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Long goodbye of Bush's partner in crime

May 18, 2007 | Page 4

TONY BLAIR'S speech last week announcing the date for his long-anticipated resignation as Britain's prime minister claimed a long list of accomplishments. Only at the end did he bring up the one crime he will be remembered for above all others--the catastrophic war on Iraq.

Blair leaves office despised in Britain and around the world for acting as the junior partner of the U.S. government in its war for oil and empire--and the parrot of the Bush administration's most ardent neoconservative hawks in demanding a crusade against the supposed "enemies of the West."

Blair's impact on domestic British politics was less notorious, but just as reactionary. He adopted the policies of his right-wing Tory predecessor Margaret Thatcher and enjoyed greater success in driving through privatization and deregulation of the economy.

Blair had the Labour Party's rhetorical commitment to socialist goals repealed, and transformed it into a vehicle for neoliberalism with his rhetoric about the "third way."

MIKE MARQUSEE, a British socialist and author of numerous books, including Chimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan's Art, wrote about Blair's record for the Indian newspaper The Hindu; we reprint it with his permission.

What else to read

Mike Marqusee's articles on politics, sports and more--including this column from The Hindu--are collected on his Web site at MikeMarqusee.com.

For two other left-wing perspectives on Blair's planned resignation, read Tariq Ali's "Adieu, Blair, Adieu: Bush's Zombie Shuffles Off" and Patrick Cockburn's "Blair's Departure: The View from Baghdad," both posted at the CounterPunch Web site.

 

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AFTER 10 years as prime minister, Tony Blair faces the end of the road, and for most of us in Britain, his resignation will come not a moment too soon.

A man elected in 1997 because he was portrayed as moderate, prudent and sincere has become a byword for mendacity, double-talk and self-serving recklessness.

He promised a sea change from the sleaze-tainted Tories, but his administration became notorious for dishing out special favors to the rich. His last months in office have been dogged by the cash-for-peerages scandal and his quashing of the inquiry into the bribery of Saudi officials by BAE, Britain's biggest arms manufacturer.

Blair's devotion to the welfare of the wealthy has been his single most consistent policy. Under his administration, low-tax Britain became a happy home for the world's super-rich. There are now 68 billionaires in the country--three times as many as in 2003--most of whom moved here from abroad.

Over the past five years, Britain's 1,000 richest people saw their liquid assets increase by 79 percent; the next 0.3 percent of the population saw theirs increase by 66 percent; while the 30 percent at the bottom have no liquid assets at all.

According to the Gini coefficient, income inequality is now even higher than it was when Labour took office after 18 years of Tory rule. Despite sustained GDP growth and some positive measures in tax credits and benefits, the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that relative poverty, absolute poverty and child poverty all rose last year. Poverty rates for working-age adults without dependent children are at their highest levels since 1961.

University tuition fees have been introduced, bringing to an end decades of free higher education--while corporation taxes have been slashed, and are now lower than in the U.S.

Privatization has been extended into realms even Margaret Thatcher never dreamed of, including schools, colleges, prisons, hospitals, subways and air traffic control. Meanwhile, the four giant supermarket chains in Britain--some of them major donors to the Labour Party--have been licensed to colonize ever more public space, depressing both wages and farm prices.

In a recent UNICEF report ranking child welfare in 21 wealthy countries, Britain came last overall. British children are the most likely to have a jobless parent, and to have been drunk, involved in a fight or bullied. A study by academics at Dundee University revealed that Britain has the second-highest child mortality rate among the 24 richest countries, with infants in the UK twice as likely to die before the age of 5 as children in Sweden.

Despite recent record levels of spending, the National Health Service is in severe crisis, with health workers being laid off and treatment units closed. Thanks to a below-inflation pay offer, public-sector workers now face a cut in living standards; NHS staff, including nurses, have threatened strike action.

What has happened is that with each amount of additional public funding have come managerial diktats, demanding stepped-up internal "competition" and expanding private-sector involvement. Under Blair, the NHS has signed more than 800 Private Finance Initiative deals, leaving the NHS with more than $400 billion in long-term debt repayments.

Britain now has the lowest levels of product and labor market regulation in the OECD. Last year, the number of construction workers killed on building sites rose by 25 percent, but convictions of companies responsible for these deaths declined by nearly three-quarters. British employees enjoy less job security than before Blair took office, working for more years and longer hours than their European counterparts.

Nonetheless, productive output per hour lags behind Germany, France and the U.S., and the gap is wider in services than in manufacturing, where Britain has shed some 1 million jobs since 1997.

According to financial journalist Anthony Hilton, "The entire UK economy has become, in effect, a giant hedge fund with a massive one-way bet on financial services--and no Plan B."

Despite his own indifference to elementary ethical requirements--including flagrant conflicts of interest in his relationships with the super-rich--Blair has never tired of preaching personal responsibility to others. Over the years, he has scapegoated one social group after another: single parents, public-sector workers, Muslims and, most recently, the whole Black community for its alleged failure to address "gun culture."

Meanwhile, asylum seekers have been subject to an almost annual round of punitive legislation, resulting in internment or deportation for thousands of innocents, while British citizens find their civil liberties hammered thin by a succession of "anti-terror" laws, each one criminalizing an ever wider circle of legitimate political activity.

Under Blair, voter turnout in general elections has plummeted--from 72 percent in 1997 to 60 percent in 2005, the lowest in Europe--while the prison population has rocketed--from 60,000 to 80,000, the highest in Europe.

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ALL THIS is in addition to the most acute horror of the Blair years: British foreign policy. Britain joined the U.S. in bombing Iraq in 1998 and Yugoslavia in 1999. It backed Russia's assault on Chechnya in 1999 and Israel's on Lebanon in 2006. It armed Indonesia as it attacked the Aceh province in 2003 and continues to succor brutal regimes in Colombia, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Blair and his chancellor, Gordon Brown, have made much of the growth of Britain's international aid budget--now up to a measly 0.52 percent of gross national product--while acting in global trade forums as insistent voices for the kind of one-sided pro-corporate liberalization that has wrecked the lives of millions in the developing world.

Finally and most damningly, Blair leaves Britain deeply embroiled in two avoidable, unjustifiable overseas wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq. He comes second only to George Bush in bearing personal responsibility for the deaths of 655,000 Iraqis and the near-destruction of an entire society.

After the calculated lies that Blair told both parliament and the public to get Britain to make war against Iraq, the greatest regret is that he will leave office without being impeached, though there is still hope he may face an international criminal tribunal at some time in the future.

In Blair's book, of course, accountability, like the obligation to pay your taxes, only applies to those Leona Helmsley once infamously described as "the little people." For the rich, there will always be an exemption, and Blair's successor, whether Labour or Conservative, will work hard to make sure it stays that way.

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