JWR Roger SimonMona CharenLinda Chavez
Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellWilliam PfaffRobert Scheer
Don FederCal Thomas
Political Cartoons
Left, Right & Center

Jewish World Review / May 28, 1998 / 3 Sivan, 5758

William Pfaff

William Pfaff So far, so successful for Blair

LONDON -- The Group of Eight meetings of the leading industrial nations, now including Russia, were invented by then-French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing in the 1970s for informal discussion and coordination of economic policy.

In the years which followed they were turned into bloated demonstrations of national ego by the host countries, each attempting to outdo the others in sumptuous and vain display.

That now seems to have worn itself out, and the latest meeting in mid-May, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair as host, was officially held in the old industrial city of Birmingham, although the leaders beat retreat to a stately home. The affair produced only disagreements on forgiving more Third World debt and on sanctioning India's nuclear tests.

At the meeting Mr. Blair again displayed a determination to position himself in public appearances as Bill Clinton's best friend -- as Robin to Mr. Clinton's Batman, to put it cruelly. This annoyed some of his fellow Europeans, since the British prime minister currently holds the presidency of the European Council.

Mr. Blair is often criticized in the U.K. for his emulation of Mr. Clinton's manner of campaigning and governing. His most acerbic critics -- usually people who voted for him -- say that he has abandoned principle for mendacious but electorally advantageous show, acting only as focus groups and pollsters advise him to act, while retreating from the promises on which he was elected last year.

Yet Mr. Blair does not seem a politician without conscience or principle. His commitment at university to Christian Socialism, and his successful efforts to reconstruct a serious political movement from the ruins of the old Labour Party in Britain, seem evidence of principled if pragmatic ambition. He is also more popular than any prime minister of this century has been after a year in office: he obviously has learned something from Mr. Clinton. His critics argue that he has been learning the wrong things.

Since coming to office he has presented himself to leaders abroad as representative of a modern socialism which has left Marxism and class struggle behind, and will reform those welfare policies of the 1950s and 1960s which cultivated a psychology of dependence in Britain.

``New Labour'' socialism maintains much of the market-dominated economic policy, monetary austerity, and pro-business tilt of the Conservative governments which preceded it. Mr. Blair cultivates the approval of Rupert Murdoch, the well-known American immigrant who owns The Times in London and the two most down-market of London's tabloid newspapers. The latter are superstitiously believed to possess the evil eye which decides British national elections (although Labour in the 1950s and 1960s won elections despite right-wing tabloid opposition).

Can New Labour's successes in Britain influence continental European attempts to deal with the economic stagnation and high unemployment of recent years? That will depend on its practical achievement, which after only one year is not proven. It will also have to overcome the barriers of national tradition and assumption.

Britain, for example, has since January unflinchingly allowed Rolls Royce cars to be bought by Germans, Christie's auction house to go to France, Cunard Lines and the liner QE2 to Scandinavia. Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Lotus cars already are in American hands; Rover belongs to BMW; the Savoy Hotels and Savoy Grill to Americans; Harrods to an Egyptian; and nearly all of the great British merchant banks now are foreign-owned.

Possibly this shows steely investment judgment -- a British willingness to sell to foreigners at the top of the market, in the confidence that these assets can be bought back at the bottom. But it is inconceivable that this could happen in Germany, France, or Italy, with Fiat, Aerospatiale, or Daimler-Benz sold to foreign interests.

Mr. Blair's indifference -- and that of British opinion generally -- to the loss of what Europeans would consider Britain's industrial patrimony contrasts with his promotion of what (to his regret) has come to be known as ``Cool Britannia,'' which seems to mean rock music, fashion, design, and the club scene in London, deemed the coolest in the world.

The forthcoming ``millennium experience'' promoted by the Blair government, a $1.23 billion temporary pleasure dome to be erected in Greenwich, where Greenwich Mean Time comes from and where the new millennium will begin, is planned as a demonstration of New Labour cool.

What will go into it no one knows. One British writer speaks of ``a desperate urge to fill this stunning space with meaning but (with) no idea what that meaning might be.'' The display will almost certainly have nothing to do with Christianity (which Mr. Blair professes), the anniversary of whose founder's existence the millennium marks, nor with the history of Western civilization, whose calendar this is.

The man in charge of the ``millennium experience'' has gone to Disneyland in search of inspiration. That has been taken as saying something, probably too much, about New Labour.

Nonetheless Mr. Blair has a peace program for Northern Ireland spectacularly launched, with a Scottish parliament to come, and devolution of power elsewhere. Social policy is being reformed. The economy, for the present, is in good condition. Most important for him, his government has four years to go before it faces the voters.


5/25/98:Asian nations resisting American control
5/21/98: The Communist mainfesto, at 150, prophesied the shape of today's capitalism
5/19/98: Globalized capitalism is more significant than nuclear weapons
5/13/98: Negotiating in reality, not wishfulness
5/7/98: Things can only get better and better!
5/5/98: Racial, ethnic, national barriers disappearing
5/5/98: Racial, ethnic, national barriers disappearing
4/21/98: A terrifying synthesis of forces spawned Pol Pot's regime
4/19/98: Russian-German-French structure of consultation is good development
4/16/98: Violence in society comes from the top as well as the bottom
4/13/98: Clinton's foreign policy does have a sunny side, too
4/8/98: Public interest must control marketplace
4/5/98: Great crimes don't require great villians
3/29/98: Authority rests on a moral position, and requires consent
3/29/98:Signs of hope in troubled Russia
3/25/98: National Front amassing power
3/23/98: NATO's expansion contradicts other American policies
3/18/98: The New Yorker sought money, but lost it
3/16/98: America's 'strategy of tension' in Italy
3/13/98: Slobodan Milosevic may have started something that can't be stopped

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Inc.