Following the election of Tony Blair, British liberalism's leading journalists were, it is fair to say, beside themselves. "The new government has set a breathless pace," they rejoiced, "as the floodgates of change burst open." The first floodgate was Gordon Brown's surrender of vital economic powers to an unelected committee of financiers at the Bank of England. "The bold Chancellor," they cooed. "How daring he is."
Then there was the excitement of "Goodbye xenophobia" and "The Foreign Office says 'Hello World' ". The government would sign the social chapter within weeks, push for "new worldwide rules on human rights and the environment", ban land-mines, implement "tough new limits on all other arms sales" and end "the country house tradition of policy-making". Apart from the land-mines ban, which was already effectively in place and has since been negated by the use of air-dropped mines in Serbia, none of the above happened.
When Blair went to Europe, the crescendo rose again. "Blair is ready to fight for a people's Europe," sang the chorus, along with: "Europe's leaders are smitten by Blair, who charmed his way to an EU treaty deal." In fact, Blair's "triumph" in Europe, like that of his predecessor, had been to fudge the question of a single currency and shore up Britain's inhumane refugee laws by demanding special border controls.
Occasionally, the obsequiousness has been interrupted by a glimpse of the true nature of Blair's arrogant and wholly undemocratic "project". "Did you lie to us, Tony?" pleaded the Independent on Sunday. "We believed you when you promised sleaze-free politics. We shared in your electoral triumph. We thought you were different. But now we're not so sure."
This was the matter of the £1 million that the Formula One owner, Bernie Ecclestone, gave new Labour when Blair had exempted Formula One from the ban on tobacco sponsorship in sport. The government of "values" had not only acted in the interests of a powerful businessman and against the interests of the electorate but had lied about it. Blair subsequently apologised, but his apology was really for a failure of public relations, and it was generally reported that way, as such matters usually are. If the public are to be fooled, they should be fooled efficiently.
In the past week or so, Blair's liberal court has taken up the theme of his possible fallibility. The "tired" leader needs a holiday. A heroic, downcast image makes the point. The great social revolutionary, war leader and honest broker of "seismic shifts" on Northern Ireland has given his all, so - "Go to Tuscany, Tony: be refreshed." This is advertising copywriting; real journalism would not worship any political personality, least of all one with authoritarian tendencies and one who played to the media.
This borders on the "happy face fascism" described by Ann Tellman, the incisive writer on Singapore. It was Singapore where Blair effectively began his election campaign in January 1996, declaring that the "success" of Lee Kuan Yew "very much reflects my own philosophy". The old autocrat returned the compliment, describing Blair as Thatcher's heir. Lee's brilliant public-relations ruse in promoting "Asian values" and the "tiger" economies might as well have been the model for Blair's "Third Way". Both have sought to restore rapacious capitalism's modern essentials - centralised state power and a rigged "market" - with insidious social control. Like Lee, Blair has attacked the vulnerable: single mothers and homeless young people. Jack Straw's asylum bill is not dissimilar to Singapore's draconian immigration rules; and his amusingly titled Freedom of Information Bill would fit snugly into the laws of South-east Asia's most efficient police state.
None of this has to do with British democracy, which Blair is being allowed to erode, unopposed. The lies of his government were expressed in the "annual report" that Jack Cunningham handed out at Tesco. Close scrutiny of the "kept commitments" and those "on course" reveals many of them as bogus: for example, the promised referenda on proportional representation and European monetary union.
In the Times last year, Blair wrote: "Benefit fraud, estimated at £4 billion a year, is enough to build 100 hospitals." This was false. His own government's Benefit Integrity Project has found not a single case of confirmed fraud. Yet he has forced disabled people to take a cut of 50 per cent in their benefit. On Northern Ireland, the truth of his "blighted triumph" is that he sided with the Unionists, refusing to defend the Good Friday Agreement. His disastrous intervention has been minimised by journalists, just as the increased violence against republicans has gone unreported. The inanity of his promotion as a "war leader" continues; the truth is that he is an accessory to the crime of killing innocent civilians with bombs designed to do just that.
On BBC's Question Time, a pre-arranged and manufactured setting, David Dimbleby allowed him his own propaganda show, including his nonsense that Hawk aircraft were not being used in East Timor. (Less than a week later, a Hawk made a low, intimidating pass over Dili, the capital.) It was left to one feisty member of the public to interrupt the cosiness. He reminded the politician who cried at Dunblane that his government was permitting British machine-guns to reach East Timor via Turkey. "You could stop it," he said - to which Blair had no reply. For journalists paid to keep the record straight, it is shaming that the public must now do their job.