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Saturday, November 18, 2006 

When is a disaster not a disaster?

It's nice to be blamed for the potential downfall of democracy as we know it every once in a while. There has to be a great deal of irony involved when that blame comes from err, the outgoing chief strategy adviser of the Blair government, aka one of the legion of spin doctors and PR men that Labour has increasingly come to rely on over their 9 years in power, but it still leaves you with a warm, glowing feeling, a little like the point of orgasm before the self-loathing sets in.

Matthew Taylor then, leaving his job and speaking strictly as a "citizen" - not a government spokesman, said:
"What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It's basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.

As opposed to PR men employed by Labour, who, generally speaking, see their job as every day exposing how despicable, traitorous and vain those opposed to their political agenda are.

As it happens, Matthew Taylor may have something of a point. There's plenty of blogs out there that do centre entirely on hate; but they're generally not about domestic politics, instead focusing on what they see as more important: proving that Islam is a "wicked, vicious faith" and that the mainstream media such as the BBC are hopelessly biased. Little Green Soccerballs, Jihad Watch, Biased BBC and EU Referendum instantly come to mind. By contrast, most of the domestic politics bloggers are far more magnanimous and interested in triggering debate and discussion, rather than simply voicing their anger at whatever it is the government/opposition are doing. They might be based more for their own political groupings, or identities, but they're not the anti-establishment "libertarians" he paints them as either. Taylor also risks giving bloggers too much credit; while Guido and Iain Dale may be good bloggers, they are also prone to puffing themselves. Those who rely on, or indeed, even visit blogs, are far fewer than those who still read or visit the websites of the "dead tree press." We have far less power than some of us believe, or others would like to believe.

Taylor's comments do however completely ignore what the current situation in British politics is. While he was mainly talking about the power of the internet to drive politics, his only mentioning of the mainstream media was to suggest that it's all the same, all desperately trying to keep the population in a "perpetual state of self-righteous rage" as he called it, whether it's left or right. This is clearly nonsense. Can he honestly claim that the Guardian, which while critical of Labour, delivers its critiques in calm, careful and nuanced prose, is trying to fulfill the exact same role as that of the Sun and the Express? The Financial Times and Times itself don't occupy that template either. He also ignores Labour's own role in stirring this state of rage. Their response to the 24-hour news culture has been to try to cope with passing frenzies and moral panics by legislating and ordering ministers and MPs to obey the agreed upon line which 10 Downing Street has developed. The centralising of comment, the almost complete lack of discussion both in the parliamentary Labour party and within the cabinet, and Blair's reliance on challenging his party's own beliefs for the benefit of plaudits from those who have always hated Labour have all contributed to the current malaise both at grassroots level and among the electorate in general.

Nowhere in his keynote address for e-Democracy '06 does Taylor even mention the two things that have done the most to disenchant the public with politicians in recent years: the Iraq war and the loans for peerages scandal. It's little wonder that the average person is cynical about politicians when they know that not a single politician has resigned over the Iraq war since its beginning. Greg Dyke, Gavyn Davies, Andrew Gilligan and Piers "Morgan" Moron all did the decent thing for reasons related to Iraq, but as for the politicians who led us into an illegal war, they're all still there, or have moved for different reasons entirely. Instead of facing up to the fact that they led the country into a war on the basis that Iraq had weapons which it turned out didn't exist, they've spent the last three years doing everything to save their own hides. We have not had a proper apology from Blair, Straw or Hoon. Sure, they've made mealy-mouthed self-serving half-hearted murmurings that suggest they may regret some of the things that have happened, but they'll still defend to the death their right to do it all over again.

As for loans for peerages, the way that Downing Street has tried to portray the police as abusing their power as they've investigated the background to Lord Levy's glad-handing, when they've supported the police to the hilt in everything they've done elsewhere just sums up the way that some of our elected representatives only look out for themselves. It's right that compared to some countries, even in Europe, mainstream national politics here is remarkably free of corruption, so when a scandal such as this emerges, it's all the more potent. Labour and the Tories failed to have recognise this until it was too late. This isn't even to mention the sexual exploits of John Prescott and his refusal to resign, even when all around the country numerous people knew that if they had taken advantage of secretarial services like he had, they would be out of their job instantly once discovered.

Two examples of the above have occurred in the news yesterday/today. Margaret Hodge, speaking at a cosy Fabian shindig, said that "[Iraq was Blair's] big mistake in foreign affairs" and also suggested he could be guilty of "moral imperialism." No shit sherlock type comments, right? Welcome to years ago, etc. The way that the media has reported them is completely out of all proportion to their obviousness, but it's only like that because of how the Blair regime has ruthlessly crushed almost all independent thinking and criticisms of the Dear Leader by the party's own MPs', at least outside of designated "debates" anyway. The media also does have a role in this, it's true, as they try to make as much as possible out of any "rift" or "split", but if No 10 hadn't set up the modern day equivalent of the NKVD then the media wouldn't have done either.

The other example is Blair's interview with David Frost for al-Jazeera English's launch. When questioned over whether he thought the violence in Iraq since 2003 had been a disaster, Blair said "It has." The media inevitably pounced and soon the headlines were full of "IRAQ WAR DISASTER SAYS BLAIR", when that wasn't quite what he said. Downing Street has stated it was just Blair being loose with his language, which is probably true, for the simple reason that Blair would never be stupid enough to call it a disaster, even though that's it exactly what it is. The level of delusion evidenced from his following remarks though is all too clear:

"It's not difficult because of some accident in planning.

"It's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al-Qaeda with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."

As Curious Hamster notes, this is the new line, replacing the old one that things weren't as bad as the media were painting them. This is Blair refusing to take responsibility for the war he started and that the Pentagon failed to plan for, for Iraq turning out to be just one tragedy after another. He instead puts the blame on the Sunnis who were always going to be angered by the removal of Saddam, but who could have been placated by a quick reconciliation process. Instead the interim American puppet administration purged the Ba'athists before realising their mistake. It should also have been obvious that the Americans setting up shop in Iraq was always going to lure jihadis into the country, especially in the vacuum of power which emerged after Saddam was overthrown. That this wasn't seemingly planned for, despite them being warned both by the intelligence services and the anti-war movement is incredible. The other main mistake was disbanding the Iraqi army, leaving hundreds of thousands with no income, with weapons training and with their own guns. Blair's hubris that there were no planning mistakes is stunning - the occupation has been one long fuck-up from beginning to the end - but it's all the fault of al-Qaida and those who want to stifle democracy, see?

The above is the problem with today's politicians, or at least with the current incarnation of New Labour. We want them to take responsibility for their actions. We want them to admit to their mistakes. We want them to be human. Blair's government's arrogance has been in believing that they can get away with almost anything, and then they're surprised and hurt when the public doesn't like them, trust them or want to get involved. They've set up listening exercises only to ignore the conclusions they've come to. They pretend to hear what you're saying, but in actuality they're just waiting for their turn to talk. It's gone on too long now for this to be fixed by Blair and his acolytes; their time is over. If Brown is to succeed, he has to recognise the previous failings. That he shows little signs of doing so thus far could well be the death knell for New Labour as a whole.

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