Magazine article The Spectator

The Onanists, the Stripper and the Manic Totalitarian

Magazine article The Spectator

The Onanists, the Stripper and the Manic Totalitarian

Article excerpt

Tony Blair once had an unscripted meeting with some journalists and old Labour supporters. It took place in Scotland, and the PM did not enjoy himself. Afterwards, he described his interrogators as 'unreconstructed wankers': a rare glimpse of Mr Blair's real thoughts, behind the smiles and the spin.

One might have expected that the 100th anniversary of the Labour party would provoke some further real thought, albeit in more polished language. Not so; a reading of the mechanical, insincere prose with which Mr Blair chose to commemorate the event leads to only one conclusion. Mr Blair has no interest in the history of the Labour party. He could hardly avoid making a speech, but such perfunctory history as it contained was dragooned into the service of hagiography: his own hagiography. In 1900, we gather, a group of proto-- Blairites defied the forces of conservatism and established the Labour party. Fast forward the next 94 years, when proto-- Blairism was less in evidence and there was a lot of unreconstructed electoral onanism. Then history became apotheosis.

Mr Blair's critics often accuse him of being a manic totalitarian. Both charges are overstated; neither is devoid of psychological insight. The mania comes from the pressures of constant electioneering. General election campaigns are stressful affairs, but once they are over, most prime ministers relax into the process of running the country, which may be more intellectually demanding but involves much less nervous strain. Not Mr Blair: he is much more interested in electioneering than in governing. He started fighting the 1997 election in 1994; he is still doing so. He certainly intends to fight it again at the next election. He will try to continue doing so for the rest of his premiership. There is one admirable aspect to this: Tony Blair is one of only about ten people in the country who do not regard the next election result as a foregone conclusion. But that is only part of the story. This is a man who cannot bear opposition, from any quarter - hence the charge of totalitarianism.

'Come on,' one can hear the Blairites protesting. 'Before you accuse our boy of totalitarianism, think back to Maggie. She wasn't exactly the most tolerant prime minister we've ever had - so why blame Tony?' But there is a crucial distinction between Margaret Thatcher's brand of intolerance and Tony Blair's. She was a Manichaean. She relished combat and enjoyed defeating her enemies, but she never expected to run out of enemies. If she had done, she would have been horribly bored. Mrs Thatcher was a relentless polariser of political debate, but she never tried to abolish polarity.

A poor debater, Mr Blair does not enjoy combat and takes all opposition as a personal affront. He is happy to try to incorporate his opponents within his ever-expanding tent, but if they refuse to come under the canvas, he reacts with petulance and spite. This is the totalitarian aspect; Mr Blair would like the rest of us to believe that all views except his own are illegitimate and that all his opponents can be lumped under one heading: 'the forces of conservatism'. As this applies to Ken Livingstone as well as to William Hague, it does not seem a useful or even coherent category. It has about as much relation to reality as did the charge sheets at a Stalin-era show trial. But it tells us a lot about Tony Blair.

Apropos of Ken Livingstone, by Tuesday morning he had still not made up his mind whether to run: an indecision which was becoming tedious. Mr Livingstone was beginning to resemble a stripper who is reaching for her knickers for the 14th time, not realising that her audience is rapidly losing interest in their contents. …

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