UK

Whatever the outcome of the police investigation, Blair’s legacy will be deeply tainted – and the party may yet implode

The smell from No 10 increasingly resembles a stench. No one knows whether the cash-for-honours affair will end up with charges, and of what kind, or a decision by the police not to proceed. But even if it is the latter, the stain will remain; the overriding feeling that Tony Blair’s premiership was tainted with wrongdoing will persist. It will be like Harold Wilson’s lavender list, but far, far worse: the whiff of corruption will be manifest, even if the police can’t make charges stick. The chances of any Brown administration lasting very long now surely look even slimmer. The legacy of New Labour, already damaged beyond redemption by the debacle in Iraq, threatens to be defined by malpractice and malfeasance.

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The foul-mouthed abuse on Big Brother shows how little we understand about prejudice, and the world judges us for it

So, thank God, Jade has been evicted. Imagine if she hadn’t, that Shilpa had walked the plank? It would have represented a popular endorsement of flagrant racism. The extraordinary fact, of course, is that no one, or virtually no one, ever owns up to racism.

Ron Atkinson described Marcel Desailly as a “fucking lazy, thick nigger” on air and then had the temerity to claim that he was not a racist. Jade Goody called Shilpa Shetty “Shilpa Fuckawallah” and “Shilpa Poppadom”, and then similarly claimed that she is not a racist. Andy Duncan, Channel 4’s chief executive, in a performance which should see him sacked forthwith, claimed on Thursday that “we cannot with certainty say that the comments directed at Shilpa have been racially motivated”. Ron Atkinson, Jade Goody and Andy Duncan are in denial – like, it must be said, millions of other whites.

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We like to boast about how global Britain is, but when it comes to learning a second language we are near the bottom of the league

The ability to speak a second language is in steep decline. But does it matter? After all, English is now the lingua franca, spoken widely from Berlin to Beijing, Paris to Tokyo, not to mention New York and Sydney. That seems to be what the British now think: they are voting with their tongues, no longer embarrassed by being monolingual. It has always been the same, but now it is even more the case.

We ought to feel extremely uncomfortable about this. We are happy to boast about being a country with a strong sense of the global, about London being one of the world’s great global cities. Our leaders increasingly see fit to lecture the ethnic minorities on the need to integrate, including of course the need to speak English. What about the need, though, for Britain to integrate with the rest of the world? It is not good enough to expect everyone else to speak English: at root it remains a deeply arrogant attitude. Far from demonstrating our worldliness it is testimony to our parochialism. Earlier this week, the IPPR published a very interesting report about the growing numbers of British now living abroad. The most popular destinations by far remain the English-speaking countries, but even when they go to Spain, for example, the failure of the vast majority to integrate – especially their failure to learn Spanish – remains striking.

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New Labour was born of defeat and has displayed a profound lack of ambition in power. But the party can still recover its purpose

One of the extraordinary features of the Blair government has been its slavish support for the central tenets of Bush’s foreign policy, above all the war in Iraq. During the cold war, the Wilson government resisted the suggestion that it should send troops to Vietnam. Globally, such supine support for the Americans has been pretty rare: the Australian prime minister John Howard, the Japanese, arguably some central European regimes. Blair has been in remarkably select company. And now that the American voters have hobbled Bush, Blair’s position looks even more isolated. So why has he been prepared to be such a puppet of such a rightwing American administration?

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This latest government initiative, inspired by a popular TV show, will have little effect on parenting since it ignores the underlying problem

There is something entirely fitting about the latest government initiative to recruit a bunch of “supernannies”. It borrows from a popular TV series, it is pitched at what is increasingly identified as a miscreant section of society, and it successfully avoids the fundamental problem: the way in which childhood is changing rapidly and how to confront that fact. There is nothing wrong, of course, with borrowing from a TV series, providing, that is, there is some serious substance in the idea. To judge from the performance of Louise Casey, the government’s respect coordinator, on the Today programme this morning, there is neither substance nor coherence: rarely has a government initiative been articulated with such a gaseous cloud of waffle and with so little argument.

