10 May 2007

Tony Blair's Premiership 1997-2007

The streets of Britain were today filled with weeping hordes as a great portion of humanity gathered to greet the passing of the Premiership of Tony Blair with tears of unalloyed joy.

To understand the Premiership, one must first understand its parents. Its father was a Labour Party desperate to return to power after the bruising humiliation of defeat in 1992 by John Major's Conservatives (a group who had the economic know-how of George IV, the political savoir-faire of Neville Chamberlain and the deep moral sense of Aleister Crowley). Like so many beings of a certain age, the Party decided that the best way to prove its continuing virility was to abandon its long-term partner, Socialism, and take up with younger lovers, in this case two bright young MPs - Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

Soon the Party was shucking off its cloth cap, sticking its whippet in a bag with a couple of bricks and locking itself away with Tony one night, Gordon the next, to make mad passionate love to the free market and globalisation. It was following one of these wild nights with the Party that Tony met Gordon in Islington's "Granita" restaurant to announce that he was expecting the party leadership. Luckily for all, Gordon took the news stoically, pausing only to stab his hand with a fork in frustration and extract a solemn pledge from Tony that he would one day hand over the leadership to him, before congratulating his rival for the Labour Party's love whilst keeping his fingers crossed behind his back.

And who was the Party's new paramour? Anthony Charles Lynton Blair had the assets to turn any ageing Party's head: he was young, he had a nice smile and he had an extraordinary ability to fully and honestly believe what he was saying at any given moment - an ability he showed from an early age, casting himself as a through-and-through Englishman despite having been born and educated in Scotland(1), not to mention watching Jackie Milburn play for Newcastle United from the, completely fictional at the time, seats behind the goal at St James, stowing away on the utterly non-existent Newcastle-Barbados plane service and - most impressively of all - standing four-square behind the 1983 Labour manifesto's call for nuclear disarmament and for the country to quit the EEC while privately informing his selection conference that he disagreed with both policies.

By the time of his maiden speech he was informing the Commons and the nation that he believed in socialism because it stood for "cooperation, not confrontation; for fellowship, not fear. It stands for equality" - words which can happily stand in the Hall of Historically Ironic Speeches alongside Margaret Thatcher's quotation of St Francis's Prayer in 1979, "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope" not to mention General John Sedgwick's "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist...".

Utterly infatuated by the youthful Blair, the Party cast aside all that it once believed in, whether it be promises to raise income tax and restore trade union rights, pledges to pursue nuclear disarmament or even its long-held desire to "secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service" (a desire which was in any event so wordy that the Party usually managed to forget what it was going on about half way through reading it), all in the burning need to be seen as "New".

And so, having reduced his lover to a besotted devotee, ready to do anything its new leader wanted for the slightest chance of successfully getting up an election, and aided by a Conservative party which, under John Major, evinced all the togetherness and discipline of a member of the Yugoslav Federation, Tony Blair found himself ready to give birth to his Premiership.

The Premiership was born on 2nd May 1997. Like the Roman people, exhausted by the cruel and incompetent rule of Tiberius, gleefully saluting their new emperor Caligula, so the British people, exhausted by the cruelty of the Thatcherites and incompetence of the Majorites, gleefully saluted their new Prime Minister as, flanked by his loyal Praetorian guard of spin doctors, he swept into Number 10 Downing Street.

Young and bold, the Premiership moved with a reckless pace, acting swiftly on its greatest priorities - such as evicting Downing Street cat Humphrey from its long-time home for fear of aggravating Cherie's allergies. Sadly, the Premiership's greatest enemy - the very same Gordon Brown who had given it his blessing in Granita - was already acting with even greater swiftness, choosing to prove his own New Labour credentials by throwing away years of party tradition and centuries of governmental responsibility by privatising the Bank of England.

Though briefly distracted by the need to produce the appropriate strained expression and catch in the voice around the time of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Premiership was soon to strike back at Chancellor Brown. While the brooding figure at Number 11 contented himself with taking benefits away from single mothers, the wholesale privatisation of both the nation's assets and almost all public-sector investment, and restricting pension increases to 75p, Mr Blair was embarking on a series of wide-ranging reforms, introducing devolution, removing peers from the House of Lords, passing the Freedom of Information Act and creating the post of Mayor of London. All were hailed as great successes. Unfortunately the Premiership itself was later to regret each and every one of them, even trying to nobble the mayoral vote by putting up a joke candidate, former Health Secretary and full-time Santa impersonator Frank Dobson. Happily, the Premiership had other strings to its bow. Unhappily one of them was the Millennium Dome, a folly on an (this being prior to the attempts to win the World Cup 2006 for England, the Olympic funding farce and, indeed, the Iraq war) unimaginable scale, which sought to commemorate the past thousand years by putting a big tent on some disused wasteland and filling it with exhibits so staggeringly tacky they could have been "lovingly handcrafted" for the Franklin Mint.

