The big decision for Blair
It was the "comedian," Mark Thomas, who issued the "fatwa" on George W. Bush. Thanks to all those who let me know this.
One of my British-based correspondents, Mark Weinberg, added the following:
I too am livid about it, and the Guardian, and the Mirror, and the Independent, and Fisk, and Pilger etc. There's just a lack of critical thought on much of the left right now. It seems only able to define itself by what it is against, rather than what is for. Claiming you're "for humanity", "for the children", "for a better world", "for peace", or whatever other nonsense the Left is selling is easy. Doing something about it is not. The Left is unable to offer up anything constructive, or even introspective, while simultaneously appearing hopelessly self-absorbed - no mean feat.
On Blair: as an American (a New Yorker), I'm deeply grateful for Blair's - and the UK's - support. He certainly seems way out in front of Labour on this one. As a London resident (four years now) who takes the tube daily, I can't help but wonder why Blair can't get his domestic act together? Do I really need to read another story on The Dome? Mandelson? On Byers? The Dome again? On a phantom Euro referendum? Posh and Becks? (kidding, I can't blame that on him.)
Last thing - as much as some of the local press appears iredeemably anti-american, I perceive little of this from my colleagues, friends and business contacts. From this I surmise that The Guardian represents the average Londoner's opinion in the way that Maureen Dowd or Frank Rich represent my own. That is to say - not in the least.
The point about the left only defining itself by what it is against (or in favor of airy-fairy generalities and platitudes) is interesting. This was the problem with conservatives for too long. But there are signs, on both sides of the pond, that this has changed. Has the political pendulum swung?
And if so, are we seeing Tony Blair, who seems glued to the mechanism, swinging with it? I've said before, and I'll say it again, that his decision on what Britain will do when (not if) the USA attacks Iraq will be the most important decision made by a British Prime Minister since Heath took us into the EEC. I think the correct decision may change British electoral politics forever, with Blair forced to ally himself with the Tories.
Here's my reasoning:
New Labour is, of course, a coalition, and there are three immediately identifiable factions:
- the Blairites, who are "visionary populists" ie they want to change the world/ Britain, but will only do things that have public support, which they identify via focus groups. Their foreign policy is driven by Blair's desire to be a player on the world stage, so they are equally happy backing the US and saying nice things about the Euro. They have some figures of substance beside Blair (eg Blunkett) but are mostly ciphers -- the "Blair Babes" spring to mind. Stephen Byers is a great example of the problem this causes;
- the "socialists", led by Gordon Brown, who are reconstructed class warriors/ wealth redistributors, who recognize that certain classic tactics such as massive tax increases and unrestricted union power will hobble them again, although they realise that strikes can be an effetcive weapon if targeted properly. (This is the faction that controls Scotland); and
- the "Marcusians," the Chomsky-Sontag-Fisk-Pilger style "liberals," middle-class paternalist peacenik intellectuals who think they know best. They are the most restive at the moment. One of these, Paul Marsden, has already defected to the Liberals.
From what I can see, the party is about equally split between these three factions. The Blairites and Marcusians both possess large numbers of MPs is what were once marginal seats. The Socialists have a large showing in Scotland, and will therefore lose out when the number of seats there is reduced.
I can see this coalition splitting soon. Brown is, by all accounts, increasingly unhappy with Blair's policies. The Marcusians are in a very stroppy mood. I can see things coming to a head if the US attacks Iraq. If Blair supports the US, as I believe he will, there could be a formal split, with the Marcusians joining the Lib Dems, possibly in enough numbers to form the official opposition. This would at least formally identify the Lib Dems as left-liberal rather than centrist, which should benefit the Tories electorally.
This might, in turn strengthen Brown's hand, possibly driving Blair to seek to form a National Government with the Tories (this would seem reasonable if he is to commit British troops) to balance Brown's position. Depending on how things go, I can see another formal split happening. I imagine Blair would retain the label "Labour," but the rump party would be more like the wet Tories with a pinkish internationalist fringe than anything else.
Just a few thoughts, but I don't think its too outlandish to imagine the map of British electoral politics very different in a few years time.