Sunday, 10 October 2010

The altruistic society versus the equal society

In these remarkably fluid political times, when our major political parties are each in the process of redefining themselves, I should like to propose an alternative radical vision of a society other than the conventional one which is based on equality.
Let us begin by making a clear distinction between certain types of equality. Equality of opportunity, and lack of discrimination, are both goals to which every society should aspire. It is equality of outcome which causes genuine problems.
We should, I believe, be highly suspicious of the principle of equality of outcome. The problem is that in its current usage it is not only consistent with uniformity, but practically its synonym. The attempt to impose equality of outcome by the state has always seemed to me morally dubious.
As evidence, we should look at societies which have pursued this type of equality above other values. There can be little doubt that during the past century the drive towards equality of outcome — at the forefront of the Soviet experiment, for example — has led to some of the most brutal and inhuman tyrannies the world has ever seen. If anyone should wish to observe what happens in a modern state when equality of outcome is the central and overriding aim, they should look to North Korea.
It is now quite clear how an equalitarian tyranny starts and perpetuates itself. If a naturally highly diverse human society is to be moulded into equality, it requires enormous state power — in fact, at its fullest extent, absolute state power.
The second great flaw in the ideal of an equalitarian society is that full equality can never be reached. Again, the Soviet experiment shows that however strenuous the state’s efforts to reduce differences in material outcome, the very structure of the equalitarian society, in which the state is guarantor, will act to undermine and destroy equality. As George Orwell demonstrated so eloquently in his great political satires, those who control the state will always end up much more “equal” than the passive, patronised population who are the recipients of state largesse. As the Soviet experiment collapsed, the shocking degree of material inequality between the state apparatchiks — with their exclusive shops and hunting lodges — and the rest of the population was cruelly exposed.
Given these historical lessons, I should like to suggest an entirely different society, which I propose to call the altruistic society. The altruistic society does not penalise diversity or variety; rather, it celebrates it. It sees diversity and variety as the engine of social and economic progress.
Equalitarian societies in which the state is the lead player expend enormous social capital in attempting the impossible — the equalising of material outcome. In an altruistic society, those same resources could and should be aimed not at the toxic and unreachable aim of equality of outcome, but at a single great social objective — eliminating poverty entirely, so that no single person lacks the material benefits of a full life, and only those who value poverty as a lifestyle (such as hermits or extreme ascetics, for example) would be poor.
Instead of expending valuable social capital trying to equalise incomes over the whole of society, the social capital of the altruistic society would be directed at raising the material levels of the least well off to sufficiency in material things. Above this level, the rest of society should be allowed to be as diverse as possible, to pursue its own individual interests (including the pursuit of wealth) to its heart’s content.
Indeed, these two aspects of the altruistic society are complementary. The chief product of an altruistic society, in which individuals are free to pursue material wealth and to enjoy its fruits, would be a healthy, strong economy. This healthy, strong economy would provide the material resource for its own great social objective, to eliminate material poverty in that society.
Carried to its logical outcome, it would benefit the altruistic society to eliminate the chief agency of the equalitarian state — namely, income tax. This is not quite as strange or radical as it first seems. William Gladstone, perhaps the greatest left wing politician in British history, thought income tax (initially created as a “temporary” tax to generate extra state income for war) was iniquitous, not only because it resulted in gross state interference in individual liberty, but because he believed it represented a crude and highly inefficient means of redistributing wealth. During his various chancellorships Gladstone reduced income tax from 8p in the pound by various stages to 3p in the pound. At each reduction of income tax the economy was stimulated, and he gathered more revenue. Unfortunately, he never achieved his aim of eliminating income tax altogether.
In Gladstone’s view the best, and fairest, way of taxing a population was through various kinds of sales tax. The beauty of sales tax is that it taxes consumption directly. And it is quintessentially fair. The more you consume, the more you pay. Its progressive quotient can be enhanced by placing high taxes on luxury goods — such as large, expensive cars — and low or no taxes on essentials such as food.
A second great advantage of sales taxes is that they are easily collected. Every time you buy a luxury item you pay tax. No tax collectors are necessary to pry into your individual affairs. No bureaucratic forms or complex and changing accounting formulas would be required to establish the level of tax payable. In fact, that part of the Inland Revenue which collects income tqax could be disbanded and its numerous, highly educated and capable functionaries redeployed to creative and productive work in the real economy. In addition the vast income tax avoidance industry which flows from the collection of income tax — and which has been the traditional bugbear of left wing economists — would also become redundant and its workers diverted to more productive occupations.
Currently, approximately half of all tax is generated by income tax, and approximately half by sales taxes of various kinds, such as VAT. The structure for collecting and enforcing sales taxes is already largely in place. Increasing the rate of sales taxes to take up the shortfall in income tax would hardly increase this existing structure at all.
An economy without income tax, and with every incentive for the individual to be as productive and creative as possible, would be a healthy and expanding economy. But it could also be a very “green” economy. The application of differential or graduated taxation according to environmental criteria could be a powerful instrument of green policy. Products or services with a high carbon footprint would be more heavily taxed, those with little or no carbon footprint less taxed or untaxed.
The elimination of poverty, never before achieved, could now be pursued with real purpose. Before doing so, poverty must not be defined in equalitarian terms, as some more-or-less arbitrary proportion of average incomes. It must be defined more precisely and objectively in material terms, as the amount of income required to lead a decent life without material want.
If the new generation of the Labour Party leadership wished to consider a genuinely revolutionary idea for a new society, it should consider whether the broad programme of the altruistic society is not superior to the older, traditional and divisive idea of an equalitarian society, with its morally dubious aims which remain always out of reach, its over-powerful state and its disastrous historical precedents.
By contrast, the altruistic society would liberate its population to earn as much as they are able within their talents and abilities, would require a tiny proportion of the vast administrative costs of the current equalitarian society to collect its graduated sales taxes, and (by directing its collective economic resources towards a primary aim) could achieve perhaps the greatest of all radical social objectives — the absolute elimination of material poverty.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

