Saturday, December 18, 2004

British Home Secretary David Blunkett, one of the foremost New Labour proponents of public morality, has been forced to resign over the revelations that he pulled strings to secure a visa for the nanny of his ex- (then current) mistress. His last parliamentary session as a front-bencher was marked by especially (even by British parliamentary standards) high-spirited highjinks, as a biography of Blunkett was hurled back and forth across the aisle, striking one Tory bencher in the groin (this may well be the most serious damage that Blunkett has managed to do to the Opposition, as opposed to his own government, in recent weeks). (Reports courtesy Patrick at Oxblog and Simon Hoggart in the Guardian, both of which are well worth reading.)
The morals of this story seems clear. If one is a leading politician, and one has an affair with a prominent, married opponent of one's government, it is best not to wantonly abuse power on her behalf. If one does wantonly abuse power on one's lover's behalf, it is probably best not to then make the affair, and hence the abuse of power, news by bullying and harassing one's ex-lover once she has become an ex. If one does bully and harass one's ex-lover, and engage in a publicised paternity suit, thus exposing one's dirty laundry to the front pages, it is probably best not to lie about one's previous actions. If one does lie about one's previous actions, it is probably best not to try to cover up that fact once it is apparent.
Unfortunately, David Blunkett did not learn any of these lessons in time.
All in all, it has been a sad and unedifying -- but not, I fear, unamusing -- spectacle. British politics is always good for a chuckle, even when what is going on amounts -- as it may here -- to a personal tragedy that ought to be quite heart-rending, and would be were the person suffering the tragedy both less ridiculous and less unpleasant. In this case, as so often, the circumstances of Blunkett's fall are too comically outsized and ludicrous to ignore. What can one make, for instance, of this?:
'the allegation [that Blunkett had secured preferential treatment for his lover's nanny), coupled with the revelation that Mr Blunkett had sung the Fred Astaire song "Pick Yourself Up" at a parliamentary dinner, finished the home secretary.'
Now, as the above and previous posts should indicate, I'm no great fan of David Blunkett. But I think it most unfair for any politician to have his career 'finished' by singing a Fred Astaire song. Of course, I might feel differently if I had heard Mr Blunkett sing.
As for Tony Blair, he is admirably standing by his Home Secretary and loyal supporter. On Blunkett's resignation, he sweetly and loyally wrote to his friend:
"You leave government with your integrity intact and your achievements acknowledged by all. You are a force for good in British politics."
Now, this really is very nice, and one would not expect or want Mr Blair to act otherwise; it is good to see that loyalty and friendship count for something in British politics. Unfortunately, all of what Mr Blair writes here is untrue. Mr. Blunkett's integrity is not intact, but in tatters. His achievements are acknowledged by all, but there is considerable disagreement about the merit of those achievements. Nor are all of those achievments, happily, intact; some of the Government's more draconian anti-terrorist provisions (involving the small matter of indefinitely holding foreign-born suspects without trial -- really rather mild stuff by US standards -- no evidence of torture or anything like that) have recently been struck down by Britain's law lords in a blistering decision.
Still, even if the law lords have taken a stand to block some of the Government's violations of basic civil liberties, Blunkett's communitarian authoritarianism will leave its marks on British politics for some time to come -- more's the pity. It may be that one day, as all Britons walk down the street under the constant surveillance of CCTV cameras, carrying their national ID cards, Big Brother Blunkett will have the last laugh. And the prospect of such ultimate success is even sadder than Blunkett's recent fall.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: From Raymond Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals (1955), one of the great Cold War critiques of pro-Communism, and of lefty French intellectuals (and so, one would think, a work that would be in favour among American neo-cons ... or perhaps not):
'The Idea of Government by discussion, consent or compromise is perhaps an ideal; the practice of elections and parliamentary assemblies is one practice among others. To try to introduce it without bothering to examine the circumstances is simply to guarantee its failure. And the failure of a democratic practice cannot be camouflaged by the organisation of terror and enthusiasm; it breaks out in broad daylight and leads inevitably to despotism.' (English edition, trans. Terence Kilmartin, London, Secker and Warburg, 1957, p. 316)

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