Friday, 25 May 2012

Where did it all go wrong for Labour and Tony Blair?

As you can probably imagine, I suspected knew that Tony Blair was a wrong 'un from the start: as shadow Home Secretary he pandered to the most reactionary instincts of the Daily Mail partly because he's a reactionary, but mostly because he thought it would win him votes, which is much more cynical.

Then there's the war, about which we don't need to say much. But the salient point for today's discussion is his oft-repeated demand that we all 'trust' him, because he relied on God and his conscience - as though sincerity is the same as good judgement.

Why mention this now? Because we're presented with another example of this non-rationalist, character-based politics. Here's Ed Balls, in the Independent:

I had a couple of conversations with Tony Blair where he would say he was worried that [a measure] would hit people with middle incomes and I would say: ‘What do you think middle incomes are?’ and he would say: ‘£50-60,000.’ I said [that the] middle income for a family is actually £26-27,000, and for an individual it is £18,000, and Tony would say: ‘Oh, the statistics must be wrong.’

Of course we all know that Blair, like Cameron (who would also get this wrong), is of the 1% culturally as well as financially, but this is a very revealing response: rather than accept the facts, or inquire into them, he just decides that they're wrong. Having rarely if ever met anyone poor or working class, he just cannot believe that they exist, or views their problems as whinging, because they're rich. Smash Hits used to ask pop stars how much a pint of milk costs, to see how far from reality they'd strayed: Blair would fail miserably.

There's a long tradition of this: a Bush spokesman once mocked journalist Ron Suskind (great article, by the way) for living in a 'reality-based community':
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
The background to this is the theory of cognitive dissonance, described in 1957 by Leon Festinger as the strategies we use to cope with reality not fitting our beliefs. Infiltrating a millennial cult, Festinger observed their reaction to the end of the world not arriving on the predicted day. Rather than admit that the moment hadn't come because that would cause intolerable mental distress, the group found alternative explanations, such as the claim that their devotion had prevented the apocalypse, or that a minor error in calculation meant that the actual end of the world was actually just coming… repeatedly. (There's a wickedly funny novel satirising Festinger: Alison Lurie's Imaginary Friends).

This is what we get with Tony Blair. He has a world view, in which everybody's rich and shouldn't complain. When presented with the evidence, he dismisses that, rather than undergo the difficulty of cognitive dissonance. The result is an increasingly unequal and brutalised society.

The man needed a psychiatrist, not the validation of his party and the electorate.


saxon said...

Crediting the narcissistic greedy duplicitous war-monger with genuine beliefs he used to validate his actions? As though the appearance of sincerity is the same as sincerity? That's unusually charitable of you Voley!

The Plashing Vole said...

Come to think of it, you're right there. I have been too easy on him.