How can we explain the ‘Collective’ madness that has taken over the Labour Party? I have just returned from lands of former Collectives (mega farms set up by the Communists) in Latvia and Lithuania, and I can tell you that Jeremy Corbyn’s much admired legacy to those once Communist countries is a nightmarish one.
The man might come across as a sincere idealist – not at all like the serried ranks of the career politicians so many disdain today – but the likes of Jeremy are the ones to fear the most. They are the zealots, cast in the mould of that ‘sea-green incorruptible’, Maximilien Robespierre, of the French Revolution. While on the subject of the quiet, softly spoken, hard-to-rile idealist, was not ‘Uncle Joe’ Stalin exactly that sort of man? He, however had a term for the likes of sweet natured, but for us dangerous, men like Jeremy Corbyn; useful idiots.
And while an old geezer, myself, isn’t it a bit odd that so many young people appear so much in love with old geezer Corbyn? It’s all a little perplexing. If I were to make a guess as to part of the reason – and in life there are, more often than not, many reasons – I would say it is illustrative of the depth of public disenchantment with the political class. And when a man comes forward, however misguided, who is clearly a man of conviction and seems authentic, the young grab at him.
Another factor, surely, is the complete absence in the Labour leadership contest of what we like to call the ‘big beasts’. They’re all minnows. Alan Johnson might have qualified for that sobriquet, but he doesn’t want to know. Perhaps he’s canny enough not to risk losing his sanity in trying to bring together such a disparate band of brothers in what he might view as a poisoned chalice.
Then there’s that totally toxic Blair legacy. We won’t speak of the horrors of the Iraq war or the dodgy dossier that deceived us into sanctioning an illegal war, but there is such a litany of other failed measures that found their way on to the statute book that I might cause you to develop apoplexy half way through were I to attempt to list them all.
His favourite ‘Blair Babe’, Tessa Jowell, loves pontificating and acting as cheer leader for the Bambi project, but she would be better advised finding some stone to crawl under. It was she, who as Culture Secretary, allowed round-the-clock drinking, which has turned all of our city centres into no go areas for the majority of people at weekends. Worst of all the things she did was to promote online casino gambling – that egregious, family-wrecking Act which flies in the face of everything the titans of Old Labour stood for. These titans were high-minded men of probity, who among their other fine and compassionate qualities was a determination to uphold individual dignity and family life. Gambling was anathema to them.
Despite Corbyn’s phenomenal rise against the odds, one or other of his pigmy opponents may yet come through in the race to succeed disastrous Ed Miliband. But even if that were to happen, what does the whole business tell us about the present state of the Labour Party? Could a split prove terminal?
We have grown so used to a duopoly of political power that we could be forgiven for thinking that Tories and Labour are a permanent part of the political landscape. But even in the 20th century this was not the case. The party of Lloyd George seemed just as permanent on the eve of World War One. For much of the previous century, that Liberal giant of principled government, William Gladstone, bestrode the political firmament. Then, after Lloyd George, the party became an irrelevance. Following their brief re-appearance and engagement with power under the recent Coalition, they have again sunk back into irrelevance. Is it now, as a result, a return to business as usual? Not necessarily.
Whether Corbyn succeeds or not, what his extraordinary success has shown is the deep schism within the Labour Party. It may prove unbridgeable. Certainly it will take more than any of the lightweights on offer to heal the wounds of what is turning out to be a bitter, acrimonious fight. Tories may gloat over what is going on, but they would be wrong to do so. Any properly functioning democracy needs an effective Opposition. You cannot expect the media to perform this role alone, splendid though it is in exposing maladministration and wrongdoing. (How incredibly right it was to resist Leveson’s proposals to muzzle it. Do you seriously think the establishment would have allowed itself to be investigated for child abuse had those proposals gone through?)
There is now, as I see it, a chance for a regathering of the forces of the sensible Left to challenge an overweening government. Essentially the Liberal Democrats are a left-of-centre party. Were they to throw their lot in with similarly minded elements in the Labour Party, it could consign forever to the dustbin of history that Trotskyite wing of Labour that so bedevils its chances of regaining the trust of the British people.
It might, in the process, appeal to those many citizens north of the border and in Wales who still have faith in a Union which has shone so brightly for so long and raised us, a small people, so high among the nations of the earth.
History will not be kind to Tony Blair. He found Britain a prosperous place – having recovered spectacularly from the ERM disaster – and left it virtually bankrupt and mired in two unwinnable wars.
Some might say this is a strange thing to claim concerning a prime minister who won three successive elections and even today is held in sufficient international regard to be appointed by the quartet of EU, USA, Russia and Britain to act as Middle East peace envoy. So why do I take issue with these two salient facts? It is my belief that our former prime minister succeeded in taking in not only ourselves, but a great part of the world beyond.
