Ideology and ethics of Tony Blair
Prime Minister Tony Blair will be remembered for foreign wars and his doctrines of military intervention. In January 2007 he even insisted that his successors should fight them too. Yet they played no role in his first election campaign, and the other ideologies of that early period remained in place, throughout his time in office...
the underlying political model of Blairism was, and is, the liberal democratic nation state
the global crusade for liberal democracy existed as a doctrine long before Tony Blair took office. He adopted it as a personal crusade during the Kosovo war, and continued in Afghanistan, and with the much larger invasion and occupation of Iraq.
neoliberalism became Britain's dominant social (and moral) philosophy: it is not just a new name for 'capitalism'.
society, and political culture, were transformed by the abandonment of equality as a political ideal and by acceptance of a permanent, almost hereditary, underclass. The core electorate ("Middle Britain") came to dominate politics, excluding the non-voting, disadvantaged underclass from political life.
the Mazzinian nationalism of Blair's first term - "our nation is the best nation" - became less prominent as his geopolitical ambitions expanded.
The only moral justification for a democracy is that it allows the citizens to elect a good government. If the citizens fail to do that, then democracy loses any moral legitimacy it had. In electing Tony Blair with a landslide majority, the British electorate elected an evil government. In June 2001, they did that for a second time, and in May 2005, for a third time. Neither the Blair government, nor the democracy that produced it, are legitimate. The mere fact that an evil or unjust government was democratically elected, confers no existence rights on that government.
This article explains what Tony Blair and his government believed in, and the society they sought in Britain (and in other countries). It also says why they are wrong. The responsibility for that is not limited to Tony Blair himself, or to the members of his government. They implemented their ideology, and they should ultimately face some form of tribunal for that. Active members of the Labour party should also face judicial process: without them, Blair would have won no elections. But the primary moral guilt rests with 'the British people' themselves. The people, meaning those who voted for Blair (a minority of the total population), and 'the people' meaning the larger group, who acquiesced for years in a government which they should have resisted.
the underlying political model
Blair, like his Conservative predecessors, implemented a shared general vision of state and society - the liberal market-democratic nation state. Blairism, if there is such a thing, operates inside this older framework of nationalism and liberalism.
It is not simply a British issue: it is a view of the world, the whole world. And especially of Europe: Blair restated in October 2000 the ideal of a 'Europe of the Nation States'...
Europe is a Europe of free, independent sovereign nations who chose to pool sovereignty in pursuit of their own interests and the common good, achieving more together than we can achieve alone...
Blair calls for Euro 'superpower', October 7, 2000
The headline is misleading, since Blair opposes a European superstate. He said that again, a few days before the post-Iraq G8 summit (Evian).
...we want a union of nations, not a federal superstate, and that vision is shared by the majority of countries and people in Europe. A European superstate would neither have the efficacy nor the legitimacy to meet the global challenge.
Blair's rallying cry: no Little England, no Fortress Europe, May 31, 2003
The most important political feature of the nation state is that secession is extremely difficult. In a world of nation states, the formation of new states is almost impossible. Most people spend their lives in a political community with fixed values - simply because they were born there. This may be good for national tradition, but it is not good for innovation. Radical and extreme change, beyond the national values, is by definition impossible.
The nature of liberal societies makes this problem worse. Central to the European liberal tradition is acceptance of the result of process: in liberal philosophy, process justifies outcome. Liberalism is strongly anti-utopian, against ideal societies, in fact against ideals. In modern liberal societies, market forces and the democratic political process determine the form of society. If the market leads to income inequality, and the freely elected government decides not to redistribute incomes, then for liberalism that is the end of the matter. Liberal political and social philosophy therefore passively accepts existing liberal society, with all its wrongs.
Together, liberalism and the nation state are a recipe for a non-innovative society, in a non-innovative state. Think of what would be necessary, to abolish private ownership of cars in Britain, and confiscate the existing stock. Market forces will not produce such a car-free Britain, the political process will not produce it either, and the army would suppress any attempt to set up an autonomous car-free territory. The innovation is simply too much for the system. Liberal market democracy preserves the society that it created - for ever, apparently.