By the end of its first term, however, the Premiership was able to boast one unalloyed success(2): the Northern Irish peace process. At last there was an achievement Mr Blair felt able to call completely his own, even despite the fact much of the spade work had actually been done by Mr Major.

Buoyed by this knowledge, the memory of the dark days under John Major and housing prices rising faster than a city trader's bonus, Tony Blair's Premiership was swept back to power in 2001.

With Mr Brown once more seeking to demonstrate his mastery of domestic politics, this time by giving oodles of cash to educational and health bodies whose idea of fiscal planning was to drop all their new money into a big hole in the ground in the hope it might grow into a money tree, Mr Blair knew he would have to look elsewhere to make an impression.

Having already discovered the enormous kudos that could be won by blowing places up following his intervention in the Yugoslav conflict, he was delighted to find that the new President of the United States of America was intent on destabilising as much of the globe as possible, by tearing up any treaties he could find and sending troops to anywhere Dick Cheney told him to Halliburton could find reconstruction work democracy needed spreading(3). Soon Bush and Blair were bringing the benefits of all their skills to bear on Iraq, seeking to convince the world that it constituted an imminent threat to peoples across the globe - despite there being absolutely no credible evidence to back them up - and, when the world refused to agree with them, going ahead and blowing Iraq up anyway.

Not only did the Iraq war have the effect of giving Mr Blair the opportunity to pose with tanks and try to sound Churchillian, the hatred and suspicion it stirred up, combined with the activities of groups such as Al Qaeda, also gave him - along with a succession of Home Secretaries all of whom regarded Genghis Khan as a namby-pamby liberal - the opportunity to bring in more and more repressive legislation and restrict further and further the freedom of the individual. With more and more ASBOs, instant fines, powers of detention without charge, supervision orders, soon the prisons were filled to overflowing.

Despite all this and more(4) the Premiership somehow succeeded in returning to power once more in 2005. However, none who looked upon it could doubt that it was wounded, even as they noted that the majority of the wounds were self-inflicted. Worse was yet to come when it became clear that, in accordance with immemorial practice, the Government had been merrily sending major party donors towards the ermine outfitters and seats in the House of Lords with all the speed and urgency normally associated with one's bladder suddenly realising that it contains eight pints of Special Brew and it's a long journey to the lavatories. Thus it was that the Premiership saw Mr Blair become the first Prime Minister to be interviewed by police whilst in office, even as eternal rival Gordon Brown at last plucked up courage to insist that Mr Blair set a timetable for his departure.

So it was that, despite a sincere desire to do good, Tony Blair's Premiership passed away, Mr Blair having found himself in charge of a country where the rich have got much richer, widening the gap between themselves and the poor to an unbridgeable gulf; where our children are increasingly segregated by race and/or religion from the moment they enter their schools, at which they may well be taught that the world is mere thousands of years old and the theory of evolution is a lie; where our streets are littered with CCTV cameras and our every detail is recorded on computer; where the poor cannot afford a home and the young cannot afford an education; where Muslims feel themselves vilified by their fellow Britons and other Britons feel fear of their Muslim compatriots; where destitute refugees seeking succour are reviled as spongers and denied the basics of existence; where our prisons are bursting while a hysterical media whips up fear of crime in the streets; and where our armed forces are sent to die on foreign fields in a hopeless cause.

The remains of Tony Blair's Premiership will tour the globe over the next seven weeks, before being buried on 27th June at St Gordon's Church of the Best Served Cold. Buried alongside it will be the corpse of its pet bulldog, John Prescott. It is survived by a country which is more confrontational and less co-operative; for fear, not fellowship and is far, far less equal than it should be.

(1) This is the reverse of the ability of certain university students to insist that they are Irish - running around in heavy sweaters, swilling pints of Guinness, listening to folk music and going on endlessly about "the craic" and "me da''" - despite having been no nearer to Ireland than an accidental trip to Kilburn after failing to get off at Finchley Road on the tube.
(2) or two if you count the brilliant way Mr Blair made sure the smoking ban didn't apply to Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One championship.
(3) unless the place democracy need spreading was North Korea, China, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Burma, Oman, Qatar, Florida &c &c
(4) top-up fees, the David Kelly affair, Foundation hospitals to name just a few