Blair took little old me in back in 1997. Indeed, if we cast our minds back to that now distant time it seems extraordinary that a government should be thrown out of office when it has got the economy into a rock solid position (so solid, as I recall, that it was starting to pay down the national debt).
Received wisdom tells us that it is the state of national finances that decides elections, yet the ‘grey man’, John Major, went down to a resounding defeat. Why was this? Partly because he was that ‘grey man’ and lacked charisma, whereas his opponent had oodles of it and was young as well as good-looking. And there had also been a series of huge embarrassments for the Conservative government: ‘cash-for-questions’; the armed forces procurement minister having his Paris hotel bill paid by a Arab Sheik; the gaoling of Jeffrey Archer; sexual shenanigans from a government that preached ‘back to basics’ (nobody knew at the time that the PM himself had had a dalliance with Edwina Currie); and then there was the mighty cock up of our ejection from the ERM which did so much to destroy the Tory’s reputation for economic competence.
Often forgotten is the fact that all three parties, along with the CBI, the Institute of Directors and just about everybody else was gung-ho for entry to the Exchange Rate Mechanism. It was therefore rank hypocrisy later for the opposition to use this as a stick with which to beat the government.
But I believe the biggest of all factors in Tony Blair coming to power was the national weariness of seeing the same old faces in place for 18 years. Blair seemed like a breath of fresh air; and how could we know that we were about to embrace the Nigel Havers of politics? But the one factor which still made the nation hesitate was Labour’s own reputation for fiscal incontinence. Indeed, every one of its administrations had gone down in a welter of financial mismanagement. To allay these last remaining doubts, Tony and his glowering, thwarted would-be leader Gordon Brown pledged faithfully to hold to Tory spending plans for the next two years.
So the die was cast and ‘Call me Tony’ took up residency in Downing Street. We used to call him ‘Bambi’ early on as he seemed to have no enemies, promising all things to all men with the most winning smile that had ever beamed out to the nation from Downing Street.
My own doubts began with the squalid Bernie Ecclestone affair very early on when all cigarette advertising was banned from sporting events except – mysteriously – from Bernie’s Formula One. For me it was downhill ever after as sleaze piled upon more sleaze, and all from the man who promised a government that would be ‘whiter than white’.
When the two years of financial rectitude was up, a spending splurge of awesome proportions was announced. There was to be no more ‘fixing the roof while the sun was shining’: it was to be spend, spend, spend.
The national debt went through the roof and no attempt was made to ensure taxpayers got value for money. It was just assumed that if you threw enough dosh at a problem it would go away. Instead, it went largely into the pay packets and pension pots of the new elite – the public sector, which was allowed to expand dramatically.
The upshot of it all is that we find ourselves today in the most dire condition that it is possible to imagine. Even private debt has gone through the roof. The spendthrift ‘Prudence’ Brown at the treasury seemed almost relieved to have someone else join him in the bankruptcy stakes. The growing credit bubble – which Gordon called growth – seemed like a never ending jolly, but like the puppet master in Downing Street it was a cruel illusion – all smoke and mirrors. Every pound Gordon borrowed he insisted was an ‘investment in the future’. Some future!
When he was in Brussels, he liked to turn off his headset so he couldn’t listen to what his peers had to say. But when it was his turn, he couldn’t resist lecturing them – in particular the Germans – on sound economics. All the while his bête noir boss left him to it so he could swan around the world offering his own advice and attempting to nation-build with armed forces Gordon constantly denuded of the equipment necessary to carry out his grandiose schemes. It was all very frustrating for the man who ‘felt the hand of history on his shoulder’.
While it’s fair to say the mess that the world finds itself in today would still be there, even without the contribution of Blair and his Chancellor, it is also fair to say that for us in the UK it would be manageable – as it is for Germany, Canada and others who handled their affairs with Gordon Brown’s once favourite word, prudence.
Bill Clinton, another out of the charisma stable of politicians, started it all back in 1998 when he urged Alan Greenspan, the then Chairman of the Federal Reserve, to help poor Americans become home owners – even those with no obvious means of repaying their debt. Thus began the sub-prime tragedy which spread around the world in concealed financial packages. But what did it for us and turned a problem into a disaster was that wild, decade-long spending jamboree.
As for our Tony, he doesn’t see or acknowledge any of this. He’s lost now in his own little bubble. He wanted to be President of Europe, but instead has settled – uniquely and rather unedifyingly for a Labour leader – on becoming stinkingly rich as well as continuing to offer pearls of wisdom to anyone who’ll listen. It worries me that his current successor in Downing Street is one who will. It worries me also that he has always been one of Tony’s fans, and despite everything remains so. What does this tell us about Cameron? Is this yet another judgement issue of his?