It is this conservatism which determines the ethics of secession in the liberal-democratic nation states. Nevertheless, innovation is an intrinsic good - certainly a greater good than democracy. There is no democratic right to conservatism. When a democratic nation suppresses innovation, that justifies innovative secession. In maintaining the territorial integrity of the nation state against such secession, all national leaders do wrong - even if no secession has yet been attempted.
crusade for global liberal democracy
The Kosovo war was historically unique in its success: the NATO won a war against a medium-sized industrial nation, without a single battle casualty. That success brought no peace to Kosovo itself, but it encouraged those who think that 'the West' should impose its values on the rest of the world. In the aftermath of the attacks in New York and Washington, Tony Blair followed President George Bush in asserting that these values themselves were under attack. In 2001 he proposed entirely new western interventions, in Africa for instance, and in 2004 he proposed a European intervention force targeted at Africa. It might appear in this climate, that Samuel Huntington was right, and that the 'West' is a unified civilisation crusading for its own values. In reality they are not 'western' values as such (I oppose them, but I am equally western). They are politically specific rather than culturally specific: the values of liberal market democracy.
Inevitably, in this climate, colonialism and imperialism are being ideologically reassessed. After de-colonisation in the 1950's, open praise of colonialism disappeared, for at least a generation. Today however, a de facto recolonisation of Africa (and parts of Asia) is a serious option for western foreign policy, as evident in occupied Iraq. There was a strong interventionist lobby even before the September 11 attacks, and Tony Blair already went further than other western leaders. He authorised a British intervention in Sierra Leone, and suggested intervention in the Congo, and later in Sudan. In 2002, former Blair advisor Robert Cooper advocated a new liberal imperialism. Cooper - who later wrote the proposed security doctrine for the EU - is part of a wider intellectual movement for a new imperialism, particularly in Britain and the United States. In Britain that includes an attempt to rehabilitate the British Empire, led by the historian Niall Ferguson, who wrote in a much-quoted article:
Political globalisation is a fancy word for imperialism, imposing your values and institutions on others. However you may dress it up, whatever rhetoric you may use, it is not very different in practice to what Great Britain did in the 18th and 19th centuries. We already have precedents: the new imperialism is already in operation in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor. Essentially it is the imperialism that evolved in the 1920's when League of Nations mandates were the polite word for what were the post-Versailles treaty colonies.
Welcome the new imperialism, Niall Ferguson, October 31, 2001.
The 'democratising imperialism' would divide the world into western democracies and their protectorates. The protectorates would be governed as colonies: sometimes by appointed governors, sometimes by local pro-western elites. More important is what it does not include: no structural transfer of wealth to the protectorates, no full citizenship for their inhabitants, and above all no free movement to the new colonial motherland. The population of the protectorates would in effect be prisoners: living in poverty, governed from the West, but unable to travel there.
However...a Congo intervention would be comparable in scale to the US intervention in Vietnam, rather than to KFOR in Kosovo. Note these statistics: KFOR had over 40 000 troops in the first phase of the Kosovo occupation. Afghanistan and Iraq have more than 10 times the population of Kosovo, but the US and its allies were unable or unwilling to send 400 000 troops. West Africa has about 100 times the population of Kosovo. A general global recolonisation is not a short-term prospect, but there will more cruel military interventions, and perhaps more Iraq-scale wars. Blair never saw sovereignty, mandate or legality as relevant: he believed his wars to be just because he believed that the invading force was morally superior. Blair supported a declaration by the 2003 Progressive Governance conference, which authorised unlimited military intervention, although it was dropped from the final communique:
"Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect."
In other words, when he finds it appropriate, Blair simply claimed a moral entitlement to rule over a foreign population. There is no geographical limit to this 'democratising imperialism'.
Democratic crusaders don't just support democracy - they regard its superiority as a moral absolute. For Tony Blair, the superiority of democracy is self-evident, beyond any questioning or debate or reasoning. He believes that there is a moral entitlement to enforce democracy, that any such action is inherently good, and that his moral entitlement is also absolute. In an interview in May 2003, Blair said that he would justify the Iraq war directly to God, after his death. And so the crusade itself becomes absolute, beyond debate or dissent. After the Istanbul bombings in November 2003, he declared: "no holding back, no compromise, no hesitation in confronting this menace, in attacking it wherever and whenever we can and in defeating it utterly". In his logic, the opponents of his wars are morally worthless people.
