Murdoch retainer Andrew Neil, who edited the London Sunday Times,
has described James Murdoch, the heir apparent, as a “social liberal."
What strikes me is his casual use of “liberal” for the new ruler
of an empire devoted to the promotion of war, conquest and human
division. Neil’s view is not unusual. In the murdochracy that Britain
has largely become, once noble terms such as democracy, reform,
even freedom itself, have long been emptied of their meaning. In
the years leading to Tony Blair’s election, liberal commentators
vied in their Tonier-than-thou obeisance to such a paragon of “reborn
liberalism." In these pages in 1995, the liberal writer Henry
Porter celebrated an almost mystical politician who “presents himself
as a harmonizer for all the opposing interests in British life,
a conciliator of class differences and tribal antipathies, a synthesizer
of opposing beliefs." Blair was, of course, the diametric opposite.
As events have
demonstrated, Blair and the cult of New Labor have destroyed the
very liberalism millions of Britons thought they were voting for.
This truth is like a taboo in Britain today. Gone is the bourgeoisie
that in good times would extend a few rungs of the ladder to those
below. From Blair’s pseudo-moralizing assault on single parents
a decade ago to the government’s recent attacks on the disabled,
the “British Project” has completed the work of Thatcher and all
but abolished the premises of tolerance and decency, however amorphous,
on which much of British public life was based. The tradeoff has
been mostly superficial “social liberalism” and the highest personal
indebtedness on earth. In 2007, reported the Joseph Rowntree Foundation,
the United Kingdom faced the highest levels of inequality for 40
years, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer and more
and more segregated from society. The International Monetary Fund
has designated Britain a tax haven, and corruption and fraud in
British business are almost twice the global average, while UNICEF
reports that British children are the most neglected and unhappiest
in the “rich” world.
a faade of liberal concern for the world’s “disadvantaged,"
such as waffle about millennium goals and antipoverty stunts with
the likes of Google and Vodafone, the Brown government, together
with its EU partners, is demanding vicious and punitive free-trade
agreements that will devastate the economies of scores of impoverished
African, Caribbean and Pacific nations. In Iraq, the bloodletting
of a “liberal intervention” may well have surpassed that of the
Rwanda genocide, while the British occupiers have made no real attempt
to help the victims of their lawlessness. And putting out more flags
in the pretense of British troops’ “withdrawal” will not cover the
shame. “The mortality of children in Basra has increased by nearly
30% compared to the Saddam Hussein era,” says Dr. Haydar Salah,
a pediatrician at Basra children’s hospital. In January nearly 100
leading British doctors wrote to Hilary Benn, then international
development secretary, describing how children were dying because
Britain had not fulfilled its obligations under UN security resolution
1483. He refused to see them.
Even if a contortion
of intellect and morality allows the interventionists to justify
these actions, the same cannot be said for liberties eroded at home.
These are too much part of the myth that individual freedom was
handed down by eminent liberal gentlemen instead of being fought
for at the bottom. Yet rights of habeas corpus, of free speech and
assembly, and dissent and tolerance, are slipping away, undefended.
Whole British communities now live in fear of the police. The British
are distinguished as one of the most spied upon people in the world.
A gray surveillance van with satellite tracking sits outside my
local supermarket in London. On the pop radio station Kiss 100,
the security service MI5 advertises for ordinary people to spy on
each other. These are normal now, along with the tracking of our
intimate lives and a system of secretive justice that imposes 18-hour
curfews on people who have not been charged with any crime and are
denied the “evidence." Hundreds of terrified Iraqi refugees
are sent back to the infinite dangers of the country “we” have destroyed.
Meanwhile, the cause of any real civil threat to Britons has been
identified and confirmed repeatedly by the intelligence services.
It is “our” continuing military presence in other people’s countries
and collusion with a Washington cabal described by the late Norman
Mailer as “pre-fascist."
a prime source of liberalism and most of our information, the unthinkable
has been normalized. The murderous chaos in Iraq is merely internecine.
Indeed, Bush’s “surge” is “working." The holocaust there has
nothing to do with “us." There are honorable exceptions, of
course, as there are in those great liberal storehouses of knowledge,
Britain’s universities; but they, too, are normalized and left to
natter about “failed states” and “crisis management” — when the
cause of the crisis is on their doorstep. As Professor Terry Eagleton
has pointed out, for the first time in two centuries almost no eminent
British poet, playwright or novelist is prepared to question the
foundations of western actions, let alone interrupt, as the critic
DJ Taylor once put it, all those “demure ironies and mannered perceptions,
their focus on the gyrations of a bunch of emotional poseurs …
to the reader infinitely reassuring … and infinitely useless."
Harold Pinter and Ronan Bennett are exceptions.
now a centralized single-ideology state, as secure in the grip of
a superpower as any former eastern bloc country. The Whitehall executive
has prerogative powers as effective as politburo decrees. Unlike
Venezuela, critical issues such as the EU constitution or treaty
are denied a referendum, regardless of Blair’s “solemn pledge."
Thanks largely to a parliament in which a majority of the members
cannot bring themselves to denounce the crime in Iraq or even vote
for an inquiry, New Labor has added to the statutes a record 3,000
criminal offenses: an apparatus of control that undermines the Human
Rights Act. In 1977, at the height of the cold war, I interviewed
the Charter 77 dissidents in Czechoslovakia. They warned that complacency
and silence could destroy liberty and democracy as effectively as
tanks. “We’re actually better off than you in the west,” said a
writer, measuring his irony. “Unlike you, we have no illusions.”
those people who still celebrate the virtues and triumphs of liberalism
— antislavery, women’s suffrage, the defense of individual conscience
and the right to express it and act upon it — the time for direct
action is now. It is time to support those of courage who defy rotten
laws to read out in Parliament Square the names of the current,
mounting, war dead, and those who identify their government’s complicity
in “rendition” and its torture, and those who have followed the
paper and blood trail of Britain’s piratical arms companies. It
is time to support the National Health Service workers who up and
down the country are trying to alert us to the destruction of a
Labor government’s greatest achievement. The list of people stirring
is reassuring. The awakening of the rest of us is urgent.
Pilger was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs, is
published by Jonathan Cape in June.
John Pilger 2007