Where do you start when writing about Tony Blair in 2018? I approached the keyboard apprehensively this morning. For some people, it’s straightforward. For others, well, it’s a little more complicated. Let’s go from the beginning.
Blair came to power in 1997 in a glorious wave of enthusiasm and optimism. The UK had had a Tory government since 1979, and change was finally coming. The nation was singing that D:Ream song: ‘Things can only get better’. Blair’s ‘New Labour’ was a move to the Centre Left that appealed to a wide range of voters. Like him or loathe him, Blair is the only man who has led the Labour party to a General Election victory in nearly 40 years.
‘New Labour’ still has its fans, though it is definitely out of favour now. One of the criticisms about Blair from the Left is that his politics and the whole ideology of New Labour was kind of Tory Lite. Some people saw him as a sell out. ‘Blairite’ has become an insult for many on the Left.
My stance is complex. I was 16 in 1997, and one of New Labour’s early actions mightily pissed me off: the introduction of university tuition fees. Oh, what a sweet summer child I was, to be so angry about tuition fees of £1000 per year. At university, we campaigned, we rallied, we protested. We mostly blamed Gordon Brown, but we were angry with Blair too. Now, university tuition fees are £9000 per year. Looking back, was it really so bad?
From the Centre Left’s point of view, the conflict between the Left and the Centre Left often boils down to this question: Is it better to compromise for power than be so principled that you remain on the sidelines? It’s a debate that rages on, but nowadays, the appetite for compromised principles has completely changed. What happened to the Liberal Democrats is a frightening lesson — by entering into coalition with the Tories in 2010, they were seen as selling out for power, and, tainted by their proximity to the Tories, they were annihilated in the following election. Getting too close to the Tories seems to be destructive for anyone in the Centre or the Centre Left, but the Tories themselves don’t seem to face the same consequences. People expect less from the ‘nasty party’.
Blair was also criticised for being too smooth and polished. Some saw him as a snake-oil salesman, proficient in spin. Slippery and evasive politicians’ answers are irritating, but looking back, wouldn’t you rather have someone who can appear calm and eloquent than the VERY-CLEAR-STRONG-AND-STABLE May, or the TREMENDOUS-VERY-BAD-SAD-NO-PUPPET-NO-PUPPET-YOU’RE-THE-PUPPET word salad of Trump?
In conclusion, Blair is, at the very least, a divisive political figure. So he’s not a natural choice for leading us out of the divisive Brexit arguments. Seeing him on TV last night led to an outpouring of those anti-Blair ideas on Twitter: deliberately mis-spelling his name as ‘Bliar’, calling for him to be arrested, or even just expressing disgust at hearing his voice again. The thing is — and I’m wincing a bit as I write this, not because I don’t want to admit it but because I know that I’m about to get a lot of stick for it — he’s got a point…
Here’s a longer video explaining his perspective on the Brexit issue:
Tony Blair: We are stuck There will no majority in Parliament for [the Chequers Compromise], or for ‘Clean Break Brexit' or possibly any version of Brexit. In any rational world, this would go back to the people.— Tony Blair Institute (@InstituteGC) July 19, 2018
Watch TB set out why the Govt's Brexit plan is fatally flawed ↓ pic.twitter.com/zC3ivcDSHI
Judging by the reactions to last night’s interview, the UK is not ready for Blair to come back.
Tony Blair is a politically correct Thatcherite-Tory, bloodthirsty psychopath, with a Messiah complex.— Dan El Rojo (@Socialismilucra) July 15, 2018
Until Tony Blair is grovelling for the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the displacement, maiming and traumatising of millions of people, and the rise of ISIS and other extremists, I’ve no interest in anything he has to say.— Owen Jones🌹 (@OwenJones84) July 19, 2018
Tony Blair butchered thousands of Iraqis, destroyed many homes, made many children homeless and orphans. He lied to parliament and took UK to war. He made millions of pounds during it and now he promotes and works for dictators. We don’t need his advice. Go away.— Nadeem Ahmed (@Muqadaam) July 20, 2018
Turned on #Newsnight for the first time in months only to be greeted by the gurning face of Tony Blair. And no surprises, he’s slagging off Corbyn and the left. Why is he still being given airtime to haunt us like the ghost of Christmas past? pic.twitter.com/0zc7IfmaO6— Kerry-Anne Mendoza (@TheMendozaWoman) July 19, 2018
But some were surprised to find themselves agreeing with him:
Am I the only one who actually thinks Tony Blair talks a lot of sense?— Gavin Hamilton (@GHmltn) July 19, 2018
No. Unfortunately it doesn't matter what Blair says, sensible or otherwise. Iraq destroyed his credibility as a figure in public life who will be listened to. He will always be a messenger getting shot delivering the message— Mark Hayward (@ffsake) July 20, 2018
No! Hes egomaniacal, he made a massive mistake….but that doesn’t make him a bad political analyst - he is right on Brexit and he’s the only one calling it correcting because he doesn’t have anything to win/lose— David Nicol (@DJ_Nicol) July 19, 2018
Right message - wrong messenger.— Zoë Paramour (@ZoeParamour) July 20, 2018
Tony Blair’s on @BBCNewsnight - he talks such sense but we’re not allowed to say so…..— David Yelland (@davidyelland) July 19, 2018
Sticking your fingers in your ears and singing "la la la" so you don't hear what #TonyBlair has to say doesn't mean it isn't true. A #Labour party that will stand by a watch #Brexit destroy ordinary people's jobs is not a party that's "for the many" but one that's "for the few"— Steven Whiting #FBPE (@CaringLawyer) July 19, 2018
I never particularly liked or warmed to Tony Blair, and I completely opposed the Iraq War and his trashing of civil liberties and his failure to properly tackle poverty - but he doesn't seem so bad now, with benefit of hindsight.— Caron Lindsay #FBPE (@caronmlindsay) July 19, 2018
For the Centre Left among us, his words might still have some appeal. But Blair’s legacy is irreparably tainted for so many people, that by speaking up now, he might be doing more harm than good.
(Image via Getty)