The events themselves - the failures in Iraq - are therefore irrelevant to this 'faith-based conquest'. In April 2004 - with deteriorating security in Iraq and no evidence of the weapons he used to justify the invasion - he re-asserted his belief in the absolute moral necessity of the war and occupation. He again appealed to a form of divine justification, in a March 2006 interview.
a readiness to kill
The precondition for crusading military interventions is a readiness to kill, in support of your own values. The first air attack of the Iraq war was explicitly intended to kill Saddam Hussein: according to American military sources it did kill Ba'ath party leadership. The United States and Britain openly declared the Ba'ath party a target: in southern Iraq, British forces attacked local offices of the party. Later, as British troops secured control of urban areas, members of the party were arrested and interned. Iraqi TV was bombed several times, explicitly because of the content of its broadcasts, which were obviously pro-Saddam. In June 2003, a convoy of cars was attacked, and the occupants killed, simply because Saddam Hussein might have been travelling in it. All these actions are technically war crimes: soldiers are not supposed to target civilians, regardless of their politics, or what they write or broadcast. However they reflect the crusading logic of the war: a war of values is inevitably targeted against those with different values. Blair is a ruthless man, a necessity for crusading leaders. How many people in Britain would be ready to bomb a Labour Party office, or kill a pro-Blair journalist? A few IRA dissidents, perhaps, and they would be considered 'hard men' - pathological killers. But historically, the supporters of liberal democracy have been harder than the hardest IRA bombers. They believe, as Tony Blair obviously does, that their actions are unquestionably and absolutely right. They feel no guilt about killing, for instance, members of a clearly undemocratic party.
The Blair government has been unusually explicit about its readiness to kill its opponents: this is not the first time. During the Kosovo war, the house of Serbian President Milosevic was attacked, and a TV station in Belgrade. Minister Clare Short gave a cold-blooded argument for killing the journalists, and Blair himself advocated war to spread his values. (Short resigned in May 2003, not because she opposed the war in Iraq, but because she felt the occupying force should have a UN mandate).
At a heated press briefing at the Ministry of Defence, Clare Short, the international development secretary, said: 'This is a war, this is a serious conflict, untold horrors are being done. The propaganda machine is prolonging the war and it's a legitimate target.'
Serb TV station was legitimate target, says Blair, April 24, 1999
This is a just war, based not on any territorial ambitions but on values....No longer is our existence as states under threat. Now our actions are guided by a more subtle blend of mutual self interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish. In the end values and interests merge. If we can establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society then that is in our national interests too. The spread of our values makes us safer. As John Kennedy put it "Freedom is indivisible and when one man is enslaved who is free?"
Tony Blair in Chicago, April 22, 1999
Now, the idea that you can kill innocent people, simply in order to enforce your values, is extreme by western ethics standards. That does not mean it never happened - there were many religious wars where it did - but the dominant (liberal) tradition in western philosophy rejects 'crusades'. The reason for this philosophical suspicion is simple. If Tony Blair may legitimately kill any person X, Y, or Z in Belgrade or Freetown or Basra, to enforce his values, then why is it not legitimate for them to come to London, and kill Tony Blair for their values? Blair implicitly claimed, that he may kill Saddam because there is a moral case for that killing. And after complaints that the British Army had deliberately shot an 8-year-old child, Blair's response was to declare in Parliament that people should be proud of the British Army. But with those standards, how could Blair consistently argue, that his own assassination is wrong?
Assassinations breed assassinations, atrocities breed atrocities, crusades make holy wars. Once a crusade starts, those who are not prepared to kill for their values, will be conquered by those who are. The horror of a general bloodbath - such as the wars of religion in Europe - had a fundamental influence on the development of liberal philosophy. (The early-modern wars of religion were far greater in scale than the mediaeval Crusades). That is why liberalism emphasises procedure, process, and peaceful argument. That is why it is so suspicious of utopianism, and of high social ideals: they are not compatible with compromise and consensus.
