It’s impossible to describe just how invested I felt in Tony Blair as a child. It’s a bit of a hackneyed tale – but the Spice Girls WERE riding high in the charts, it WAS far sunnier that it usually is at that time of year and things COULD only get better. Surely.
I’d tried to stay up all night to watch the 1997 election but I was 12 and my mum was having none of it. I remember waking up, the sun bursting through the curtains, to be greeted with the words “Labour win by a landslide.” This was it, the Tories were gone, the good guys were in charge now. Admittedly, anyone older than 12 probably remembers all the awful things which happened beforehand, they probably guessed what would happen next, to some extent – as New Labour chipped away at anything that would threaten the super rich, destroyed any commitment to socialism, purged the party of the left and stood on a platform of Red Toryism. As I say though, I was 12, it all seemed really plausible.
Blair’s economic legacy was the wholesale destruction of the public sector. Tuition fees were introduced, ending free education at a stroke, and many our once national assets became “markets” instead. What would otherwise have been public projects were contracted out to private firms and paid for with private finance or more likely commerical credit. Schools and hospitals were built under these Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals and then rented back to the state at an extortionate cost… a bit like a mortgage except when it was paid, the bank kept your house, turned it into posh flats and threw you out on the street. The current total £305bn cost from PFI, invented by Major and mastered by Blair, represents perhaps the single biggest act of wealth redistribution in the post war years by successive UK Governments – as the poorest paid for the enrichment of the most well off. Well, until the bigger one.
Yes, another crowning achievement of the Blair years was the “global financial crisis” as they became so fond of calling it. That’s not to say it wasn’t global – New Labour and the system they represented did manage to fuck up almost the entire world – but this was a very British fuckup. Blair himself said, “this global financial crisis was the product of a whole new way that the financial and banking sector has been working in this past 20 or 30 years” but pretending it “has been working” in this way, as opposed to been designed in this way, by you and your pals, is pretty disingenuous.
Under Blair, we had an economic “miracle” based on rising house prices, speculation, personal debt replacing public spending and increasingly complex “financial instruments.” Blair championed “light touch” regulation of the banks, a message he and chancellor Gordon Brown enthusiasticly spread through Europe and the world. Huge banking firms were attracted to London by the lack of rules, “non domiciles” AKA taxdodgers found a haven in the City. The “financial instruments” were used to gleefully scoop out the economy, the credit bubble burst and the current era of perpetual, engineered austerity began. But Tony was OK, he went to work for a bank for a salary of £2m, obviously.
Blair himself is very clear that the crash he caused is merely an opportunity to again target the poorest and the most vulnerable, destroy services and privatise absolutely everything – or as he put it in his book,
The economic crisis should have been (and indeed still can be) the moment when, instead of lazily succumbing to the idea that more state spending dressed up as fiscal stimulus is the sole answer, we took the opportunity to accelerate and sharpen reform. Getting value for money in services like health care, opening up competition in areas like education, radically altering welfare so that it becomes a genuine safety net for those who need it and a leg-up for those who can and should stand on their own feet…
But let’s be honest, you’re probably not raging about Blair this week because he’s the architect of so much of the privatised austerity of broken Britain. One word defines his legacy for some many: Iraq. It’s important to highlight that Tony Blair wasn’t just a lying bloodthirsty murderer – but more important to never forget that’s exactly what he is.
We cannot allow the calculated, cynical and murderous evil which led to the “war” in Iraq to ever be sanitised or toned down. The media – whose role must also never be forgiven – are raking though a report, looking for juicy insights into the inner workings of Whitehall. But we have to remember the Iraqi people, the hundreds of thousands killed and injured based on a lie, for the profit and enjoyment of people like Tony Blair and George W. Bush, the millions who still live with the violence created.