BLAIR the poem - volume 1


BLAIR


or the rise of a British fascist

a satirical poem

Warwick Collins and David Pidsley




                                 I

He was born (like any other child)
A monster of egotism, screaming
For his milk, the centre of the universe
Naked, enraged

His cries falling on the panes
Of calm windows
In a quiet middle class purlieu,
In Paisley Terrace, Edinburgh.

The son of
A junior tax inspector
And a doting mother
He made his entrance

With aplomb at the despatch box
Of mortal existence.
So Anthony Charles Lynton Blair
Began his days.

His mother, Hazel, was
The daughter of Protestant Irish parents
His father Leo was the illegitimate child
Of two English actors

Adopted by James Blair
A kindly Glasgow ship worker and his wife Mary.
Beginning with this rich and colourful ancestry
The youthful Tony Blair

Was sent to Fettes, that Scottish Eton
Of public schools, where
His moderate but excitable mind
Glowed best in theatre.

He flourished there, though
According to his school reports
He achieved little of note and
His grasp of history

Was “somewhat deficient”. None considered him
The material of a future premier. Even at that
Stage, his teachers found
His character elusive. Instead

He demonstrated at an early age
The proclivities of an actor
With a touch of the ham, in whom
Mawkishness and a genuine desire to please

Produced a simulacrum of sincerity.
(Later, his quivering lip and rehearsed authenticity
Would induce, from admiration
Of his own performance

A tremor in the voice, a tear of sympathy
Like an act of auto-eroticism.
So it would continue.
Only he could coin

From an address on the death of Diana
That deathless phrase “the people’s princess”.
Only he could say, at the signing
Of a peace agreement in Ulster —

Perhaps his greatest achievement —
“This is not the time for sound-bites,
But I feel the hand
Of history on my shoulder.”)


