or the rise of a British fascist
a satirical poem
Warwick Collins and David Pidsley
He was born (like any other child)
A monster of egotism, screaming
For his milk, the centre of the universe
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.”)
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.
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.
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
A desire to please
And a wholly innocent inability
To recognise in himself
Any trace or agency of tyranny
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
And other rich parties
In the hope of offering favours for contributions
To the Labour party coffers.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 …
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
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.
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.
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.
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