As an avowed Christian, it seemed for a while that faith might intrude on the Blair business of governance. There seemed often to be a touch of messianic fervour to his pronouncements. But his spin master, Alastair Campbell, slapped him down on this one, insisting that New Labour ‘didn’t do God’. Some might argue that Tony’s present ambition (he owns seven homes and counting) to join the mega rich club hinders his ultimate passage to celestial regions, and that he should remember his master’s admonition of how it is ‘easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’.
Last week I went with a friend to see the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. It was very good, with spectacular special effects and some surprisingly mature themes for a movie based on a comic book superhero.
Among the many ads before the movie, there was an Olympic-themed one which promised the world to the Batman audience. It blared out that old mantra – with which we are all regaled today – that each of us is possessed of “amazing abilities”.
The media pumping out of the London Olympics hint at much the same thing – that the contestants are ordinary people, who through dedication and hard work have turned themselves into godlike Olympians. Well, maybe some have, but the vast majority are gifted with that something extra: the ‘X Factor’, let’s call it.
Perhaps the worst offenders of this insidious rubbish of ‘prizes for all’ – that we each have got what it takes and that we are all winners – are the teachers’ training colleges, pushing their skewed and fanciful notions of education and throwing out so many of the tried and tested old certainties. And let’s not forget the politicians who, as always, have let them get away with it.
Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but most of us are ordinary. We are not winners, born with great intellects or reservoirs of Olympic-winning genes. We plod along making the best of what we’ve got, paying the bills – though even that gets ever harder these days – and not nurturing any illusions as to our ‘amazing abilities’.
Propagating this cruel myth was that disastrous charlatan Tony Blair, who, along with his many other sins, set out to raise university entries to wholly unrealistic levels. He and his political and academic cohorts insisted that no fewer than half of us had the ability to benefit from a university education, when the truth was that by far the majority would have suited vocational qualifications. In order to achieve their purpose, they dumbed down and degraded qualifications year after year while, all the time (surprise, surprise), trumpeting the ever rising number of passes.
Employers saw it differently, though, as did even the universities. They complained that the entrants reaching them were not fit for purpose, that they lacked even the basic skills of literacy and numeracy, and that they had to spend precious time and resources in getting them over this initial hurdle before they could even begin to put them to work.
Our society today not only faces economic meltdown, but it is peopled with individuals with wholly unrealistic expectations. Wives expect perfect husbands and husbands expect perfect wives; the magazines tell them so. Divorce is easier than ever! If you’ve fouled up, try someone else. Why bother seeing if you can identify what’s gone wrong? Worry about the kids later!
School leavers – little emperors and empresses to their parents – are shocked that their teachers, who promised them so much and waxed lyrical about their abilities, have lied to them. These unfortunates, who were conned into spending precious years chasing Mickey Mouse degrees due to their lack of ability, are shocked all over again when they find that the world of work is not the least impressed that they are a graduate in achieved a BA in Golf Management, Surf Science or Third World Development.
Unable to get jobs, in so many cases, and certainly not ones commensurate with what they were told their degree would bring them, they look with horror and depression at the mountain of debt they were encouraged to build up while they were chasing moonbeams. Half their working life will be spent paying off those worthless degrees. This has to be the cruellest deception of them all.
Realism is the thing most lacking in our young people today. It is not their fault; parenting skills, the ability to discipline along with standards of probity have all evaporated. With, in so many cases, couch potato, disinterested parents who bought them off from troubling them, what role models did they have? Bad tempered expletives were, everywhere, the order of the day. And those who should have known better outside the house made a bad situation worse by further indulging them and encouraging false expectations.
Then along came the lottery millionaires followed in quick succession by Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor, Big Brother and the ‘Victoria Beckham factor’ (i.e., marry someone rich). Anyone can strike it lucky! Fame is the name of the game. Just look at what happened to Victoria, Jade Goody and Jordan! Why bother with the hassle of applying yourself to your studies when you can achieve it all and more by a lucky and lucrative break into the dream world of Celebrity?
Victoria – who admitted to never having read a book (though, would you believe, she’s currently into Fifty Shades of Grey. Watch out, ‘Goldenballs’, she’ll be coming with the cuffs next!) – couldn’t even sing, and poor Jade couldn’t string a coherent sentence together.
Tragically, there is not a lot that can be done for the present, lost generation, so cruelly betrayed by the left-leaning liberal establishment. But hope is on the horizon for the next. Reforms are in train which may well turn things round. We must pray that they will, for a chill wind is blowing from the East, which promises only to get chillier.
One thing only will save us: a knowledge-based, productive and hard-working workforce, as it alone has any hope of competing. The cosy world of an easy, unopposed living which the West has enjoyed for half a millennium is coming to an end. May the best man (or woman) as they are saying this very day at the London Olympics, win.
