Dangerous and unpredictable times
The crisis of the Brown government has a self-destructive logic, taking us into politically uncharted and dangerous waters. There is heady and unpredictable mix of a government in melt down, state administrative systems in turmoil, a deepening banking and financial crisis and senior figures in the armed services denouncing the prime minister for his indifference.
Over the last decade, the Blair/Brown project has attempted to bring the state, government and corporate power into a unified, seamless whole held together not by politics but by a managerial team, headed by a chief executive officer (formerly known as the prime minister).
Ancient processes like the rule of law have gone by the board because they get in the way of efficient government. New Labour has regarded itself if not above the law, then at least its equivalent. The acceptance of £630,000 from a property developer through third parties was clearly in breach of laws passed by the New Labour government itself. Yet no fewer than three party general secretaries stood by as the money flowed into the coffers.
New Labour’s outlook is that laws and the legal system should be subordinate to government policies. For example, the fact that the invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law is seen of no consequence (although it was of concern to army chiefs concerned about the implications for troops). Holding foreign nationals in prison without trial was considered so important that human rights were flouted until the judiciary stepped in. In terms of the donations, only after having been found out is New Labour to return the cash.
Other crises over Northern Rock and the loss of data discs with 25 million people’s identities and financial information indicate that the New Labour project is floundering. The credit crunch that has overwhelmed Northern Rock is the most graphic expression of the end of a consumer/housing boom based on fantasy finance, one that was encouraged by New Labour ministers. In a futile bid to stop the rot, the government has loaned the bank up to £25 billion – with absolutely no guarantees about getting the money back. The financial crisis is worsening by the day while millions of people are struggling to pay their mortgages and credit card debts.
In this context, the intervention last week of five former chiefs of the defence staff in a co-ordinated attack in the House of Lords is nothing if not sinister. Their warning that the Ministry of Defence was facing "blood on the floor" because of budget cuts was unprecedented. They demanded increased spending on the forces and criticised the government for breaking the “military covenant” between the country and its armed forces. Lord Boyce, attacked the government for using "smoke and mirrors" to cover cuts in defence spending. He told peers: "We are seriously endangering our people because of the lack of money being given to equip, train and properly support those in the second line preparing to rotate to the front line." Another accused Brown of indifference to the armed forces by being the only senior cabinet minister who had avoided coming to the Ministry of Defence when he was chancellor.
The next question is: what do these former service chiefs – who were undoubtedly speaking for the mass of serving officers – going to do about it all? If those in charge of the state are betraying the armed forces, as they allege, what do they propose? Do they want to become the government? It’s not such a daft question as you think. These are dangerous and unpredictable times.
AWTW communications editor
28 November 2007