the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in May, leading members of the media and
cultural elite assembled in the fine gardens of a Regency house to await the
arrival of the great man. They included broadsheet editors, deputy editors,
literary editors, ex-editors, novelists, actors and John Birt. Afterwards, there
would be a "lecture about world affairs" for which a second division had paid
£100 a ticket. Whispered jokes about Monica and cigars quickly turned to
full-throttle obseqiousness when the great man ambled in. According to John
Walsh of the Independent, "the whole garden party became a queue to shake Bill’s
hand, to be photographed and to rejoin their friends and discuss the
Clinton told them how he had brought peace to Kosovo, Northern Ireland, et
cetera. That he had bombed and killed innocent people across the world,
despatched tens of thousands of Iraqi children and eroded the last of
Roosevelt’s New Deal cover for the poorest Americans was not at issue. Only
sanitised questions were allowed; they touched on none of these crimes. The
reward for this complicity was Clinton trousering $100,000.
was a vivid snapshot of the age of new Labour elites: a gathering of Blair’s
winners. There have been many such events since May 1997, celebrating fame,
fortune and illusion. The latter included those staged at the Foreign Office at
which, with the help of media celebrities, Robin Cook announced an "ethical
dimension" to foreign policy and "the pusuit of human rights in the new
century". Like at Hay, the gallery was from the liberal establishment: Amnesty,
the voluntary organisations, editors, news readers. They remained silent or
bowled lemons. That it was all an elaborate hoax, as they now know, was not an
Sunday, Michael Jackson, Channel 4′s departing chief executive, told Observer
readers that he had, no less, helped bring about "the profound social changes
that have occurred in British society . . ." He cited Big Brother as
representing "a melting pot for a broader, more understanding and inclusive
society . . . an optimistic glimpse at the ease of presence between a group of
people with different ethnicity, sexuality, religion, class and education". He
related this to Blair’s promised "classless society" and declared, Tony-like,
that "we have a more prosperous economy than at any time in our past".
clear implication was that Channel 4, under Jackson, was the television
equivalent of new Labour. One can appreciate his argument. The threadbare
liberalism of the new Labour elite, its tame columnists, lords and terrified
MPs, is said to be based on tolerance for the new era’s sexual and racial
diversity. After all, look at all those black and gay ministers and female MPs.
This is a con, of course. All it proves is that gays and blacks and females can
be as reactionary and unprincipled as anybody.
Recall the lemming-line of female Labour MPs who voted for a cut in benefits to
single parents, mostly mothers, and the apologetics of the black minister Paul
Boateng at the most regressive Home Office in living memory, and the
machinations of the gay Peter Mandelson in playing court to some of the most
ruthless capitalists on earth, including the purveyors of death in the British
gays and females, blacks and Asians are capable of moronic behaviour in Big
Brother is not "an optimistic glimpse" of anything. Like the pathetic cast of
Jerry Springer, they merely provide a glimpse of the media elite’s vicarious
flirtation with low life for the sake of a buck and high ratings. No one denies
that Channel 4 transmits some quite brilliant programmes, as it should, given
its extraordinary remit and resources and the film-making talent in Britain; but
these are fragments of its potential.
Liberal elites have always disguised their innate conservatism and fixed the
boundaries of public debate, and those currently in charge of Britain are no
different. As Jackson says, the drugs debate is important, as is the issue of
race. But neither will progress unless public resources are made available for
care and rehabilitation, and for proper jobs and public services in places like
Oldham and Bradford: in other words, unless the economics of social democracy,
at the very least, drives them.
have more young people in higher education than [ever] before", wrote Jackson.
In fact, there are more indebted and despairing students than ever before. The
proportion of working-class students has actually dropped since new Labour made
so many of them pay. In his great work Equality, R H Tawney pointed out that the
English educational system "will never be one worthy of a civilised society
until the children of all classes in the nation attend the same schools . . .
The idea that differences of educational opportunities among children should
depend upon differences of wealth represents a barbarity."
is the situation today, with the divisions within state education reinforced by
new Labour’s veiled class conflict. As for "a more prosperous economy than at
any time in our past", well, I suppose you have to admire the sheer nerve of TV
executives on half a million quid a year.
truth is that Thatcher and her heir, Blair, have created a society that allows,
among the top third, a gloss of prosperity, mostly on credit, while the majority
either cope with mounting insecurity or vanish into poverty. Almost half the
families of Britain live on this precipice of poverty. Nearly half the children
in London are brought up in poverty. According to recent research at Cambridge
University, roughly 250,000 children in the poorest households are worse off
since new Labour came to office. Indeed, child poverty is 50 per cent higher
than when Thatcher was elected.
of this is represented, in any sustained form, on television, and certainly not
on the BBC, where the circus and propaganda of a single-ideology state dominate.
It is only in recent weeks, since the events in Genoa, that the nation’s dumbed-down
news services have interrupted their chorus about the protesters’ "violence" and
begun to recognise the ferocity of state violence aimed at the anti- capitalism
movement. Blair’s defence of the Italian police and his gross lack of respect
for the loss of a young life ought to have seen him grilled by those journalists
who have access to him. But there was nothing: just gloating over Jeffrey
the fine photograph in the Guardian on 20 July. There are the Blairs and the
Bushes greeting each other. The wives are waltzing towards their unctuous
embrace; the little Texan has a hand on the effete Blair’s shoulder. Bush, whom
the BBC still calls "the leader of the free world", is the unelected ruler of a
dangerous, rapacious, essentially undemocratic plutocracy. Blair’s leadership of
this country, approved by one-quarter of the electorate, is barely legitimate.
Both are extremists in the literal sense, prepared to use military violence
against civilians. Blair pushes unpopular and violent domestic policies,
commodifying almost everything that is ours, from healthcare to schools,
policies designed to make winners and losers – with those who earn half a
million a year the winners, and the children imprisoned behind a wall of
economic hardship, far from the voyeuristic eye of Big Brother, the losers.
"optimistic glimpse" is not at Channel 4, but at the courage and intelligence
and sheer strength of character of the young men and women, black and white and
brown, gay and heterosexual, who faced the organised violence of the state in
Genoa and Seattle and Prague, and will do it again and again. They represent a
genuine "profound social change". Recently, the Asia vice-president of the
financiers Goldman Sachs said: "This is an uprising as big as the revolution
that shook the world between 1890 and 1920. Beware."
Information on John Pilger’s written and filmic work can be found at