fall in turnout, a growing disregard for politicians, the displacement of politics from the centre-stage of society. These trends have beenobservable more or less everywhere for at least 15 years. The underlying reasons are even more disturbing than the symptoms. The emergence of mass suffrage and modern party politics coincided with the rise of the labour movement, which drove the extension of the vote and obliged political parties to engage in popular mobilisation. The rise of the modern labour movement, moreover, provided societies with real choices: instead of the logic of the market, it offered a different philosophy and a different kind of society. The decline of traditional social-democratic parties, as illustrated by New Labour, has meant the erosion of choice, at least in any profound sense of the term. The result is that voting has often become less meaningful. Politics has moved on to singular ground: that of the market. The influence of the market is manifest in multiple ways. The funding of parties now moves solely to its rhythm: big business and the rich are as important to New Labour as they are to the Conservatives. The same interests fund, and therefore influence, the parties. Big money calls the tune. Nowhere is this truer than in American politics, which has become a plutocracy mediated by democracy, rather than the reverse. As the media has displaced traditional forms of discourse and mobilisation, ownership of the media has become increasingly important in the determination of political choices and electoral results. The most dangerous example is in Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi's ownership of the bulk of the private media has enabled him to transform Italian democracy into something verging on a mediaocracy, leaving politics and the state besieged by his immense personal power and wealth. Perhaps these developments point to a deeper problem incipient in western democracies. Far from the free market and democracy enjoying the kind of harmonious relationship beloved of western propaganda, democracy grew in fact as a constraint on the market, holding it at bay and enabling a pluralism of values and imperatives. What happens when this healthy tension becomes a dangerous imbalance, in which the market is dominant and consumerism is established as the overriding ethos of society, permeating politics just as it has invaded every other nook and cranny of society? Democracy comes under siege. In Italy it is already gasping for breath. In the US it is deeply and increasingly flawed. Democracy is neither a platitude nor an eternal verity - either for the world or for the west. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1244327,00.html
  9. However implausibly, President Bush continues to reiterate his commitment to the early introduction of democracy in Iraq. Indeed, the idea of democratic reform in the Arab world has been central to the Anglo-American position on Iraq. There should be nothing surprising in that. Democracy has become the universal calling card of the west, the mantra that is chanted at every country that falls short (when politically convenient, of course), the ubiquitous solution to the problems of countries that are not democratic. The boast about democracy is largely a product of the last half-century, following the defeat of fascism. Before that, a large slice of Europe remained mired in dictatorship, often of an extremely brutal and distasteful kind. The idea of democracy as a western virtue was blooded during the cold-war struggle against communism, though its use remained highly selective: those many dictatorships that sided with the west were happily awarded membership of the "free world"; "freedom" took precedence over democracy, regimes as inimical to democracy as apartheid South Africa, Diem's South Vietnam and Franco's Spain were welcomed into the fold. Following the collapse of communism, however, "free markets and democracy" became for the first time - at least in principle - the universal prescription for each and every country. Democracy is viewed by the west in a strangely ahistorical way. It is seen as eternal and unchanging, neither historically nor culturally specific, but a kind of universal truth. But, of course, nothing is eternal. The western model of democracy, like everything else, is a distinct phase in history, which depends upon certain conditions for its existence. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it should not be assumed that it is of universal application, nor that it will always exist. Russia is a classic test of the western shibboleth. For the west, the simple answer to Russia's ills after the collapse of communism was a combination of the free market and democracy. The free market never happened; worse, the attempt to engineer it under Yeltsin produced, with western blessing, the theft of Russia's most valuable natural resources by its leader's cronies. The country is paying a terrible price for following western advice. Meanwhile, democracy has been shaped and constrained by the personal power of Putin, a reminder of the country's long, despotic past. The lessons? History and culture leave an indelible imprint on the nature of any democracy; the market similarly. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1244327,00.html
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