As President Reagan once noted, there was always something of the ‘mad dog’ about Libya’s deposed despot. He entertained the most grandiose of illusions, prancing about as he did in his Gilbert and Sullivan uniforms. He imagined he could unify all Africa under his benign rule (before that it was the entire Arab world). He couldn’t understand why Egypt’s then ruler, Nasser, didn’t want to make a start by unifying their two countries. Using his country’s vast oil wealth, he sought to enlist (buy) all the friends he could instead of spreading it around his tiny, impoverished population. Many succumbed, including, to our eternal shame, our own Tony Blair.
Gadaffi was evil beyond belief. Once, when 1,200 prisoners in one of his many squalid gaols protested their conditions, he had them all murdered. He had no qualms about blowing people out of the skies nor bombing them in nightclubs. He was quartermaster of the IRA, sending them shipments of deadly ordnance to help them maximise the number they could kill; Semtex, arguably the deadliest of all explosives, helped mightily in those endeavours. He was prepared to kill an unarmed police woman in broad daylight on the streets of London along with opponents of his regime. All around the world he made himself available to sow terror and death. So crazed did he become that one by one his bought ‘friends’ distanced themselves from him. Even his fellow Muslims and the Arab League concluded that it did their cause no good to be seen to be associated with him, and this is what made it possible for the very first time to get the Arab League onside and stop that Bengazi massacre. At one of the meetings of the Arab League, he insulted the King of Saudi Arabia to the point that even that long-suffering, mild mannered autocrat, gave him a mouthful and walked out. Eventually, without anyone left to listen to his barmy, rambling discourses he was prevailed on by his Western educated sons, principally Saif, to come in from the cold by announcing that he had seen the light and would no more sponsor terrorism. He also grandly announced that he was no longer intent on assembling an atomic bomb.
Our own Prime Minister, Tony Blair (eyes a twinkle at the thought of the juicy contracts on offer), rushed into the tyrant’s spooky embrace – literally. Gone, it appears, were all thoughts of what this man had done to Blair’s (our) country and indeed the world. And now that Gadaffi’s own people can take no more of him – 42 years is an awfully long time – what are Tony’s excuses? “Well, I stopped his nuclear programme, didn’t I? Think what he could have done with that.” Come on, Tony, liberator of oppressed people everywhere. You know perfectly well that an atom bomb was decades over the horizon for Libya. If 70m people in Iran are struggling to the extent that they are, what chance have a desert people of 6m? Gadaffi would have long since died of natural causes before his eyes streamed tears of joy at that magic mushroom cloud rising over the Sahara.
Gadaffi’s capture alive would be much better than dead: he would be denied the chance to don the martyr’s crown; rather he would add to the other sadist leaders who have been arraigned at humanity’s court of ultimate justice. We would have the chance to catalogue at least some of his numberless crimes. Little by little, as the tyrants are made to answer for their abuses of their fellow man, we will have built up a body of case law and strengthened the International Criminal Court. The message will surely go out and be understood that the days of sovereign immunity whereby you can murder your own people at will are over. Tyrants everywhere beware!
So far as the prospects in post-Gadaffi Libya and all the peoples of liberated North Africa, I am not so gloomy as other pundits. Yet I know there is the potential for things to go badly wrong; decades of personalised rule by despots do not bequeath enlightened, functioning institutions. And Libya is awash with guns. Let them all be collected up and shipped to Syria’s hard-pressed heroes. Of course it will be hard, but they are determined. They have seen what tyranny brings. They are young and they are better educated than their parents. They are also internet savvy: they have seen the jobless wasteland their cruel and venal oppressors have created. Through TV they can see how much better are the lives just across the Mediterranean. In interviews and via their tweets they are at pains to tells us we have nothing to fear. But perhaps they do not realise the perils ahead (a little naive, perhaps)? Let us at least do all in our power to ease their passage to a better life, and let them know we have no designs on them beyond wishing them happiness and success. God knows, after their astonishing bravery they deserve that!
If we can play our part in helping to create prosperous and stable societies in what might be called our own backyard, think what that can do for our own struggling industries. 300m new consumers, willing and wanting – and now at last able – to buy our goods and services. Enlightened self-interest it may be called. Designed, not just to make a better world, but to lift our own spirits. Then there is the no-small-matter of Christian/Islamic relations. Imagine how prosperity, open, friendly and democratic societies will take the sting out of the Jihadists. What a prize! At that point, Israel’s own fears would be allayed and we would almost certainly have the comprehensive middle east settlement that has eluded us all this time. It would also go a long way to healing Europe’s own troubled relationship with its Muslim minority. We might even become friends.