But liberalism is itself a set of values, although it tries to pretend it is value-neutral. A liberal crusade is logically feasible - and that is now a clear trend in political thinking in the west. That trend will be greatly reinforced by the assumption that the West is at war anyway, even if the target is officially "international terrorism". Wars of conquest are inherent in any universal ideology, or universal religion. Nevertheless, when he was first elected, Tony Blair did not have a war-making image. In 1997 he could still act as a Prime Minister at peace (at least, forgetting Northern Ireland - and it usually is forgotten in assessments of British politics):
Mine is the first generation able to contemplate the possibility that we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war.
Tony Blair at the NATO-Russia Summit, May 27, 1997
But a few years later the image had completely changed. Blair was consciously seeking a Churchillian 'war leader' image, of resolute military action.
...70 percent of Serbia's military oil has gone; over half its usable aircraft have been destroyed; more than a fifth of the armoured units inside Kosovo are down; yesterday was the most successful allied day yet in hits on targets and artillery in Kosovo; and 40 percent of surface-to-air missiles have gone. There has been massive damage to Milosevic's infrastructure, but we must carry on and, if necessary, intensify.
Tony Blair in Parliament, May 12 1999
It is not simply image. Britain withdrew from 'east of Suez' when Blair was a teenager. Now Britain is back there: Blair started so many wars that the army was stretched to its limits...
Since Tony Blair took office a decade ago, he has committed British forces to action more often, and in more conflicts, than any Prime Minister since 1945... Not only has this crusade embroiled them in what one officer called the most intense fighting since the Korean War, more than half a century ago, it is stretching their depleted resources to the limit.
The Independent: Blair's Bloody Legacy
No end to the military interventionism is in sight. The post-1989 illusion of a peaceful world has evaporated.
Neoliberalism, both a social and economic philosophy, is the most explicit part of Blair's ideology. Unlike some other aspects, it is clearly set out in policy statements, such as the 1999 Blair-Schröder manifesto. Neoliberalism is much more than a new word for 'capitalism', although some activists use it that way. This wider definition is from a comparison of neoliberalism with its classic-liberal and market-liberal predecessors...
Neoliberalism is a philosophy in which the existence and operation of a market are valued in themselves, separately from any previous relationship with the production of goods and services, and without any attempt to justify them in terms of their effect on the production of goods and services; and where the operation of a market or market-like structure is seen as an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action, and substituting for all previously existing ethical beliefs.
The obsession with competition, personal achievement, the glorification of the entrepreneur, the belief in the power of the market to structure society, the rejection of all alternative values, are all typical aspects of neoliberalism. They are constantly repeated in New Labour policy statements. The examples in the quotes below below are all taken from the (now largely forgotten) Blair-Schröder manifesto Europe: The Third Way/Die Neue Mitte. The link is to the full text, with my comments: the original version was removed from the New Labour website.
a neo-liberal world order
There is a global context for the emergence of neoliberal societies, a sort of neoliberal world order - as yet incomplete. It is a world order in which nation states compete against one another, as if they were business firms. The citizens, in this view, are equivalent to employees, and their primary duty is to work for the export success of the nation, and to attract inward investment. The use of company abbreviations is typical for this world view - Great Britain Limited, Deutschland GmbH, BV Nederland.
This is partly a return to the economic ideology that preceded market liberalism: mercantilism. However, neoliberalism has not abandoned the market-liberal premise that a nation is essentially a market-place. Neoliberalism expects the citizens to work together as a unit, against other nations in the global market, but also to compete with each other inside the nation. This view of the world as a series of layered markets is typically neoliberal. Nations compete against nations, regions compete within nations, firm compete within nations and within regions, firms are structured as markets of competing sub-units. Markets of markets, within markets of markets - neoliberalism substitutes the market, and market-oriented activity, for all other forms of social life.
achievement as fetish
Neoliberalism is heavily influenced by social-darwinism: it emphasises competitive achievement for the sake of competitive achievement. In Britain, obsession with achievement is also part of the upper-class 'public school mentality'. (Blair himself went to a 'public school', which in Britain means an elite private school). The Blair government, like the Thatcher and Major governments before it, emphasised market-like competition as a distributive mechanism inside government. Some urban funds, for instance, are not allocated on the basis of need, but as the result of a competition between city governments. Pseudo-markets are created, if no real market can operate, by establishing competitions to meet performance targets. The Blair-Schröder manifesto (quotes in blue text) promotes this type of pseudo-market, as if it were a sacred duty to compete...