                               II

After school he attempted to become
A rock music promoter
Without great success. He
Formed a group called The Ugly Rumours

And was caught at the time in photographs
With long hair and bell bottom trousers
Affable and at apparently at ease
Though observing the camera

With calculating, watchful eyes.
At Oxford he threw himself into undergraduate life
Passing without distinction
Through St John’s College

With a second class degree in jurisprudence
And so to law in the offices of Derry Irvine
His mentor and friend
Who would become his Lord Chancellor

To a political career
Inspired by a committed young woman
Cherie Booth, with whom he campaigned
On the doorstep.

The daughter
Of Tony Booth, the actor
Academically gifted, ambitious
She incited in him a similar dedication

To politics. After marriage
She was considered by their friends
To be the stronger personality
Yet by a strange transmutation

She invested her political ambition in him
Supporting him with absolute loyalty, while
Confining herself to her successful career in law.
Perhaps she was the first to recognise

His own charisma and plausibility
His ebullient charm
And his warrior-like quality
Of being able to absorb punishment

Without diminishing his unaffected enthusiasm.
More inclined to be stringent and biting
She noted his capacity to appear
Sympathetic to all

As though he were a mirror
First impressing Michael Foot
To whom he wrote
With a typically earnest introduction

Describing himself as something of an intellectual
Who had “come to socialism through Marxism".
He demonstrated his capacity
To be all things to all men

Convincing his donkey-jacketed mentor
He was a left-winger
Of powerful and remorseless conviction
Who would one day lead the party.


                                III

It was Mussolini who claimed
That fascists were the first
To believe that the state was more important
Than any individual. If Il Duce was mistaken

On his claims of origin, his assertion
That fascism places the state
Higher than the citizen
Will serve us now.

The Labour party
As so often before
Proved a perfect Petri-dish
For creating would-be tyrants

With its addiction to centralised control
Its suspicion of individual freedom
Its belief in plans imposed from above
For the people’s good.

Yet again it demonstrated itself
An effective breeding ground
For the cult of a Great Leader
As it had, perhaps more comically

In the case of Oswald Mosley —
That handsome, fluent, former Labour minister.
So, with utter self-belief
Blair would set about dismantling

Traditional democratic checks and balances
Treating all obstacles to absolute power
As history’s anachronisms
Freeing himself from the constraints of parliament

Or collective cabinet responsibility.
In a fine stroke of irony
Our new Mosley —
Who in the course of his premiership would commit British soldiers

To no less than four invasive foreign wars —
More than any other Parliamentary leader
In British history —
First came to the attention of the media

By criticising the Conservative Party
For attacking civil liberties
Even though — here irony
Piles on irony —

He would be responsible
For a more consistent and dismissive dismantling
Of civil liberties and individual freedoms
Than any previous British leader

Since Oliver Cromwell.
So the youthful politician Blair
Stepped forward on the public stage
Armed, not with Mosley’s absurd imitations

Of earlier European fascists
Not with blackshirts
Thugs, rallies of saluting paramilitaries
Or strutting marching steps

But with affecting sincerity
Persuasive reasonableness
A desire to please
And a wholly innocent inability

To recognise in himself
Any trace or agency of tyranny
Shining instead
With energy, diligence, fluency.

As elegant in front of an audience
As a Nijinsky faun
He acquired the nickname “Bambi”
In rueful appreciation

Of his magnetic charm.
So each of us moves through life
Making our marks and accommodations
Conscious and unconscious

Of our own effects
Fortunate indeed if we recognise
Our own lives
For what they are.


                              IV

You can see now how it occurred
A very British coup
Three unique, strong characters in close proximity
Fomenting a classic conspiracy

Talking to one another in cafés
Railway stations, underneath clocks
Encouraging one another
To greater ambition.

