Monday 10 March 2003

Defiance of global will

Fetch Tony Fetch.... Good boy.... He could have chosen anything. With such a huge majority and so little coherent opposition in parliament, there have been no end of issues on which Tony Blair might have taken a moral stance and shown leadership against either popular opinion or powerful vested interests over the past six years.

He might have faced down the tabloids and made a stand against the scapegoating of asylum seekers, or resisted the pressure from the markets and raised taxes to fund increased investment in public services.

But the issue on which he chose to set himself against the wishes of the country and his party has been international law; if necessary, to embark on military action to secure cheap oil supplies for the world's wealthiest nation.

Were this an aberration it might be worthy of disappointment. The fact that it is entirely consistent is a source of exasperation. For while Blair's support for the war has never been inevitable, it is nonetheless a logical progression of the path he has travelled thus far.

Under his leadership, New Labour has now leapfrogged European Social Democracy and even Gaullism and landed in the lap of the most rightwing forces on the planet, from America's Republican president George Bush to Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. This result is the most glaring example of the fundamental dislocation between popular political culture and an isolated political class. We are stuck with a government that does not represent us, prosecuting a war we do not want.

The conditions from which this dilemma emerges might be particular to Britain. But the issues of representation and accountability that underlie them are not. We are not grappling with a local difficulty but a global crisis in democratic legitimacy

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