- We must learn from each other and measure our own performance against best practice and experience in other countries.
When an achievement fetish and a 'target culture' become government policy, they can harm people. By 2003 the British Medical Association warned that patients suffer, because of this obsession with 'targets'. Since then the 'perverse targets' have been widely criticised, but Blair never renounced the 'target culture'.
- we do not hesitate to promote the concepts of efficiency, competition and high performance.
- Within the public sector bureaucracy at all levels must be reduced, performance targets and objectives formulated, the quality of public services rigorously monitored, and bad performance rooted out.
- Periods of unemployment in an economy without jobs for life must become an opportunity to attain qualifications and foster personal development.
- governments have a responsibility to put in place a framework that enables individuals to enhance their qualifications and to fulfil their potential.
standards in education: 'assessment frenzy'
The social-darwinist influence was strongest in Blair's education policies. The Blair government consistently emphasised that it wanted high standards in education. But what does that mean exactly? Not that everyone gets a PhD at Oxford or Cambridge, not that everyone will be educated to high standards - that is clearly impossible. They meant that everyone would be assessed by high standards - and the higher the standard of assessment, the more people fail. In 1998 Blair complained to the Labour Party Conference that there was "too much tolerance of mediocrity" in British schools. That implies that he wants a system that is intolerant of mediocrity - explicitly hostile to children considered mediocre. And here too, in choosing a 'target culture', he has probably damaged education. As in the health system, evidence accumulated that neither schools nor pupils benefit, from what a senior education official described as an "assessment frenzy".
"State and society exist to facilitate the market"
Classic political liberalism, and market liberalism, saw the state as a burden, an oppressor, an inefficient brake on the entrepreneur. Neoliberals, however, promote state intervention to create, maintain and intensify the market. This idea, that state and society are no more than market facilitators, is one of the genuinely new elements in neoliberalism. It is evident in these demands of the Blair-Schröder manifesto...
- we need to apply our politics within a new economic framework, modernised for today, where government does all it can to support enterprise but never believes it is a substitute for enterprise
- Modern social democrats should be champions of small and medium-sized enterprise
- we need to create the conditions in which existing businesses can prosper and adapt, and new businesses can be set up and grow.
- Support enterprise and setting up an own business as a viable route out of unemployment.
- The essential function of markets must be complemented and improved by political action, not hampered by it
- a framework that allows market forces to work properly is essential to economic success and a precondition of a more successful employment policy.
- To achieve higher growth and more jobs in today's world, economies must be adaptable: flexible markets are a modern social democratic aim.
- The importance of individual and business enterprise to the creation of wealth has been undervalued.
- We should make it easy for individuals to set up businesses and for new companies to grow
- a positive climate for entrepreneurial independence and initiative. Small businesses must become easier to set up and better able to survive
- Product, capital and labour markets must all be flexible
- Adaptability and flexibility are at an increasing premium in the knowledge-based service economy of the future
- If high employment is to be achieved and sustained, employees must react to shifting demands.
- modernising education and training programmes so as to promote adaptability and employability in later life
- We need to become more flexible, not less.
- the chance to find new jobs, learn new skills, pursue new careers, set up and expand new businesses - in summary, to realise their hopes of a better future.
- Product market competition and open trade is essential to stimulate productivity and growth.
- Adjustment will be the easier, the more labour and product markets are working properly.
- The EU should build on the achievements of the single market to strengthen an economic framework conducive to productivity growth
- corporate tax cuts raise profitability and strengthen the incentives to invest
- Companies must have room for manoeuvre to take advantage of improved economic conditions and seize new opportunities: they must not be gagged by rules and regulations.
- We must marry environmental responsibility with a modern market-based approach
glorifying the entrepreneur
Although market liberalism always valued entrepreneurs, their semi-sacred status is new to neoliberalism. So is the idea that all humans being should aspire to be an entrepreneur, as if it were the highest possible grade of human life. The Blair-Schröder manifesto says...
