The British people are radically off-message; their values are not those of the Third Way crusaders

Steve Bell's Guardian cartoon of Ken Livingstone disporting himself before Tony Blair while Blairite functionaries, their faces as death masks, shove a red rose up his rear, was all that needed to be said. The farce of the London mayoral selection is matched by Livingstone's brand of populism. The man who joined Blair and Nato in backing the murderous assault on Serbia and Kosovo tantalises an electorate desperate to vote against almost everything new Labour stands for. For all the hype and Blair's abuse of him, Livingstone is on-message, bar one issue: handing London Underground to the lethal Railtrack. He knows how strongly people feel about this; it is his ticket.

Tragically, a principled, popular candidate standing as an independent and opposing the new Labour agenda would not only win, but lay the foundation for a movement capable of challenging the single-ideology state. Livingstone represents merely the lost opportunity. At the same time, the realisation of Blair's coup and its destruction of democracy is growing: witness the historically low turnout in the European and local elections, even the devolution polls.

"Looking through Orwell's farmhouse window at today's Britain," wrote Rodney Atkinson in Europe's Full Circle, "British voters see the worst aspects of both Conservative and Labour administrations. Both are engaged in the corporatist and covert corruptions which marginalise and exploit individuals and families. Both parties are a threat to all free associations which lack the power to lobby, manipulate and feed off the power of the state."

With its deceptive popularity ratings drawn from within the narrowest of boundaries, new Labour understands little of the public's cynicism. The media is its protector and illusionist. An intellectually dishonest drawing-room game known as the Third Way is promoted among Downing Street's pets, as if it has meaning other than more of the same. That Blair is often seen in Europe as a belligerent reactionary, and in the United States as merely useful, is not reported here. The popular upheavals growing in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Greece against Third Way policies are not news.

Like the Continental Europeans, the British are equally off-message. In the wake of new Labour's victory, the laissez-faire guru Samuel Brittan wrote in the Financial Times that his followers should count themselves lucky to have Blair, as Labour would have certainly won on a socialist platform. The British public, he lamented, remains "hopelessly collectivist". Whether or not they are collectivist, there is a critical intelligence and common sense in the way most people arrive at their values. The Third Way crusaders in power must despair that, in attacking single mothers and "shaming" deprived schools, they do not gain in popularity. Year after year, the trustworthy British Social Attitudes Survey shows that the British people are not innately conservative, as journalists and politicians caricature them. On the contrary, they are increasingly tolerant and supportive of the variety of ways people try to construct their personal lives. They reject overwhelmingly the growing divide between rich and poor - by remarkable majorities, including 87 per cent, the highest in the survey's history - and support the redistribution of wealth and income and tax-funded support for public services. Three-quarters believe that profit should be invested and to the benefit of working people; barely 3 per cent believe shareholders and managers should benefit.

The Third Way wisdom is that the influence of class is less than it used to be. The reverse is true; sons and daughters of unskilled workers are, proportionally, no more likely to go to university than they were in the 1970s, especially now that new Labour has ended free higher education. Three-quarters of people surveyed believe that the notion of a classless Britain is nonsense, and that a class war is being fought.

Yet this reality remains subversive, as those who know it to be true face a media wall. Politics are given time according to their spurious lobby rating, while political entertainment is provided in the ritual pillorying of an Archer, a Hamilton. "Reform", which journalists use incessantly, has become Orwellian; it now means destruction. "Restructuring" means the same, and "wealth creation" actually refers to the extraction of wealth by the relentless stripping and merging of companies. That noble concept "democracy" is just another rhetorical device.

In an interview in the Observer of 21 November, Blair was allowed to weave his new fatherhood into propaganda that read as if he were reciting it. The new baby means more than winning in 1997. Yes, of course. In the Guardian, he spoke about "concerns for Cherie's health". No link is made with the privilege into which the child will be born and the child victims of Blair's policies and belligerence.

I have just returned from Iraq, where I saw many children dying because of an economic embargo that has succeeded in entrenching the regime of Saddam Hussein, while destroying the young and vulnerable. Food relief and drugs are allowed, but a diabolical system of prevarication and delay controlled by the Blair and Clinton governments ensures the death of newborn babies and infants - more than 4,000 deaths a month, says the United Nations. Denis Halliday, a former assistant under-secretary of the UN who accompanied me, calls it genocide. The suppression of this in Britain, unlike the unsurprising antics of Jeffrey Archer, is a true scandal.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 29 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, An explosion of puffery