Tony Blair has shown himself to be an odious, hypocritical relic of the past; he should be left there.
Reading this interview with Tony Blair in the Guardian was a very bad way to start my Saturday, but I hope that this at last begins to maybe deconstruct the idea that Blair is someone we should revere, as opposed to someone we should consider a man who was of his time but is now about as useful to the modern Labour party as Jim Callaghan and for many of the same reasons.
He’s obviously right in a very limited sense; that Brexit is harmful to the vast majority of people in the country and should be opposed. The rightness ends there. He makes clear that he fully understands what the Labour party is aiming for (i.e. letting the Tories blow their own dicks off with regards to Brexit and waiting for public opinion to turn against it as its consequences and the Tories’ administration of it become more and more inescapably clear) but then asserts that this is the one point at which pragmatism — which, I’ll remind you, is the whole basis of the Blair legend — isn’t right. I do genuinely look forward to hearing all the people who get misty-eyed about Blair and how he put the Labour party winning first, and rational pragmatism over stupid principle, explain how it’s actually right that Blair has gone back on both of those things because Brexit. It shows up the whole basis of the Blair myth, this image of the pragmatic totemic figure of sheer unbridled political moderation, as the complete and total bullshit it is.
The same goes for his deciding that Labour winning is less important than stopping Brexit for him, which frankly means I never want to hear the tired canard about “the left don’t want to win they just want to exercise their unpopular and dated principles” ever again, because such peoples’ typical idol has now shown himself as being precisely the same in a different direction. He is, in the very best and most charitable reading, no better than such people and in reality a whole lot worse because he has spent so long telling everyone who didn’t agree that they were bluntly wrong — see, for example, his comments around people voting with their hearts needing transplants. It makes me even angrier because there were so many occasions, such as on immigration and race, on which Blair could have taken a principled stand but didn’t, and we were instead supposed to accept that there were “legitimate concerns” and that pragmatically we should understand them; the harmful effects of doing this are now clear for all to see, indeed manifested partially in the Brexit vote, and all he’s done now is show that he could have been idealistic and principled on them, and perhaps helped turn the tide away from xenophobia and hatred, but he just chose not to for his own scummy political purposes. This alone should mean that he’s dead to the modern Labour movement, or at least whatever part of it considers the repeated platforming of bigotry to have a part in creating the situation we are in today.
In reality maybe we should reassess Blair, with the full benefit of hindsight and knowledge of what has transpired since. We’d find that the man is not some sort of political genius and gifted communicator, but instead a very superficial and media-savvy figure who came up with an astonishingly limited one-shot method of winning an election in 1997, hasn’t deviated from it in the last twenty years, did win three but with increasingly diminishing returns each time and then has allowed this weird rush to the “centre” (which for him hasn’t moved or changed since he was Prime Minister) to become as much of a rigid dogma as he considers the supposed “back to the 70s” lefties to represent. He last won an election twelve and a half years ago, since which point there has been a global financial crash and public opinion has turned very, very far away from the idea of the mass of normal people coalescing around this notional centre with bits everyone agrees on, and yet his political outlook remains the same and his ideas of winning elections have not changed at all. His much-vaunted “return to front-line politics” has consisted of interviews like this and media events where he makes glib and obvious pronouncements on politics, does his little appeal to moderation schtick and then disappears again, leaving nothing but pissed off tweets in his wake and making no meaningful changes to anyone’s minds. What, precisely, is the point of Blair in 2017 and why is anyone paying him any heed?
His comments on Trump are incredibly revealing. For someone like myself who sees the “fishhook theory” (in which the left-right political spectrum loops around and the far right and the centre are ultimately identical) and thinks it’s insulting and overly reductive, to see Blair — a man supposedly now invigorated with a new found respect for principle — all but defending the fact that the president of the US is a pussy-grabbing fascist in all but name and unwilling to say a bad word about him on the basis that “America should be strong” gives me serious pause. It rather underscores that, again, Blair’s political “talent” was not so much to move to the “centre” but to move to the right; he appears to be fundamentally unable to conceive of a successful political movement not being right wing, and appears to sympathise with right wingers almost instinctually. He also appears to be fundamentally unable to understand that centrism is a busted flush electorally and ideologically, and that he personally and the ideology he represents is considered almost uniquely responsible for many of today’s ills.
Let’s be frank; as much as his governments achieved in the realm of meaningful improvements to the British peoples’ lives, largely due to the policy contributions of those around him, we do not need Blair any more. His own personal talents are limited and his appeal even more so. There are lots of people who are pro-European and able to articulate it better than he can, and have the advantages of not being widely reviled and toxic — we should give them profiles and interviews in the Guardian instead, as he has had more than enough oxygen and the last thing remainers need is someone like him as a poster child.