- we want a society which celebrates successful entrepreneurs just as it does artists and footballers
- Modern social democrats should be champions of small and medium-sized enterprise
- The development of prosperous small and medium-sized businesses has to be a top priority for modern social democrats.
- For the new politics to succeed, it must promote a go-ahead mentality and a new entrepreneurial spirit at all levels of society
- Values that are important to citizens, such as personal achievement and success, entrepreneurial spirit, individual responsibility and community spirit, were too often subordinated to universal social safeguards.
- The importance of individual and business enterprise to the creation of wealth has been undervalued.
- a positive climate for entrepreneurial independence and initiative. Small businesses must become easier to set up and better able to survive.
- People in many different walks of life are looking for the opportunity to become entrepreneurs - long-standing as well as newly self-employed people, lawyers, computer experts, medical doctors, craftsmen, business consultants, people active in culture and sport.
shifts in society and politics
Few British governments have written off such large sections of the population, as under Tony Blair. He was elected, if not by 'the middle class', then certainly by 'the non-underclass'. Its policies were made by and for this 'middle England' or 'middle Britain'. One curious exception was the September 2000 fuel crisis. The protesters were the self-employed, small business - and they were backed by middle England. Blair however saw them as a reincarnation of 1970's strikers, led by left-wing activists. (The memory of those strikes helped keep Labour out of power for 15 years).
Generally this Middle-England core electorate benefited from the policies of the government which they elected. The others lose: society becomes less open for those outside this core population. It is a vicious circle: social mobility for the lowest classes disappears, the underclass becomes hereditary, and underclass-bashing a favourite political hobby.
abandonment of the ideal of equality
There is no doubt that policies of several European governments amount to the deliberate creation of an underclass, in junk jobs and workfare projects. The underlying political philosophy is the belief that equality - social equality in the sense of the 19th and 20th century social movements - is impossible. Consequently, it is claimed, the state must maintain part of the population in an unequal status. The Blair-Schröder manifesto says, for instance, (quotes again in blue text)...
- The labour market needs a low-wage sector in order to make low-skill jobs available.
- New policies to offer unemployed people jobs and training are a social democratic priority - but we also expect everyone to take up the opportunity offered.
- Introduce targeted programmes for the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged groups to give them the opportunity to reintegrate into the labour market on the principle of rights and responsibilities going together
- Assess all benefit recipients, including people of working age in the receipt of disability benefits, for their potential to earn, and reform state employment services to assist those capable of work to find appropriate work
- Part-time work and low-paid work are better than no work because they ease the transition from unemployment to jobs.
- Encourage employers to offer 'entry' jobs to the labour market by lowering the burden of tax and social security contributions on low-paid jobs.
- Barriers to employment in relatively low productivity sectors need to be lowered.
This belief in the necessity of an underclass is of course a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the government systematically treats 20% of the population as unfit for normal social life and normal employment, then it will create an underclass of about that size.
a meritocratic, non-inclusive Britain
Tony Blair favoured an unequal society, stratified on the basis of educational achievement. He proclaimed a meritocratic society as an explicit goal of his second-term , and set out his personal social philosophy, emphasising personal achievement as the basis for social justice. For Blair, 'social justice' means equal of opportunity for talent - primarily equal access to a selective educational system.
"New Labour's big idea is the development of human potential, the belief that there is talent and ability and caring in each individual that often lies unnurtured or discouraged," he said....Mr Blair invoked the experience of his own communist-turned-Conservative father to explain why he had rejected both Thatcherism and traditional socialism in order to embrace a meritocratic vision of equal opportunity for all.
Blair sets out his faith, 14 May 2001.
Blair sent his own children to high-achievement schools - illustrating the problem with 'equal opportunity'. A society stratified by educational achievement is, paradoxically, a society stratified by class. There is no such thing as a 'level playing field' in a selective education system. Parents income, class, and education determine the child's educational achievement. No sociological research on this issue has ever shown otherwise. The children of Cherie and Tony Blair were born into an upper-middle-class family, in a London professional and intellectual environment. That, in itself, would give them an enormous statistical advantage within the educational system. In reality, the equal opportunity within a selective system causes unequal outcomes.
