In One End, Out The Other
One of the things that amused me about Blair's ceremonial scarper, so many months in coming, is the almost rapturous send-off he's received from the media who have spent the last few years baiting his government like a particularly vicious and impotent bear. Reading the Editor's article in The Times on Friday - bizarrely they aren't archived on the Times site - I was almost suffocating with spite and laughter at the stupidity of it. He was hailed as the man who had "combined economic efficiency and social justice" - when the inequality gap has increased massively, there are between 600,000 and a million more children in poverty since 1997, the health services have spiralled into black hole of debt, those who can't afford private help in staying alive - i.e. almost everyone - having to put up with increased waiting times, disease-ridden hospitals and incompetent, badly-paid surgeons. He was supposedly the man who had "harnessed the inherent power of markets" for good and provided for the betterment of the country - the fact that neo-liberalism has created nothing more than the worst culture of callous, empty greed, ridiculous materialism and rampant stupidity (goodbye proper education) this country has seen since 1984-9 seems to have escaped them. The societal shift that Blair pushed forward by furthering Thatcherite policy and increasing de-industrialisation has created a country of regimented, slick blandness - most of the industrial working class have become the yuppie middle-class; the rest have been left to rot in the shell-towns of the North and Wales and the swelling sink estates of rapidly expanding conurbations. The aging middle-class guppy-mouths complaints about 'lack of respect', when it was an economic culture of kill-or-be-killed that spawned them. The Blair administration's attempts at social muzzling - ASBOs, the 'respect' campaign - is nothing more than an attempt to sweep their own industrial waste under the rug, and was laughably doomed from the start.
And don't get me started on Iraq.
The Times' claim that the Left's venomous attacks on Blair are negated by their own ability to manage the economy in the 1970s - quite what that has to with it, I don't know - are ridiculous: bureaucratic state socialism does not work, as any proper leftist can tell you, but neither does neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism's cultural and social effects are far more poisonous and insidious than anything British state socialism cooked up: aside from the obvious problem of massive inequality, neo-liberalism is based on a model of infinite expansion; capital, as a force, after colonising the economic sphere, moves to the social and cultural sphere, reorganising social relations according to the rules of exchange and competition, turning human beings into commodities; then moving into the psychic sphere, reorganising valuations, thought and desire in terms of capital, and finally, as Baudrillard demonstrated, mutating the reality principle in terms of capital's own constructions. Sorry I'm not putting this well, but I've gotten a bit rusty with writing.
At the same time as Blair leaves Downing Street, who should appear in France but Nikolas Sarkozy. As Owen Hatherly points out the victory of neo-liberalism in France is going to be another feather in the cap of British neo-liberals parroting the same guff about this system being "The Only One That Works". What is even more worrying to me is Sarkozy's fixation with 1968: his claims that it was, in a sense, the beginning of the end, the tremor that caused the 'breakdown in morals' (as if that were a bad thing!) in France, are unconvincing, and, frankly, hide something a bit more sinister. After 1989, Reagan claimed that the Soviet Union, and statist socialism, would be condemned to "the ashbin of history"; Sarkozy's attempt to "liquidate '68" is an attempt to wipe from history the last possibility of resistance to neo-liberalism. May '68 was proof, if proof be needed, that the economic security of the West meant nothing, its status as the first great rebellion against advanced modern capital the last wellspring for the European Left after 1989. If they have it their way, the entire Western world will be wearing Teflon Tony smiles for the rest of time.