Review of 'Rough Music', Tariq Ali, Verso £5.99
As Tariq Ali says, we live in 'scoundrel times'. Heroes are hard to come by-which is why it was lucky someone had a word with Tariq earlier this year after he declared he would be a Lib Dem for a day. He was brought onto a Respect platform at the start of the general election and hasn't looked back since.
Those of you lucky enough to have seen Tariq Ali speak this summer will recognise large chunks of Rough Music. Nonetheless, they bear repeating. This book should be read.
We kick off with 'What Makes Blair Run'. Long before he reached Downing Street, people could see a Blair government wouldn't bring many domestic changes. But 'Blair's hyper-militarism was not so easy to foresee'. There is, however, the transatlantic alliance. The prime minister's chief of staff summed it up well. In 1997 he told the new ambassador to the US, 'Your job is to get up the arse of the White House and stay there.'
We all know the dominant faction of the US ruling class wants to use US military might to re-establish the US's old economic supremacy. 'Whither thou goest, I will go,' says Blair. So he follows Bush into Iraq. Attempting to win public consent for Bush's war, the state used 'power to reshape the truth'. We see in 'Grammar of Deceit' (as well as the Downing Street memos from 2002) Bush and Blair finding the cause, then looking for facts to provide the justification. It's a short step from there to dodgy dossiers.
This process has not just hollowed out the Labour Party (200,000 members and 4 million votes lost in eight years) but turned political life in Britain, by which Ali means mainstream political life, into something that would shame a 'banana monarchy'.
The drive to war could not have happened without the connivance of civil institutions, in particular the media. 'The Media Cycle' touches on the depths of that collaboration. Not one editor of a Murdoch paper bowed to public opinion - every single one toed the pro-war line.
The BBC went to inordinate lengths to 'balance' its coverage of the war, packing audiences, keeping phone lines open for pro-war callers, keeping a blackout on the Stop the War Coalition. Yet this was still not good enough for Alistair Campbell, who bombarded the corporation with complaints.
As the otherwise Blairite director Greg Dyke pointed out in a letter to Blair, 'Having faced the biggest ever public demonstration in this country and the biggest ever backbench rebellion against a sitting government... would you not agree that your communications advisers are not best placed to advise whether or not the BBC has got its balance right?'
The original pro-war consensus has long been shattered. There were fresh attempts to form a new one round the July bombings. It fell apart in the face of public resistance almost as quickly as the lies spread by the Metropolitan Police after the murder of Jean Charles De Menezes. One astonishing thing was the tone of the so called liberal press, like the Guardian, which lectured those demanding justice for Jean Charles for having 'agendas' - a bit rich coming from a paper that has backed two bloodstained Blairs. 'Pious yet spiteful' is exactly the right description.
Given the ongoing war in Iraq, added to the war at home on our freedoms (inching us closer to a 'banana monarchy'), Tariq Ali's conclusion is that 'we need a new political movement that can unite the swathe of opinion to the left of New Labour'.
I'm right behind you, Tariq.