So when Tony Blair speaks of an inclusive society, it is in the older sense of "the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate". You can not have an inclusive society with a selective educational system: by definition, it produces 'rejects' and 'failures'. If Blair speaks of 'a society open to talent' he means 'a society closed to the underclass'. For Blair, all social opportunity, all social mobility, must be conditional on talent and achievement. His comments in the 2001 election manifesto emphasised the conditionality of status, in a meritocratic society:
"My passion is to continue the modernisation of Britain in favour of hard-working families, so that all our children, wherever they live, whatever their background, have an equal chance to benefit from the opportunities our country has to offer and to share in its wealth."
Not for all, not inclusive - but only for the family, and then only for the hard-working. No share in Britain's wealth, but only the chance to share, conditional on hard work. But the underclass is not hard-working in the Blairite sense anyway - although many of its members do monotonous and degrading work, which Tony Blair would himself refuse. The predictable result of a resolutely anti-egalitarian, meritocratic, government is: inequality. An assessment by the Institute for Public Policy Research ( August 2004) showed Britain became more unequal under Tony Blair. Despite its association with the Labour Party, the IPPR concluded, among others...
Since 1997, the richest have continued to get richer. The richest 1 percent of the population has increased its share of national income from around 6 per cent in 1980 to 13 per cent in 1999.
Inequality in disposable income (after taxes and benefits are accounted for), appears to have slightly increased since 1997 after significant increases in the 1980s.
Wealth distribution is more unequal than income distribution, and has continued to get more unequal in the last decade. Between 1990 and 2000 the percentage of wealth held by the wealthiest 10 per cent of the population increased from 47 per cent to 54 per cent.
Working-age adults without children constitute an 'unfavoured group', who have not benefited from government policy. In 1994 they constituted 25 per cent of people in poverty. By 2002/03 this had increased to 31 per cent.
Intergenerational social mobility appears to have declined. One survey on social mobility found only a gradual increase between 1972 and 1992, before a decline in the period up to 1997. Sons born to fathers from the richest fifth of the population in 1958 earned, on average, 13 per cent more than those from the bottom fifth of the population. In comparison, sons born to wealthy fathers in 1970 earned 37 per cent more then their poorer contemporaries. People from a professional background remain over two times as likely to end up professionals, as someone from a manual background.
IPPR, August 2004.
A later study supported by the Sutton Trust showed that social mobility in Britain is indeed low, and declining. Education and parental choice - factors which Blair emphasises - are responsible...
Comparing surveys of children born in the 1950s and the 1970s the researchers went on to examine the reason for Britain's low, and declining, mobility. They found that it is in part due to the strong and increasing relationship between family income and educational attainment. For these children, additional opportunities to stay in education at age 16 and age 18 disproportionately benefited those from better off backgrounds...
A decline in intergenerational mobility is typical for a meritocratic society with a selective, competitive, educational system. Such societies, in the long run, tend to evolve into caste societies - 'equal chances' in such an environment are a fiction. In a society with no commitment to equality of outcome, the educational system will itself lock the underclass into their present status. Only a few child prodigies will escape the 'curse' of being born into the underclass.
A core electorate, despite names such as 'middle England' or 'middle Britain', is not specifically British. In the United States a large part of the electorate, about half, is simply written off as a political factor. You might think that presidential candidates would work to attract this huge reserve of potential voters, but they don't. Certainly not the permanent non-voters, usually those with the lowest educational level, and the lowest incomes. It is the core electorate which matters - and they would be hostile to any measures which a candidate would offer to the 'political underclass'. In its early years the Blair government relied heavily on 'focus groups' - an opinion poll in the form of monitored discussion groups of 'ordinary people'. However, the broad underclass were not welcome: no addicts, no petty criminals, no illiterates, no travellers, no long-term unemployed. The truth is that Blair simply did not consider these categories to be part of 'the people' - that label was reserved for the core electorate.
