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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair Was On TV Last Night Talking About Brexit, And People Have Feelings.

By Hannah Sole | Politics | July 20, 2018 |

By Hannah Sole | Politics | July 20, 2018 |


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?

Then there are those who call him a war criminal. Some won’t go that far, but will still criticise him for being America’s lapdog.

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:

Judging by the reactions to last night’s interview, the UK is not ready for Blair to come back.

But some were surprised to find themselves agreeing with him:

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)

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Hannah Sole is a Staff Contributor. You can follow her on Twitter.