Both united and riven
By private tensions of Shakespearean complexity
Gordon Brown, two years older
Than his protégé Tony Blair

The third, the kingmaker
Peter Mandelson, observing how
The plausible Blair strengthened his power —
Becoming more popular than Brown —

Emerging as the darling of the party, until
According to all the figures of support, Blair became
The natural leader. Meanwhile, Brown’s resentment grew
Until the perceived third party treachery

Of Mandelson the realist, who now chose to support Blair
Caused a nuclear explosion of resentment
And a bitter, decade-long enmity
Between Brown and Mandelson

Which would resonate through power.
Brown decided not to contest the election.
In 1994 Blair became leader
Of the Labour Party.

In the years afterwards
Blair’s guilt at his own importunity
A sense of deceiving his old friend and mentor
Would play its own corrosive part

Multiplied by Brown’s resentment
Creating tensions that would drive politics
Placing its two most powerful characters
In permanent opposition, with Brown

Constantly attempting to undermine and usurp
His own elected leader.
So, for more than a decade.
The conspiracy grew

Through its own contradictions
Reaching out its tentacles of power
Dividing, polarising, motivating, outraging
Labour’s diehards and conservatives

But constantly in movement, its sheer energy
Drawing the party into its web. Meanwhile
The youthful dynamism of its leader
His plausible, high-flown rhetoric

Reached out to the wider electorate
Entrancing housewives and elderly colonels
Trades unionists and Guardian-reading bon vivants
Mothers who witnessed the perfect son-in-law

Fathers who relived their youthful dynamism
Until the very momentum of New Labour
Suppressed the bitter tensions
Beneath its smooth surface.


                               V

In order to untether the Labour Party
From its historical past as
The rump of a socialist party
The new Leader considered it imperative

To remove Clause 4 from its constitution —
The injunction that the state should control
“The commanding heights of the economy”
Which so frightened

The City and its investors —
Separating the party cleanly from its history
In a single move of breathtaking audacity
Abolishing its reputation

As a trades union satrapy
So it could become an instrument
For seizing and holding power in the modern world
Entirely pure in its ambitious intent.

To make the party more friendly to the establishment
To triangulate the great historical forces in the land —
Capital, trades unions, newspaper barons, amongst others —
And bind them into the new movement

The Labour party would be whipped into line.
Those not permanently “on message”
Would be consigned
To outer political darkness.

No longer the “victim” —
As the Leader liked to put it —
Of the 24 hours news cycle
He would turn that cycle

Against itself, creating a perfect simulacrum
Of a communist or fascist state
In which the media is constantly dominated
By the thoughts and presence of the Great Leader.

For nine years of continuous power
And three successful elections
He would generate a plethora of new announcements
Mostly fatuous and short-lived

Designed to astonish and enthral
No sooner announced
Hardly dry on the page
Than followed by a fresh one.

Preferring a new “eye-catching initiative” to long term strategy
For every calendar day
He succeeded in what he liked to call
“Controlling the narrative”, generating

A plethora of new policies and laws
Sucking the air from other news stories
Creating the impression
Of all-powerful momentum and intent.


                              VI

In another evocation of fascism
Throughout his administration Blair would
Take care to integrate
The majority of the electorate

In his collective project
Playing to the expanding middle class
Kissing the hem of aspiration
Loving wealth for its own excessive sake

Though largely ignorant of the market —
The complex interplay of forces
Between free individuals — preferring
Amongst his closest collaborators

To sneer at liberal freedoms
And denigrate any initiative
That did not come from the Leader
Or his close cadres. With perfect consistency

His party would always maintain
A heavy bias towards direct intervention
Whether domestically or abroad
Each reinforcing the other.

The British tradition of social development
In which politics merely set the terms
For the natural evolution of society
Was reversed.

To his mind society was the passive recipient
Of the state’s directives.
Echoing Louis XIV of France
He believed L’ état c’est moi.

He being the state, other consequences emerged
Ineluctably and inevitably
From his simplistic understanding
Of the relation between state and society.