There will never be an acknowledgment of, much less and apology for, the deliberately racist nature of the entire build up and – rather more crucially – the war itself. Our Government judged the Iraqi people incapable of governing their lives or controlling their own economy and assets in the West’s corporate interests – the only interests which mattered. The gutter press and the Government peddled the deliberately false notion that the murderous but broadly secularist regime in Iraq were somehow “Islamic Extremists” because Islamophobia was what they reckoned could drive support for a bombing campaign. The Iraqi dictatorship was painted as uniquely evil and definitely really Muslim/therefore bad. Iraqis were dehumanised and seen as legitimate targets to be starved and humiliated for decades previously, as crippling sanctions strengthened the regime of Saddam Hussein. Then the “coalition” just blew Iraq up.
The UK’s involvement was only possible due to the murderous racism at the heart of the British state and we need to recognise that explicitly; this was a process in which those in power painted an entire country as expendable, it happened slowly, but over a sustained period and it ended in unpardonable tragedy. This level of prolonged demonisation is not solely the preserve of a few nasty Nigels. The reality is that many of the worms now crawling over British politics – xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, the belief that human rights have “gone too far,” came from the can which New Labour and specifically Tony Blair’s Government were more than happy to open when it suited their violent interests.
While Iraq burned, the “War on Terror” also became a convenient way to justify the removal of many hard-won human rights back home. The threat of ID cards, constantly spiralling surveillance and police powers, detention without charge and trial. Then there are the rendition flights, Guantanamo Bay, a massive network of organised torture which the UK Government were more than aware of. The open attacks against civil liberties were nothing compared to what they were prepared to do when they hoped no-one was looking.
We must never forget Iraq and indeed Afghanistan were acts of annihilation in order to bring about political and economic benefit for British and American interests. And the consequences, the horror, the murder are still happening. If you want to know why IS exists, Fallujah would be a good place to start. In April 2003, a group of residents from the city marched in protest at the occupation of their local school by the US military, who opened fire on the demonstration. An estimated 20 people died in the massacre, with 70 more injured. Human Rights Watch found no evidence to support US claims they were fired on by the demonstrators. 13 years later, Fallujah became an “IS stronghold” and was pounded into the ground. The devastating bomb blast in Baghdad last week, which is now estimated to have killed close to 300 people, is a fatal reminder of the unstable country we have engineered.
We owe it to the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and those around the world to never forgot what started this chain of events, who started this chain of events. Tony Blair’s name is near the top of that list. Without he and his Government willingly aiding in the mass deception of the British public, the UK would not have been able to enter into this illegal war. They can use weasel words if they like – but we know this was decided long before there was a vote in Parliament, they knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, we knew this was a war for oil and power. We called them liars then and they remain liars now. Every. Single. One.
Perhaps the most shameful distraction of the last few weeks has been the plot to oust Corbyn, one of the few MPs who isn’t a total shitebag and who spoke out against the invasion of Iraq. What’s unbearable is this vile scheme is being engineered by those complicit in the Iraq lies, many of those who voted for the war and against even having this enquiry. Angela Eagle, Hilary Benn and all Blair’s cabinet must be held accountable for what they’ve done – and they must never be allowed to kill again.
The anti-war movement was the largest protest movement in my lifetime and the memory of 100,000 people in Glasgow, as Blair squirmed around to avoid us, will stay with me forever. But it was a movement which would never be listened to by those in power, it served to demonstrate that military democracy isn’t and won’t ever be democracy.
Much will be said about Chilcot but very little of the polite media chatter will focus on what it was the British state did and is doing to the people of Iraq and beyond. Don’t let this be turned an excuse just to ponder millions of words about process and pedantry. Not when millions of people’s lives have been lost or irreparable damaged by this awful, awful wanker and the violent system he represents. We have to speak up about the reality of the horror of this endless conflict, which was so cruelly unleashed by those who knew exactly what they were doing.
Things can only get better when we condemn Blair, his disciples and his dystopian bloodthirsty Britain to the Hague and to ancient history. But that future seems a long way off while Britain is still a military democracy to its core – still deep in blood in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Israel. While that remains the case, there will be no real justice for the victims of Blair’s crimes. And no peace.