Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Unconcealed Millionaire*

Yesterday a war criminal tried to buy his way into heaven. I'm sure you know this already, and the whole incident is covered in some depth here. The whole thing is deeply disgusting on a number of levels, and it's interesting that no one seems to be buying it, (apart from the RBL, who I can't say I really blame for their 'delighted' quote - although if I worked for them I'd probably be privately comparing it to a customer in a fireworks shop offering to pay for the damage in the branch they just burned down).

The Guardian's sub-heading on their piece about the response to the donation is slightly odd:
Armed forces charity delighted to accept book proceeds but opponents of war say it will not change their views on former PM

I love the 'but' there. I assume the Graun weren't actually expecting Stop the War to pack up on receipt of this announcement, with a collective 'Oh, that's alright then' and a shrug of shoulders. The consensus building is that this is 'guilt money', which is a politer word than 'blood money' I suppose, but in the context of Blair almost certainly inappropriate. As one of the anti-war protesters interviewed by Sky says: Blair couldn't even say sorry at Chilcott, in fact he insists he has nothing to feel guilty about.

This may or may not be how Blair actually feels of course, but let's assume that it is for the moment. If it's not guilt then what is it?

To me it's a symbol of one of the uglier successes of Thatcherism: the return of philanthropy. In the nineteenth century, capitalists who'd grown fat on the suffering, poverty and dangers they exposed their workers to would build a park or a meeting hall with some small portion of the wealth they'd expropriated, and in return for the generosity of foisting their opinion of what the working masses needed on them, the amenity would have their name on it somewhere and an official expression of gratitude would be made.

This kind of patrician attitude began to wither after the second World War as a more egalitarian consensus was gradually formed. This phenomenon has come to be known as the 'end of deference' and it was brought about in an era where workers gained huge increases in standards of living, unions were strong and the modestly redistributive economic model of Keynesianism was in vogue.

Thatcher of course changed all that. Capitalists were now, in an Orwellian turn of phrase that operates in stark contrast to the way economics actually works, 'wealth creators', and over the next two decades ideas like 'society', 'public service' and 'equality' were chipped away at, undermined, until shows like Dragon's Den and Secret Millionaire could appear on our screens without shame.

Blair shows the brazen apotheosis of the return to philanthropy. With one gesture he seems to believe that his calumny can be mitigated, that people will remember that he's a 'pretty straight guy'. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the squandered lives and resources on misbegotten imperialist adventures, the antagonism, hostility and nationalistic fallout, these are as nothing, because he has the thing that makes everything go away, that makes it all better. 'Here's some money.'

*I wanted to call this piece The Book, The Thief, His Life and Their Millions, but he's only a thief in the sense of having stolen hundreds of thousands of people's lives, which of course makes him a murderer. And 'murder' doesn't scan.

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