Throughout his administration
When faced with any choice
Between individual freedom and state control
New Labour would always, unerringly

Opt for greater government power
Happily undermining individual rights or freedoms
For the mirage of greater efficiency
Invoking — without ever being aware —

The classical fascist rationale
Of “national security”
In dangerous times
Always happy to exploit

Any widespread fear
Using “the war on terror”
(Can one have war on an abstract?)
To support his aims.

The logic did not matter.
He had the fascist’s instinctive grasp
That to generate a sense of unity
External enemies were necessary.

Instead he became the enthusiastic advocate
Of new security measures
Which would eventually reach its apotheosis
In the case of Walter Wolfgang

A gentle 82-year-old
Jewish concentration camp survivor
And idealistic supporter of Labour
Who had the temerity

To heckle Jack Straw at a Labour Conference.
He was bundled out by thugs
Arrested under the Terrorism Act
Taken to a police station

Preparatory to being charged
And tried for undermining the state.
Forcibly prevented from returning
To the conference.

He only began receiving humane treatment
When New Labour
Observing media reaction, realised
It had created a damaging story

To itself and its ambitions. Reluctantly,
The elderly Wolfgang was allowed to return
To a conference where
He was treated as a hero

By the rank-and-file delegates.
Meanwhile his case became a cause célèbre
Amongst those who attempted to oppose
Blair’s legislative attacks on civil rights.

For Blair it was only a temporary setback.
New Labour continued to cite a “war against terror”
As a justification for its remorseless
Advance against time-honoured freedoms

Unaffected by criticism
From isolated libertarians
Who pointed out, amongst other things
That Blair and his entourage

Lacked the historical perspective
To perceive that in the earlier cold war era
Of global confrontation with a nuclear-armed superpower
The populus enjoyed far greater freedoms.

So the vessel of New Labour would proceed
Without ballast or historical baggage
Towards its single objective
Of seizing and increasing state power.


                                  VII

Having acquired control
Of the commanding heights
Of the Labour Party
And its long history

The three conspirators set about their business
Of bending the party to their will
Eliminating internal debate, ensuring
That dissidence would be disarmed

That the party should “speak with one voice”
That the “narrative” should be clear and unambiguous.
Ruthlessly deploying cajolement and threat
To whip the troops into line, they made certain

That future promotion would be based on loyalty
Not integrity, or quality of thought.
Amongst the first casualties was Frank Field
That largely incorruptible intellectual

Who would speak truth to power
At first given the task of reforming welfare
But suddenly sidelined at the first sign that
Genuine reform might rock the party’s popularity.

In order to drive home the new ideology
That wealth was no exclusion to virtue
Mandelson announced he was “intensely relaxed”
About people making large amounts of money

Presaging a career of slavish devotion
To the rich, whether home-grown
Or Russian oligarchs
Granting special privileges to the Gandujas

Cultivating them
And other rich parties
In the hope of offering favours for contributions
To the Labour party coffers.


                         VIII

But before that occurred
The New Labour party
Brimming with confidence
Faced its first general election

In May 1997.
Prospects seemed promising.
For the past two years
Blair had soared

In the opinion polls to a commanding advantage
A lead extended during the election
Against the fading Conservative government
Of Prime Minister John Major

Resulted in a victory so emphatic
That the majority of 179 seats
Was the highest ever for a single party
Flooding the House of Commons

With eager new Labour members.
On the evening of victory
A vast celebration
Gyrated to the anthem of

Things can only get better
Performed by a pop group D:Ream
In which a future professor of physics
Brian Cox

Playing heartily in the band
Would later denounce New Labour
For its obsession with political power
And ignorance of science. At the time

It did not matter. Mandelson, the prince of darkness
Danced with exultant energy
In the strobe lights
Among his court of acolytes.

On the day following the election
In a typically fascist gesture
Coaches of cheering supporters
Were bussed in to Downing Street so that

A suitably humble and abashed leader
Could smile and smile
Shake the hands of his admirers
And stammer out his rehearsed thanks

To the rented crowd. The era
Of shameless media manipulation
Had begun.
Not long afterwards

He announced that his great ally Gordon Brown
Would be Chancellor of the Exchequer
Though the country did not yet know
Of a tacit agreement

Granting all domestic economic decisions
To the voracious second in command
Who rapidly proceeded to form
A rival power centre in Number 11.


