There was one moment when I thought perhaps I should vote for Blair, or at least stand up for those who will. It was when my old colleague and co-author John Pilger wrote in the New Statesman of 25 April (not available on the web). He told those who might cast their vote for Labour:
“By voting for Blair, you will walk over the corpses of at least 100,000 people, most of them innocent women and children and the elderly, slaughtered by rapacious forces sent by Blair and Bush, unprovoked and in defiance of international law, to a defenceless country… By voting for Blair you will be turning a deaf ear to the cries of countless Iraqi children blown up by British cluster bombs and poisoned by toxic explosions of depleted uranium… By voting for Blair, you will turn away from the tens of thousands of children left to starve in Iraq by his and Bush’s invasion.”
This language is intimidatory. It does not aim to persuade. It condemns and bludgeons. It aims to stop thought.
I have a theory about Pilger’s relationship to Blair. I suspect he is jealous. For those who do not know his work, Pilger is one of the all time greats of exposure journalism, especially in using television to devastating effect, he changed agendas as well as minds. A recent example was a return to East Timor in 2000, the greatest of all was Year Zero, his 1979 report, made with David Munro, on Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia exposed the appalling human rights violations of the Khmer Rouge and endorsed as a liberation the invasion and the overthrow of Pol Pot by the Vietnamese.
The British right hated Pilger, he stood up to them and made no concessions to the system and its hypocrisies. For the left, it took an Australian to show how to sustain anger at the state of the world. Year Zero had massive viewing figures. To young radicals it presented a fresh language, argumentative and internationalist yet also compelling and popular.
It seems to me to be inconceivable that Tony Blair and Cherie Booth did not watch Year Zero. There they would have witnessed for the first time the successful voice of a global, humanitarian protest. Fast forward to Kosovo in 1999. Blair’s advocacy of its liberation from Milosevic had a similar tone: that of young and striking if not handsome, telegenic, sun-tanned, open-shirted, tell-it-as-it-is, humanitarian, standing for universal values and against the slaughter of innocents. Blair stole Pilger’s act.
He will not be forgiven! But now John’s unforgiving language and rhetorical escalation fails to engage. It also makes it look as if, to make a point, he has to trade in slaughter.
By contrast Andreas Whittam Smith, who founded the Independent and now writes a weekly column for it, has also campaigned against Blair in moral and absolute terms. In his pre-election column today
he concludes: “I voted Labour in 1997 and 2001 and I would vote Labour again. But not while Mr. Blair is leader. There is no room here for judicious consideration. Voting for a party led by Mr. Blair is out of the question.” But he leads his reader through an argument which brings him to this conclusion.
Without basic trust in the veracity of what is said, Andreas argues, no healthy policy can be developed and implemented. Misleading presentation cannot be defended by arguing that the means justifies the end. Everything will be corrupted. What he, like Pilger, sees as well-documented deceit cannot be permitted to continue. Nothing can go right if there is so much rot at the very top. But unlike Pilger he invites you to try and disagree with him. It is not only more persuasive it is also, well, more democratic.
Real name comments welcome