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Liberal imperialists, 1990-2006, RIP? Hardly, but their tails are down. And so they should be. I am referring, of course, to a school of thought associated with the left that took wind after the end of the cold war and came to believe that the US was a benign power that could intervene around the world for the good of democracy and human values.

In the mood that prevailed after 1989, it was perhaps not entirely surprising: the left felt defeated, and many busily took the road of rejecting everything from their past as mistaken. This, for some, included the warm embrace of the US. The first Gulf war was easy to support, and so was American intervention in the Balkans tragedy. The US was not just the global policeman: it was the friendly bobby down the street, waiting to deliver good sense and virtue to some faraway country.

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Blair’s friend and ally lies in direct line of descent from Mussolini and poses a toxic threat to democracy

We should not be surprised that New Labour has become embroiled in a scandal that involves Silvio Berlusconi. There is something entirely predictable about it. Tony Blair was perfectly happy to embrace Berlusconi, together with the former Spanish prime minister José Maria Aznar as an ally at the time of the breach between Europe and the US in the months prior to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. He has seen Berlusconi as a valuable ally in pursuit of his pro-Bush foreign policy. In fact, he has consistently been closer to Berlusconi than to centre-left leaders such as the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder. This sense of affinity has even acquired a personal and family dimension, with the Blairs accepting Berlusconi’s hospitality and taking their vacations with the Italian leader at his holiday home.

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By failing to hold any ideological ground, New Labour has sown the seeds for a resurgent right

New Labour will probably win the next election, perhaps comfortably, although Blair’s speech at the weekend betrayed a new sense of anxiety. New Labour, however, will not rule for ever. Maybe it will win a third term, even a fourth, but sooner or later, it will again be consigned to opposition, most likely by the Conservatives. The idea that the latter would be banished to the electoral sidelines was always fanciful: notwithstanding the impressive performance of the Liberal Democrats, the two-party system is enormously resilient, as it showed in the 1980s and surely will again. But what will be the legacy of New Labour: or, to put it another way, what kind of political era will succeed it?

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Age and wisdom have been cast out of our infantilised society

There is a strange phenomenon. Britain is getting older. In fact, the population is older now than it has been for over a century. Yet at the same time our culture has never been more adolescent. Young people may be a dwindling minority, but they exercise an extraordinarily powerful influence on the cultural stage, from television and newspapers to film and art.

The turning point, of course, was the 1960s. Until then, young people were largely ignored in a culture that was determinedly and stiflingly middle aged. A generation, who were brought up in very different conditions from those of their parents, rebelled in a way that remains unprecedented in western society. It is not difficult to explain – or understand – the 60s. The young were a product of the long postwar boom, not war and unemployment, and the baby boom lent them exceptional demographic weight. What is far more difficult to comprehend is why our culture, in the decades since, has become progressively more infantile. It is as if the 60s gave birth to a new dynamic, which made young people the dominant and permanent subjects of our culture.

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Ten years on, Blair’s epitaph looks like being longevity in office – and Iraq

Tomorrow will be the tenth anniversary of the day Tony Blair became Labour leader. The Labour party was in a state of desperation. It had just lost John Smith, two years after its defeat in an election that it had half-expected to win. By 1994, Labour had been out of office for 15 years, during which time Margaret Thatcher had changed the face of Britain. The depth of its crisis was why the party was prepared to turn to an outsider like Tony Blair.
He was not of the Labour tradition and never had been: he wore his relationship with the party lightly. The most formative influence on him was not Labour, but Thatcherism.

Shortly after his election he “renamed” the Labour party New Labour: this was not a rebranding exercise, but a deliberate effort to distance the party from the Labour tradition. It soon became evident that New Labour was a very different animal from the Labour party.

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Updated and expanded new Chinese edition just released.

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Turkish edition just published!

When China Rules the World is the first book to fully conceive of and explain the upheaval that China’s ascendance will cause and the realigned global power structure it will create.

New edition available now from:

Amazon UK
and all good booksellers.

US second edition is available now via: 

Amazon US