                              IX

Even then the party began to exhibit rifts
Between the two great rivals Brown and Blair.
Rumours of tense meetings
Confrontations, of two separate courts

Began to circulate
The natural consequence of two concentrations of power
While two sets of spin-doctors
Fought one another for dominance.

In a fashionable restaurant called Granita
Now defunct, Blair had tried to assuage
Some of his private guilt by offering Brown
The leadership when he departed.

Yet the very act of offering
Reinforced his supremacy
Just as Brown’s reluctant acceptance
Drove deeper his morbid anger.

An elaborate mythology has grown about what was offered
At that famous watering hole.
Yet the truth is more prosaic.
It did not need Granita

To persuade Brown
About Mandelson’s treachery
His own maltreatment at the hands of Blair
Or his perceived inferior position.

Granita was a consequence
Not a cause
Of the subterranean rifts
Between the prime movers.

So they proceeded, in one of the great political marriages
Wedded by neurosis, two dogs with their teeth
Locked in each other’s throat, frightened to withdraw
In case the other bled to death.


                          X

Does a fascist know himself
To be a fascist? Does he leap full-fanged
From his bed in the morning
Determined to inflict his will?

Does he strut in front of a mirror
Saluting his own destiny, or does he perhaps —
A mirror himself — deceive his own reflection
With such sincerity and lucidity

That the task of deceiving others
Becomes easy, almost effortless?
Who knows what occurs in the minds of others?
How many of us even understand our own?

Perhaps fascism is more like a condition
A virus or bacillus which is always present
Harmless if that society is aware of the threat
More dangerous if the form it takes

Is subtle, persuasive, sincere
Appeals to idealism
Promises to right injustices
Proposes a new beginning.

Starting small, like a local infection, it
Grows by small increments
Advancing in certain environments
Working with the grain of its particular society

Exploiting losses, promising to heal wounds
Offering the corrupting temptation
“If you give me the greatest power
I will do the greatest good.”

The very British nature
Of our own home-grown variety — obeisance to democracy
Dependence upon reasoned argument
A recognition of the law

At least as defined by the government —
Each became used as both a smokescreen and a weapon
To serve as an agent in the final goal
Of a dream of pure power.

In the case of our own
Domestic variant, which had —
Like a Hollywood screenplay —
Seized control of the ship

The first crisis it would face
Was in another entrenched institution
A royal family which
Despite some dysfunctional behaviour

Amongst its younger generation
Had managed to maintain its authority
Was now creaking visibly
Under the estrangement

Of the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana.
On a certain day —
August 31, 1997
It was announced

To a stunned public
Halted in its normal pursuits
That the much beloved princess
Had died in a traffic accident

Alongside her current male friend
Dodi Fayed, in an atmosphere of
Shifting rumours, insinuations
And an expanding rift between

An external sense of order and
The increasingly public perception
Of a dangerously unstable world
Too dark to understand.


XI

Where did it come from? —
That rush of grief
Both superficial and visceral
Those multitudes of fierce women

With their serious husbands and boyfriends in tow
Like nervous altar boys
Each terrified of breaking the spell
Of Diana-worship, that secular religion

Based on psychological projection
And the sincere private illusion
Of a personal relationship
With the goddess of the cult.

The Queen, unaware of the mood in the land
Remained in her Scottish retreat at Balmoral
Beyond the grasp of the populus.
Through the next several days the mood deepened

Growing by what it fed upon.
A strange and wounded ferocity
Hung in the air. Wreaths of flowers gathered
Outside Buckingham palace

Like so many repudiations
Of the unfeeling family of Windsor
Who continued to lurk in Scotland
As though unwilling to participate

In the nation’s grief. Their absence
Emphasised, it seemed to many
A growing gulf
Between the monarch and her subjects

While the increasingly angry votaries of Diana
Like those acolytes of Eva Peron —
Each believing he or she
Had an intimate and spiritual relationship

With a person they had never met —
Worshipped at a private shrine
Whose essence consisted of
A ghostly screen image

Constructed of pixels.
Slowly, implacably
Their anger grew
Like deep desire.