In return, the British underclass simply abandoned political participation. As in most western democracies, voter turnout in British elections is falling, but it is falling differentially. Generally, 'Middle Britain' still votes. Low turnout geographically coincides with low income, with the lowest turnout in the most deprived areas. The geographical concentration makes it easier for mainstream politicians, to simply avoid these areas. Since the core electorate decides elections, the campaigns are fought in the areas where they live - if there is any traditional campaign at all. (When British politicians do pay attention to the underclass vote, it is largely to offer them immigrant-bashing, which can not be considered an improvement).
Giuseppe Mazzini was the classic theorist of non-economic competition among nations. To him and his many sympathisers (most do not realise the source they are quoting from), nations are a cultural achievement machine. All books are national books, all paintings are national paintings, all poems are national poems. Every author, artist, musician is a representative of the nation, and they should all strive to make great achievements, for the nation and for themselves. The simplicity, in fact banality, of Mazzinian nationalism is that it incorporates all cultural life into a form of national struggle. And since Mazzini believed in a world order of nations, all human culture could be interpreted as a part of this grand cultural competition.
Your first duties...are, as I have already told you, towards Humanity....But, you tell me, you cannot attempt united action, distinct and divided as you are in language, customs, tendencies, and capacity. The individual is too insignificant, and Humanity too vast. The mariner of Brittany prays to God as he puts to sea; 'Help me, my God! my boat is so small and Thy ocean so wide' And this prayer is the true expression of the condition of each one of you, until you find the means of infinitely multiplying your forces and powers of action.
This means was provided for you by God when He gave you a country; when, even as a wise overseer of labour distributes the various branches of employment according to the different capacities of the workmen, he divided Humanity into distinct groups or nuclei upon the face of the earth, thus creating the germ of nationalities.
...the common work of Humanity, of general amelioration, and the gradual discovery and application of its Law of life, being distributed according to local and general capacities, will be wrought out in peaceful and progressive development and advance.
Giuseppe Mazzini (original text 1858): Duties towards your country
A Mazzinian ideal of ritualised competition among nations developed in the late 19th century, with the first World Expositions and Olympic Games. At the beginning of his term of office, Tony Blair seemed committed to this type of nationalism: his extreme and repetitive use of the words 'nation' and 'people' was soon caricatured. The Kosovo war brought a return to older military nationalism, more like the patriotic fervour of Thatcher's Falklands war. The goal of assertive hyper-Britishness, including a serious attempt to officially define Britain as a 'brand', became less relevant. The Mazzinian nationalism of Blair's early years, is typified in this Millennium Dome message of 1998....
I urge people to support this project because I believe it is good for Britain. It is a display of confidence in the creativity and talents of our people. It is a chance for us all to shape our future and begin the 21st century with a sense of purpose, hope and unity. It will be a time for the nation to come together to be excited, entertained, moved and uplifted. Visitors from all over the world will have the time of their lives. Today Britain need not settle for second best. In the dome we have a creation that, I believe, will truly be a beacon to the world.
The Dome: A Message from Tony Blair
(The text is from an unofficial website, but it was quoted in Parliament, so it is genuine). The Dome was a flop, but at the September 2000 Party Conference, Blair returned to this florid language...
Don't tell me that a country with our history and heritage, that today boasts six of the top ten businesses in the whole of Europe, with London the top business city in Europe, that is a world leader in technology and communication and the businesses of the future, that under us has overtaken France and Italy to become the fourth largest economy in the world, that has the language of the new economy, more brilliant artists, actors and directors than any comparable country in the world, some of the best scientists and inventors in the world, the best armed forces in the world, the best teachers and doctors and nurses, the best people any nation could wish for. Don't tell me with all that going for us that we do not have the spirit to meet all the challenges before us.
Blair conference speech, 26 September 2000
By Blair's third term, more traditional (and xenophobic) talk of 'national identity' had displaced the boosterism, as in much of western Europe. In the face of mass immigration, the aims of the 19th-century ethno-nationalists - an ethnically pure and homogeneous nation - were rediscovered. Blair's successors will almost certainly emphasise British national identity in that sense - not least because it is threatened by Scottish separatism, and a revived 'English' national identity.
As he announced his resignation in May 2007, however, Tony Blair returned to the chauvinist nationalism of the early years:
This country is a blessed country. The British are special. The world knows it, we know it, this is the greatest country on earth.
Blair to stand down on June 27