Monday, November 26, 2007 

The Blair Years part two.

There's very little point in writing an extended review (except I seem to have done anyway. Hurr.) of the second part of the Blair Years, a documentary so lacking in any real rigour that if anything it leaves you with less insight that that which you had prior to sitting through its vainglorious hour-length.

If there was to be a part of the series that made an effort to be critical, this would have been the one. Evaluating the inexorable march to war in Iraq, so many different mistakes were made that you could compare them to the photographs we've grown used to over the last few years of bodies littering the ground, wrapped ready for burial, surrounded by weeping relatives and friends. The errors and lies of the period are similarly tossed aside on the ground, but Blair and his acolytes from the time are most certainly not crying. Jeremy Greenstock, our man at the UN who attempted to write a book about his experiences only to be blocked by Downing Street, more or less admitted straight out that he had lied along with the rest of the government about Jacques Chirac's interview where he said that France would vote no, used endlessly to justify abandoning the attempt at a second resolution, but seemed to have little to no regrets about his mendacity and its consequences.

So many of the issues were skirted over or simply ignored, the things you wanted to ask Blair about, but which David Aaronovitch would never have considered embarrassing his ally with. There was then no agreement to invade Iraq whatever the consequences from talks with President Bush, despite the evidence to the contrary in the Downing Street memos. Blair most certainly didn't mislead parliament, let alone lie. He now thinks that they should have published the JIC briefing document in full rather than let Alastair Campbell sex it up, as if that would have made any difference. The "sexing up" itself didn't make up any sort of imposition on the proceedings, Blair giving it the only mention when he disingenuously said the Hutton inquiry had been setup for the reason of investigating the way the intelligence had been presented. Dr David Kelly it seems has been airbrushed from the historical record, or at least this one.

Like the previous installment, the only real new information was implanted by the talking heads, in this case Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan and Dubya himself. Clinton, who had his own previous completely unjustified face off with Saddam when the pressure over Monica Lewinsky was getting too great, appears to have tried to persuade Blair to see the true face of the Bush administration, but to no avail, probably because Blair had long already thrown his lot in with them. Annan rightly simply couldn't understand how Blair had got himself caught up in the whole mess, and how the tyrannical nature of the "special relationship" led to us being tethered to the biggest foreign policy disaster of recent times. Bush enhanced slightly our knowledge of how America offered Blair a way out, the well-known Rumsfeld press conference where he said that the US could do it alone apparently based on the conversations where Bush had made it clear to Blair that it wasn't worth losing his government over, with Blair's stubbornness declining the offer. Perhaps it was for the best: we might still be stuck with the bastard if he had taken it.

Most overwhelming though was the burning moral certainty that still lies behind both Blair and Bush's war. The number of times that Blair referenced either "the struggle", or "what we're fighting", or the notions of good and bad, at one point even evil, descending into open caricature, only making clear that Blair still very much believes in what he did. Aaronovitch as gently as possible poked him with the piles of bodies, quoting "75,000 Iraqi dead by the most conservative estimate", lest he dare acknowledge in the face of the former leader the more much likely higher toll, yet even in the face of torrents of blood his belief never wavered. As for the planning, it wasn't that there wasn't any, it was that "they" had dared to resist that was the cause of all the problems, rather than the chaos and corruption of the first year of occupation that was the catalyst for it.

As the world divides into ever more shades of grey, to Blair and Bush the landscape is still only black and white. Hilariously, Bush even dared to mention in his justification for the carnage unleashed that America was fighting for human rights. Even now, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition and Fallujah are all things that the United States is fighting against, even as it perpetuates them. If Blair had wanted the Blair Years to try and put the record straight, or to show him in a different light, it has so far been a failure of the most crushing kind, with the second show casting him back into his most accomplished role, that of the ever faithful poodle.

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Monday, November 19, 2007 

The bash Brown years.

You would have thought, what with Alastair Campbell and although perhaps not by his own consent, but not without his condemnation either, Tony Blair during the Dr David Kelly row attempting to in effect destroy the BBC's independence that they might not view the two in that favourable a light. While the Hutton report continues to cast a shadow across the corporation's current affairs output, Campbell nevertheless had a sycophantic 3-part dramatisation/documentary of his piss-poor diaries produced by BBC2. Now, with only just six months gone since his departure, BBC1 is treating us to the Blair Years, a three-part look back over his tenure which, to judge by the first part last night on the Blair-Brown relationship is going to be similarly unquestioning and toadying to a fault.