Resentment was heightened
By the sight of Prince Charles
Standing like a stranger
At the edge of an airfield

To receive the coffin of the deceased —
The archetypal unfeeling male
That monster of the female imagination
The other, the eternal adversary.

A distinct atmosphere of threat
Spread through the suburbs
Against anyone who questioned
The eerie admixture

Of celebrity-worship and self-identity
As if the image of womanhood itself
Reposed in that sad coffin.
Strange days followed, of

Shifting, restless emotion
Like water slopping
In the bilges of a boat
On a shadowless day.

So it was
In that eerie atmosphere
The Canadian tennis-player Greg Rusedski —
An adopted British migrant

Whose movement to the Union flag
To fill the vacuum of British tennis
Was much denigrated by his fellow Canadians
For flagrant opportunism —

Announced to the world that 
He desired above all else
To kneel before the crowds and dedicate
His reaching the finals of the New York Open

To the memory of “Princess Di”.
As the sense of anger
Reached a critical point
With perfect timing

Into the breach there stepped
The youthful premier Tony Blair.
In a calculated gesture
Of national unity

He held a press announcement
In which with quivering emotion
He acknowledged the hold of Diana
On the people’s heart

And gave expression
To the immortal phrase
“The people’s princess”
Partly assuaging the rage

In the nation’s wounded psyche
Allowing in turn the Queen
With some semblance of dignity
To return south, and offer sincere royal regret

For the death of the princess.
Her actions only partly eased the tension.
By some curious alchemy
The atmosphere of wounded resentment

Which had been building like a stormcloud
Metamorphosed into
A funeral of great and moving ceremony
In which the very absence of dramatic gesture

Underlined its almost incomparable
Poignancy and power
Emphasising the singular lesson
That less is more.

A single horse-drawn gun-carriage
On which a lonely coffin lay
Passed beneath a clear, sunless day
Between rows of silent mourners

Who showed a classic maturity and restraint
In which the movement of the horses’ hooves
And the silence of the crowds
Was like the sea.

After a procession of such profundity
The atmosphere of collective feeling changed again
As though it had become dangerously labile
As if, wrenched from its axis

Untethered from its roots
It could take any form.
The coffin arrived at Westminster Abbey
Was carried inside, where

The ceremony swayed once more into another mood
Of unintended burlesque when
In the great nave, in front of the
Gathered multitudes, there stepped

Towards the pulpit Charles Spencer:
Elder brother of Diana
And scion of his troubled family
Standing like a peacock at the lectern.

The waiting crowds were subjected
To a session of platitudinous sermonising
About the dysfunctional family of Windsor
From the senior member

Of the even more dysfunctional family of Spencer.
According to this unlikely moralist
His beloved sister Diana
(With whom he had strained relations in life

Though he eulogised her now in death)
Taught the young princes how to feel
In a family of unfeeling German monsters
And now would set an example to them

Proposing in addition
That her benign spirit would continue to protect
The youthful princes
From the coldness of the Windsors —

Sentiments which occasioned
A slowly rising roar of popular approval
From the waiting crowds outside the Abbey
Which must have sounded to the seated royal family

Like the first hungry sigh
Of a revolutionary mob.
This was followed by a sentimental song
Candle in the Wind

Sung by a camp, bewigged super-celebrity
Famous for extravagance
From the pop music world
So beloved by the departed

A fitting end, no doubt
To a remarkable day
In which the very materials of British tradition
Seemed fissile and vulnerable.

