The Lonesome West

Amid a world-wide shift in political alignment, we have yet another once-in-a-generation call to the ballot box. Tony Blair cannot bring himself to support Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister. Tony Blair is extraordinary, even amongst a group of people as unusual as ex-Prime Ministers. I find him every bit as unlikeable as Donald Trump. Trump is an authentic unintelligent braggart, whereas it is difficult to pin down anything authentic about Blair at all, other than his apparent belief in his manifest destiny as global prophet and leader.

David Owen has sometimes occupied a similar political space to Tony Blair, but he has become rather critical of him. He has made a series of contributions that examine the political psychology of Blair and his like, most notably in the book “The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair & the Intoxication of Power”. Not much ambiguity there. As someone influenced by Marx (see Khrushchev’s Shoe passim), I am always a bit suspicious of understanding history in terms of individual psychology, but some of Owen’s observations are astute. He has come to believe that “diminished empathy and unbridled intuition” are amongst the most dangerous elements of the Hubris Syndrome that he has identified. The phrase certainly captures something about Blair’s lack of insight when he behaves like a Roman god interfering in the affairs of humans.

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair’s background as an alumnus of Fettes College and St John’s College, Oxford does not make him a bad person. His accumulation of wealth since leaving office is perhaps more blameworthy. It is hard to feel that these background factors are irrelevant to his utter lack of solidarity with ordinary people. Ordinary peoples’ lives have become increasingly harsh through a decade of austerity caused by the banking crisis. Their quality of life will continue to deteriorate if, as Blair predicts (or maybe even hopes), Mrs May is elected Prime Minister in her own right. The General Election campaign is dominated by attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s personality and leadership qualities. An unholy alliance of the mainstream media and right wing Labour politicians is conspiring to avoid discussion of actual politics and policies.

I live in a marginal constituency. I am not a Labour Party member, but I will be voting Labour. I do not agree with all of Corbyn’s political ideas and policies, but I agree with him enough. I agree with him more than I agreed with Harold Wilson when I voted Labour in the October 1974 General Election. Corbyn appears to lack political nous or any noticeable ability to manage his party, but this is no worse than James Callaghan’s inept management of the 1976 IMF loan crisis, which left rifts in his party that persist to this day. That did not stop me voting for Callaghan against Thatcher in 1979. It is galling that parliamentary democracy often involves voting for the least bad option, but that is how it works. In a General Election campaign, Blair’s attacks on Corbyn might as well be unequivocal support for the Conservatives, no matter what caveats he might mention as asides. I have advice for any voter who wants some hope of a just and humane benefit system, an NHS free at the point of need, viable Universities and an end to austerity in our lifetime: vote for Corbyn’s Labour Party, even if you have to hold your nose. This is the essence of solidarity. And if the Election must be fought through caricatures of the party leaders, it might be important to remember the image of Mrs May walking hand in hand with Donald Trump back in January 2017.

On Wednesday, I went to the press night of Martin McDonagh’s ‘The Lonesome West’ at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool.  The reviews on Thursday were uniformly excellent, so it seems that my judgement that it was very funny and thoroughly entertaining was not overly influenced by the fact that my friend Bob Farquhar directed the production. The play is about two unmarried brothers living in a cottage in the West of Ireland. I do not want to put a spoiler on the plot, but it is all about hostile enmeshment. My mother and her elder sister lived out this dynamic from 1953 until their deaths. A satisfactory family gathering involved tense sniping and a bad atmosphere between them. A less satisfactory family gathering could be quite scary if you were very young or very old. Despite this, they could not disengage from each other. When my aunt was dying in hospital, my sister took our mother to see her one last time. There was a touching reconciliation. As my mother left, her sister called after her: “You’ve put on a lot of weight!”

The play made me think of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They pursued their unrelenting fratricidal struggle without consideration of its impact on their colleagues or, indeed, the country at large. In the process, they failed to notice that a problem of truly historical proportions was building up in the banking sector, partly fuelled by a lack of regulation, a policy that they had willingly adopted from the Thatcher economic programme. They indulged themselves in round after round of fighting, lying, sulking and briefing against each other.  “The Lonesome West” beautifully describes the poignancy and the violence of the dynamic. The play runs until 20th May. I highly recommend it, especially if you are thinking of heeding Tony Blair’s advice about anything.