The BBC will of course justify the lack of critical rigour in the programmes on the basis that Blair was hardly likely to co-operate with a series that lambasted him as a man who like all other prime ministers before him, fell into the delusion that he was the only one who could force through his "reforms", and who with it shed an inestimable amount of blood. Less easy to justify, if again the first one is anything to go by, is the way in which Gordon Brown is getting it in the neck from all his former enemies, with hardly anyone to defend him from their accusations and scarcely hidden loathing.

More surprising is that Blair and even Campbell are in fact the most magnanimous towards Brown, while the real sniping is left to the Blairites now out on their behinds, left outside of "Stalin's" age of change. Whether this is because of loyalty towards the party, the decision not to make things unnecessarily difficult for Brown or give propaganda to Tories, or out of monetary concern, with Campbell to eventually release an unedited version of his diaries and Blair yet to write his own memoirs it's difficult to tell, but it leaves Blair ironically being one of the very few in the programme to defend Brown. It gives a different side to Blair from the man we thought we knew, but it leaves the portions with him being questioned by friendly Iraq-war supporting hack David Aaronovitch less than thrilling, the platitudes being exchanged only highlighting the lack of interest displayed by Aaronovitch in getting to anything near the truth.

Around the only real criticism of Blair comes right near the beginning, where Lord Butler makes clear his contempt for the sofa-style of government practiced by Blair. It turns out neither Blair or Brown asked the cabinet what they thought about making the Bank of England independent; Blair replied that he knew they'd agree. After that mild ribbing, all the attention turns to Brown, but strangely as the programme went on you gained more and more sympathy for the clunking fist. Blair, for instance, notoriously stole Brown's NHS-funding budget announcement by going on Breakfast with Frost and bringing it up out of the blue, leaving the Treasury officials to do the sums involved at home on a Sunday, having to beg, borrow and steal in order to do so. No one had thought to consult the Treasury; yet Alan Milburn justified it as the right thing to do because of the constant negative press coverage of the NHS which needed to be replied to. Blair denied that Brown shouted at him "you've stolen my fucking budget", but his body language and failure to even look slightly sincere betrayed the reality.

That set the theme: Brown was always the stick in the mud. He objected to foundation hospitals, not according to Milburn again on practical grounds, but due to ideology, as if that somehow made it worse. The New Labour project, famously shorn and lacking in any principles or guiding background, held up thanks to Brown's daring to think of something as dispensable as dogma! Tuition fees was history repeating; Brown and his allies (Ed Balls was mentioned) plotted and conspired in the background, while the noble Blairites who were breaking the manifesto promise not to introduce top-up fees were only doing what was right and needed. Two of the Labour rebels on both policies popped up to say how if Brown didn't come out with his opposition, everyone knew full well what he thought and that his friends were themselves organising the opposition, with the programme implying this somehow amounted to high treason. One of the most unsympathetic Blairites, the whip Hilary Armstrong, voiced her belief that it was all more or less down to Brown. When the tuition fees rebellion got out of hand, with almost everyone believing the government was about to lose, it was only then that Brown and friends starting urging those they had previously encouraged to vote against to turn again. The only really new piece of information was that Blair confirmed he would have resigned had the vote been lost; in the event, they won by six votes, and Brown again had "bottled" it.

Thing is, on almost all these things that so angered the Blairites, Brown was right. To go on a television programme and announce a policy that the chancellor had long been planning just to turn the headlines, without even informing him of what you were about to do, is about as low as you can sink. Foundation hospitals, a pet project of Blair and Milburn's desire to force through change for the sake of it rather than for actual practical reasons were toned down from their initial incarnation thanks to Brown's opposition. A graduate tax, the policy that Brown offered instead of top-up fees, was far fairer and more egalitarian than having to pay over £3,000 a year up front through loans, which the well-off could pay immediately while everyone else was left with the debt hanging over them, the system which tuition fees introduced. Frank Field's sacking, a man much more at home with the Conservatives, over his intentions to chop welfare to the bone after his appointment by Blair, was more than welcome. Most of all, Blair had promised Brown that he would go at the end of his second term. When he decided that he was in fact going to stay on "to drive through his reforms", Brown was more than justified in telling Blair that he could never believe a single word he said again, even though the country at large had already long before came to that conclusion.