As Elton John’s lugubrious fingers
Twinkled on the keys
The ceremony proceeded towards
Its strange end …


                    XII

If it is the case that
The form fascism takes
Follows local traditions
Its apparent uniqueness to a culture

Does not invalidate its essential nature.
To impose itself upon the country
In our own case, Blair’s interest
In “seizing the narrative”

As his advisor Philip Gould expressed it
Had a quasi-literary dimension.
But in due course
It became an obsession

The true fascist intention
Of dominating the news
Through a blizzard of new proposals.
The party hardly paused to consider

The consequences of its last initiative.
Instead, as an agent of cause
Detached from its effect
It spread its heady messages

Moving on to the next eye-catching proposal
Before the last one had fallen.
The necessity of propaganda
Created new leading characters

In its theatrical set
Of spin-doctors
Machinators, and assorted functionaries.
Amongst the most prominent was

Alistair Campbell, a former political editor
On the Mirror, with a finger on the popular pulse, who
Accepted the role of Goebbels, growing into the position
Like a first-rate dramatic actor

Subjecting his own character
To its internal destructive demons
Followed by the other propagandists
Who would phone and harangue

Journalists, editors, newspapers, the BBC
At all hours, cajoling, encouraging, threatening
To cut off from further close briefings
Those who did not toe the line

Or who were cynical
Of the government’s intentions.
At unexpected times
The offending party would receive

A personal call from Campbell
Or Mandelson himself
In overtures which shamelessly used
All the patronage of the state, ranging between

Feline charm or threat
A hint of later honours, offering
Some silky inducement
Or shouting expletives down the phone.

The party, too, was transformed
New Labour evolving instead
Towards a programme of executive control
Wholly alien to the British tradition

Of a minimalist state
Which limited the role of government
Allowing its subjects
To drive social change.

Instead Blair’s New Labour
Appeared intent to mould society
In its own fervent image
Of top-down management. Just as

In Mussolini’s case, a monarchist state
Riddled with corruption, unable to govern itself
Welcomed a strong leader, with a theatrical side
Who played to the vanity of ancient glories

So our conspirators, finding themselves
The inheritors of a failing socialist party
Built on an outdated model of class warfare
Which had lost its traditional majority

Looked to expand its working base
And through a series of shrewd calculations
Tacked towards the centre ground
Throwing overboard former ideological ballast

To make the ship lighter (so much so
That the vessel itself
Transmuted into something else
Without roots, lighter than air).

Their election strategy was to reach out
To the burgeoning, increasing middle class
And play to their own values
Of upward movement and material acquisition

A parasite pretending to be a symbiont
Rendered more plausible
By a genuine fierce aspiration of its own
To assume universal power.


                          XIII

In a curious insight
Into the mysterious properties of leadership
The Nobel-prize winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz
Created an experiment during the 1950s. At the time

He was studying the collective behaviour of fishes
Attempting to understand
The patterns of movement
In large shoals, closely packed.

He discovered, through meticulous observation
That each fish reacted
With extraordinary sensitivity
To the behaviour of its immediate neighbours

Aligning itself almost immediately
To the common direction.
The result
Was a series of collective movements

A pattern of swirls
Of coordinated turns
The shoal turning this way and that
In perfect formation

Like a unified organism.
Then Lorenz made a single incisive change.
He surgically removed
The part of the brain governing movement

In one of the fishes
And observed its effect.
Now it swam in straight lines
Oblivious of the other fishes.

Strangely, the other fishes followed it
Slavishly moving in straight lines.
The fish, lacking any sensitivity
To the behaviour of others

Became the dictator
The shoal aligning its movement
To its absolute sense of conviction.
To its special surety.

The experiment suggested
That perhaps our leaders
Far from brimming
With unusual talents or virtues

Belong to another class 
Those who lack
Some vital mental feature
In Blair’s case self-doubt

A sense of historical perspective
Moving not in swirls
But in psychotic straight lines
Towards private ambition.


[Volume 2 of BLAIR follows in the blog below --
click on "Older Post" or go to archive]