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Globe and Mail

Britain has been left a poisonous legacy

September 13, 2006

By THEODORE DALRYMPLE

One of the longest-running soap operas in Britain is that of the supposed mutual antagonism of Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As is traditionally the case, one of these office-holders lives at No. 10, and the other at No. 11 Downing Street. Mr. Brown is said to want to swap No. 11 for No. 10, but Mr. Blair is said to be determined to stop him from doing so. Now it looks as if Mr. Brown is about to triumph.

It is not unknown for next-door neighbours to exhibit hostility toward one another, of course. I have known murder to be committed over such transcendentally important matters as a fence fallen into slight disrepair; in my career as a doctor, I have observed that even eminent physicians who work in the same institution may not always harbour altogether friendly feelings for each other.

But we who live in the Kafka-esque world of modern British politics, in which words, ideas and speeches are like eels that evade mental grasp because they are so slippery, are now accustomed to think that nothing is what it seems, or seems what it is. The thought that the supposed conflict between Mr. Blair and Mr. Brown is nothing but a cleverly, and deliberately, contrived diversion, to amuse the public as part of an overall political strategy of bread and circuses, and to disguise from it what the two of them have actually been up to for the past 10 years — and the poisonous legacy with which they have now saddled the country — is one that has occurred to many intelligent observers.

The Blair-Brown saga is of no importance whatsoever. Whether the men like each other, or despise each other, or even sleep with each other, is not of the slightest public significance. What is important is that, between them, they have corrupted the country utterly; they have even corrupted the language.

Let us take a small straw in the wind — the advertisements for positions in the public service that appear in the British liberal-left newspaper The Guardian (and nowhere else). Here is a typical example:

[The organization] is committed to putting service users at the heart of all that we do. We are also committed to partnership working with other agencies to deliver progressive, responsive and high quality services. We are looking for people who want to make a difference.

Individuals will need to be imaginative, organized, dynamic, person-centred and assertive. A track record of training and at least 3 years management experience and proven success in . . . maximizing revenue streams.

Is that clear? Perhaps the next beautiful sentence will make it so:

[The organization] is looking for individuals who have:

Entrepreneurial in your approach and able to influence people.

This is so bad it could almost have been quoted verbatim from one of Mr. Blair's speeches.

The Blair-Brown government has consistently increased government expenditure, both absolutely and relatively, to fund a huge expansion in posts such as the one advertised above. We are now back to pre-Thatcher levels of government expenditure and employment, and vast sums have been spent, ostensibly on public services with almost no improvement in any of them. What would you expect from people who “have entrepreneurial in your approach”?

A recent book, Plundering the Public Sector, alleges and quotes chapter and verse that the Blair-Brown government has diverted more than $140-billion of public money to private consultancies, which — not surprisingly — have often returned favours to the government. The book provides stories of such monumental governmental and private-sector idiocy that it could only be deliberate, actually more a form of sabotage to create further work for the government and consultancies, than incompetence.

Not a single new information technology system initiated by the Blair-Brown government has worked, despite the expenditure of untold billions. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that they were never intended to work, but rather to create vast profits for favoured companies, to reward supporters and to raise donations for the Labour Party.

The Blair-Brown system of taxation, which has greatly reduced Britain's once enviable private-pension provision and created a nation of dependents on state handouts (half the population actually now receives part of its income directly from government subvention), makes Byzantium look like a model of openness and administrative simplicity.

The Blair-Brown government has eroded the distinction between licit and illicit enrichment, and between the public and private sector, creating something close to a corporate state in which government controls almost everything and people fear to speak their minds because they are afraid of harming their pocketbooks.

So what is the difference between Mr. Blair and Mr. Brown? Mr. Blair suffers a psychiatric symptom unique to him: He has delusions of honesty. Mr. Brown is probably an old-fashioned socialist at heart, who hates wealth more than he hates poverty. They both love power more than any particular purpose to which it might be exercised.

Theodore Dalrymple is the author of Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy.

 


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