Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bye Bye Blair, Plus Audrey

I. Blair's Legacy
So, Britain's Tony Blair is finally gone from office. Not before time. It seems that the UK has a habit of having long serving Prime Ministers. Blair was in office for a decade. Prior to the Blair era, Margaret Thatcher was in office from 1979 to 1990. Both of these individuals caused great harm to the UK, as best as I can tell.

Blair, of course, will be remembered first and foremost for his complicity with the Bush administration in exaggerating the case for going to war in Iraq. It was fitting to see on the news that even on his last day in office, Blair be heckled by anti-war demonstrators. It is interesting to note that Thatcher also managed to get Britain into a war, of dubious merit. That was the Falklands conflict. The one difference though between them is that at least Thatcher managed to win her war, unlike Blair.

It is interesting to note that although Thatcher and Blair were of ostensibly different political leanings (Thatcher was a conservative, somewhat akin to US Republicans, while Blair was Labour, akin to US Democrats), their policies had many consistent themes. Thatcher attacked the trades union movement. Her most notorious action was the epic Miner's Strike, that effectively destroyed the British Coal industry, and the communities and traditions associated with it. Instead, Thatcher favoured the business people of the City of London. In a series of policies that became known as "selling the family silver", she privatised many of the previously State owned industries, with disastrous consequences.

Although the British Labour party traditionally had strong ties with the labour unions, these ties were not honored under Blair. Instead, Blair favoured an ever increasing army of consultants and spin doctors. Under Blair, venerable and worthwhile British institutions such as the National Health Service have experienced a serious decline.

Perhaps the most damaging of Blair's policies was the increasing use of so-called Private Finance Initiatives (PFI). This was a strategy under which private businesses were contracted to build new schools and hospitals, rather than having these funded by the government. Although in most cases the argument for the adoption of PFI schemes was made on the basis of reduced projected costs, these costs seldom materialised. In fact, PFI schemes notoriously have cost overruns and frequently the corporations involved renegotiated their deals with the government when they found that their profit margins were not high enough.

Apart from being a prodigious waste of public money, PFI schemes have had a bad track record of delivering the promised services. This though is not the really sad part about them. Even if the money that was wasted on consultants putting together these PFI schemes is overlooked, these schemes are at best short sighted. The true crime of these PFI schemes is that they lock public services, like health and education, into expensive contractual arrangements for years into the future. Thus, even when the ridiculous war in Iraq has been forgotten (probably after it is abandoned), the Blair legacy will be these schemes. The British public services, that were once fine and august institutions will be tied to expensive contracts. This may be intentional though. What better excuse could be found by a government for insisting on a further encroachment of industry into previously publicly provided services? Thus, both Blair and Thatcher have sold out the people of Britain and their institutions to base mercantile forces. This is the reason the legacy of neither is anything to be proud of.

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II. Hurricane Audrey, 50 Years Ago
It was 50 years ago today that coastal Louisiana was visited by Hurricane Audrey. This was a notorious storm, that killed over 500 people. There is a fascinating and excellent discussion of this storm, along with some comparison between it and the 2005 Hurricane Rita, that hit roughly the same area, over at Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog. It is well worth a visit, as it has some wonderful graphics and some moving first hand tales linked to it. There is also an interesting comparison between Audrey and Rita over at Lafayette weatherman Rob Perillo's blog. That too is an interesting read. In Louisiana, hurricanes are important events. Since the beginning of this month, we have been watching the Gulf of Mexico with some trepidation. Fortunately, there has been little to worry about, as yet. We shall see if this remains the case as the season progresses. Our fingers are crossed.

The CP

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