LONDONGeorge Orwell, that patriotic English social critic, would be shocked.
Blairite Britain offers more than passing reflections of his books "Animal Farm"
on the corruption of power, "1984" on the manipulation of truth and "Burmese
Days" on the corrosive impact of clubby elites, not to forget "Down and Out in
London and Paris."
Start with the ridiculous, or what would
be if it were not authoritarian and vindictive. A Blair government bill comes
close to banning the environmentally sound pastime of hunting with dogs. It
deserves the Orwellian subtitle "All mammals are equal but some are more equal
Hunting of hare, deer, foxes and so on is
either banned outright or tightly regulated. But rabbits are excluded. Setting
your pet dog on a rabbit or your cat on a mouse is fine. They, like rats, are
less equal mammals. Using birds of prey to hunt mammals of any sort is also O.K.
You can kill almost anything with guns or worse, but using dogs to hunt foxes
and hare is to be outlawed except in circumstances to be ordained by bureaucrats
Humans are allowed to slaughter deer,
hare, foxes and other mammals, not to mention birds and fish. But hounds are not
allowed to pursue their natural prey.
The Blair world is one in which laws are
written to please social prejudices and the meat industry continues to treat
animals with contempt. New Labour's upper class of gourmet lawyers and media
acolytes prefer to condemn countryside sports than think about what was killed,
and how, for their dinner parties. More serious distortion of reality to justify
unsound policies has been seen in Tony Blair's desperation to get support for
his alignment with George W. Bush on Iraq.
The documentation that Britain released
recently combines the logic of "1984" with the competence of British train
operators. Chunks of the supposed proof of Iraq's current threat have been shown
to be cut and pasted from old reports and speculative analyses by academics and
This has further degraded Britain in the
eyes of the world, and undermined the case for war. But it was typical of
government by advisers who care only about tomorrow's tabloid headlines.
This cynicism of government in an open
society may seem astonishing. But in the same week Blair was unveiling his
half-truths on Iraq he was showing further contempt for democratic government.
His plan for reform of the House of Lords calls for it to be entirely appointed.
It is apparently too dangerous for a prime minister with a presidential view of
himself to have to face an elected second chamber rather than one stuffed with
retired politicians and bureaucrats and business and professional cronies.
Parliament has long been subservient to
party discipline. But Blair's huge majority has meant that idealist party
dissidents now have even less impact than before. An elected second chamber,
independent of an authoritarian executive and rubber-stamp House of Commons, is
But distrust of public participation is
apparent throughout New Labour. Trial by jury is being eroded. Power at other
levels is increasingly exercised by appointed committees of "experts," in most
cases lawyers, academics, management consultants and such.
This class is proving unable to deal with
the real problems of Britain - its crumbling infrastructure, appalling public
education and social squalor, which derives partly from neglect of the
industrial and scientific base.
The class often seems patronizing to the
outside world. It is suspicious of Europe, happy to lecture Africa, unwilling to
learn from East Asia. It feeds on a proliferation of laws and rules which create
demands for lawyers, accountants and committees but are a dead weight on state
social and education services, and on industry.
Idealists in opposition normally become
pragmatists in government, but the ideological about-turn within Labour has been
stunning. People who once ran important civil society organizations supporting
civil liberties and the welfare of immigrants are now ministers backing
draconian infringements on liberties and harsh policies toward asylum seekers.
This is not just a reflection on
individuals. It raises the question of whether such organizations are being run
by people dedicated to principles or by opportunists using them as stepladders
to political office.
Only a party of spineless time servers
could follow Blair into war knowing that it was justified by exaggeration, was
damaging to Britain's wider interests and was contrary to Labour's principles
and to the wishes, say opinion polls, of the majority of Britons.