Watch Out World!

My video interview with Hazel Blears gives us a glimpse of what might be coming if she seeks to replace Gordon Brown

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian, 5th May 2009

What is the difference between Brownites and Blairites? Brownites, according to the political commentators, sit on the left of the Labour party, Blairites on the right. This should be obvious to anyone. As we know, when Gordon Brown was Chancellor, he imposed punitive conditions on financial speculators, fought the private finance initiative tooth and nail and spoke out loudly and clearly against the Iraq war. All those who served under Tony Blair refused, as a matter of political principle, to serve under the left-wing firebrand who succeeded him. Closet Tories like Alistair Darling, Jack Straw, Geoff Hoon and John Hutton were replaced, during this momentous shift in British politics, by closet Commies like Alistair Darling, Jack Straw, Geoff Hoon and John Hutton.

In other words, it’s all nonsense. The glorified gossip columnists who make their living by speculating about politics have spent 15 years confusing personality with policy. In terms of political positioning, Brown’s government is indistinguishable from Blair’s: Blair was simply better at selling it. The 1997-2009 Labour administration is the most rightwing government the United Kingdom has had since the Second World War(1).

So to describe Hazel Blears as a Blairite is stupid and misleading. She’s a career politician, who will do what it takes to secure her advancement, under any leader. Her ambition, like that of most politicians, is boundless, as anyone who followed her bid for the deputy leadership could see. Until now her strategy has been total, unblinking loyalty, as our film, made before she stepped over the brink, demonstrates(2). Now that the prime minister is mortally wounded, she appears to have seized her chance: other ministers speculate that her unprecedented attack on the leader means that she is manouvering to take over. Our encounter gives you a glimpse of what a frightening idea this is.

Like Tony Blair, she appears to be able to persuade herself of a series of improbable but convenient propositions. She still believes, for example, long after everyone else has abandoned this pretence, that the government’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s ability to blow us apart within 45 minutes were made in good faith. What effort of will and intellectual contortion is needed to squeeze your mind into such boxes? But there is also a hint of the bloody battles to come: look out for the hesitation and facial re-adjustment when I ask her whether everyone in the Cabinet is a decent person.

Our exchange has now been going on since early February. I wrote a column about New Labour’s failure to motivate voters(3), to which Blears responded with a ferocious attack on the commentariat(4). I then accused her of being an unprincipled sycophant(5). We didn’t exactly meet in the spirit of mutal love and admiration.

But at least she had the guts to face one of her fiercest critics and give me an interview. She’s good – very good. Unlike Gordon Brown, she knows how to engage with people, and to answer questions. Rarely for a modern politician, she takes them head on, rather than changing the subject. In this respect she is indeed closer to Blair than Brown. She has something of Tony Blair’s charm and ease. And his terrifying self-belief.