The Awakening of Liberal England: Ye Are Many, They Are Few. Millions Have Broken Their Customary Silence to Rescue the Noble Ideas of Freedom and Democracy from Tony Blair's Diminishing Court

By Pilger, John | New Statesman (1996), October 13, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Awakening of Liberal England: Ye Are Many, They Are Few. Millions Have Broken Their Customary Silence to Rescue the Noble Ideas of Freedom and Democracy from Tony Blair's Diminishing Court


Pilger, John, New Statesman (1996)


An epic shame and silence covers much of liberal England. Shame and silence are present in a political theatre of frenetic activity, with actors running on and off the national stage, uttering their fables and denials and minor revelations, as in Ibsen's Enemy of the People. From the media gallery, there is a cryptic gesturing at the truth, so that official culpability is minimised, this is known at the BBC as objectivity.

Shame and silence reached a sort of crescendo during the recent conference of the Labour Party. Hundreds of liberal people stood and clapped for the Prime Minister, it was reported, for seven and a half minutes. Choreographed in their pretence, like the surviving stoics of a sect, they applauded his unctuous abuse of the only truth that mattered: that he had committed a huge and bloody crime, in their and our name. It was a shocking spectacle.

For those who cling to Blair, the last resort is to make him seem Shakespearean: to invest him with tragedy and the humanity of "blunders" and "cock ups" that might divert the trail of blood and conceal the responsibility he shares for the slaughter and suffering of thousands of men, women and children, whose fate he sealed secretly and mendaciously with the rampant American warlord.

We know the fine print of this truth now: and we are a majority. I use "we" here as the Chartist James Bronterre O'Brien used it in 1838, to separate the ordinary people of England from "the vagabonds" who oppress "what are called our colonies and [which really] belong to our enemies". The criminality of Blair and his diminishing court is felt across this country. It is sweeping aside those in the Labour Party who still plead, "Listen to us, Tony" and "Please have more humility, Tony."

The silence of famous liberals is understandable. Remember the division they skilfully drew in 1997 between "new" and "old". New was unquestionably good for "us". New was a "modernised" system called neoliberalism, as old and rapacious as its Thatcherite model. Their propaganda suppressed every" reliable indication (such as the venerable British Social Attitudes survey), which left no doubt that most of the British people had "old" priorities and rejected Blair's ruthless refusal to redistribute the national wealth from the rich to the poor and to protect public services, the premise of so much of British life, just as they rejected his embrace of the City of London and American dominance and warmongering.

The Blair myth was that he was "untainted by dogma" (Roy Hattersley). The opposite was true. For Blair; the issue was always class. When times were more secure, the liberal wing of the middle class would allot a rung or two of their ladder to those below. The ladder was hauled up by Margaret Thatcher as her revolution spread beyond miners and steelworkers and into the suburbs and gentrified terraces, where middle managers suddenly found themselves "shed" and "redundant". It was to peoplelike these that Labour under Neil Kinnock, then John Smith, then Blair, looked in order to win power. Middle-classness became the political code, as the middle classes sought, above all else, to restore their status and privileges. An ideological Scrabble was played in order to justify the Blair project's true aims. The "stakeholder" theory was briefly promoted, and there was chatter about "civic" society. Both were new names for old elites. The archaic word "governance" was used to obfuscate real social democracy. There was enthusiasm for the ideas of an American "communitarian" guru who wrote books of psychobabble that impressed Bill Clinton. A "think tank" called Demos filled up the Guardian tabloid on slow days with vacuous chic. Out of this was promoted something called "Middle England", a middleclass idyll similar to that described by John Major when he yearned for cycling spinsters, cricket and warm beer. That one in four Britons lived in poverty was unmentionable.

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