Instead, Blair was presented as having to put up with Brown's moods, sulking and general surly behaviour. Geoffrey Robinson was around the only former minister who contributed who was so much as slightly sympathetic towards Brown. Never was it suggested that Blair wasn't receptive towards Brown and that he had a right to have a say; something denied almost anyone other than a believer in the necessity of Blairism. You kept waiting for Hazel Blears or Tessa Jowell to pop up to fill the quota for gormless and hapless keepers of the faith. For them to feign anger when the "September coup" was brought up, as if Blair's hanging on for his own vanity's sake wasn't hugely damaging both the government and the Labour party, was the final straw.

Next week we're treated to Iraq, and how George 'n' Tony simply had to invade Iraq. If it's anywhere near as one-sided as last night's Tony show, expect it to end at the "mission accomplished" part.

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Monday, July 09, 2007 

The liar years.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Welcome to the greatest journalistic spectacle of the year! Gasp as the cynical hacks fellate Alastair Campbell's limp cock! Marvel at their technique in licking his shit-speckled asshole! Swoon as they abandon all their critical faculties and instead delight in their collective indiscretion! Vomit as the biggest liar of them all earns wads of cash from his sordid little book!

Yep, the scramble to speed-read Campbell's heavily expurgated diaries is underway. Despite Campbell admitting to being highly censorious when it comes both to Blair's own foul language and to the eternal conflict with Gordon Brown, they're still desperately hoping there's going to be something in there that they'll be able to claim as a sort of exclusive come tomorrow morning. So far, thanks to both Campbell releasing some of the more juicy bits and to skimming through the thousands of self-indulgent words, we've learned that:

Quite why anyone is taking a single word of it seriously is a conundrum in itself. Here we have the most congenital liar that's ever pulled on a pair of trousers describing his wiping of Blair's bottom on a daily basis. As any psychologist will tell you, a pathological liar not only lies to everyone around him, they lie the most to themselves. Like when Michael Howard confronted him recently on Newsnight, he can't just accept that he is single-handedly responsible for the destruction of any remaining faith there was in politicians in this country, he actually still believes, like Blair, that everything he did was not just justified, but the right thing to do.

Hence Campbell somehow thinking that he deserves sympathy for his own depression as a result of Dr David Kelly's suicide, and amazingly, some even fall for it. Both Stuart Prebble, tasked with converting this mass of verbiage into three hour-long television documentaries and Michael White, chief Grauniad Blair sycophant describe him as "vulnerable". It's a shame that someone who did apparently have moments of self-doubt, instead of going along with such thoughts and wondering whether the fact that he was day after day misleading numerous people, and with the dossiers, potentially condemning thousands of civilians to death, kept going and even now thinks that he was right to do so. Indeed, he even still believes it was right to go to war, despite the intelligence he had a part in sexing up being proved so catastrophically inaccurate.

For all his efforts in protecting Blair, shamelessly manipulating the media and reacting to the slightest negative headline, all we're going to remember of Campbell in decades to come are those scenes of him in front of the intelligence and security committee, repeatedly hitting the table with his finger, demanding that the BBC apologise for the allegations made by Andrew Gilligan, all with the air of a man who knew that the end was drawing close but was going to do everything he could to try to stop the inevitable. The extracts from his diary revealed at the Hutton inquiry showed he wanted to "fuck Gilligan", and he succeeded.

With the release of his diaries, we ought to be turning a corner, but Campbell and Blair's shadow is still cast over British politics. We're still trapped in Iraq, the only people ever to resign over the disaster being those with the principles to do so beforehand and those who were forced to do so over a whitewashed report; the public has never been so cynical about politicians; the axis between the Murdoch press and Downing Street remains sacrosanct; and Brown, rather than being able to concentrate on policy, is having to dedicate precious time to proving just how spin is a thing of the past, and how different the relationship with the media is going to be. The bastard ought to be an outcast: instead, as he's always planned, the hundreds of pages are going to ensure he'll have a very pleasant retirement. They say cheats never prosper, but liars it seems will inherit the earth.

Related post:
Chicken Yoghurt - A period of silence would be welcome

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