JOHN McGURK NOVEMBER 1 2016
Yes I know. The man’s a pariah, an international hooligan, an accomplished liar, or at the very least, a manipulator of the facts. He’s someone who’s made a fortune despite building a political career on the back of supposed socialist principles. Many believe he remains a war criminal who should be tried.
But when he returned last week, virtually on the eve of Hallowe’en, the former prime minister turned bogeyman made pronouncements about Brexit which any sensible supporter of Britain staying in the EU would have found hard to disagree with.
Naturally, Blair was immediately rounded on and put down as someone whose opinions no longer matter. In particular, we were reminded that the reason we’re in this mess is precisely because of him and his failure to prevent Britain falling out of love with Europe when he inhabited Downing Street.
That is all true. The Blair government planted seeds which grew into hatred for Europe and sprouted into a nation bitterly divided between north and south — the have and the have-nots.
During the New Labour years between 1997 and 2010, net migration quadrupled; soft regulation of the finance sector created the conditions for the banking crisis; the Iraq war was the biggest military mistake since Suez; English resentment was born out of Scottish devolution.
Yet when he wrote about Brexit and then appeared on the Today programme, much of what he said made a lot of sense. It was just a pity it was him saying it.
Blair, who has apparently let it be known that he is not averse to a return to centre ground politics, called for a new movement to be born from the 48% of the electorate who voted to remain in the EU and declared: “We have to build the capacity to mobilise and organise”
His conclusion was starling: “We are the insurgents now.”
He wrote: “The issue is not whether to ignore the will of the people but whether, as information becomes available and facts take the place of claims, the will of the people shifts.
“Surely we are entitled to persuade, to make the argument, and not be whipped into line to support a decision we genuinely believe is a catastrophe for the country we love.”
When he was later interviewed by the BBC, he said that another referendum should not be ruled out….”if the facts change, people can change their views.”
Blair pointed out another sensible conclusion: that the current state of politics in Britain was a hard-Brexit Tory party versus a hard-left Labour party meaning that millions of people were “politically homeless.”
Combined with the results of a poll by the British Election Study Panel, which found that 6% of leavers now regret their decision, the argument for Britain remaining in the EU should not be dismissed.
The same poll concluded that many leavers didn’t expect to win and voted against Europe simply to give the elite a bloody nose. It was their way of putting one over the establishment because they felt alienated.
Will these feelings of “Bregret” disperse when the full implications of Brexit become known?
Mrs May, of course, has made it very clear, to use her well worn phrase, that “Brexit mens Brexit” and says she is doing everything in her power to get the best for Britain.
The deal to protect the British car industry, as demonstrated by Nissan’s decision to stay in the UK, is a victory for her although there will now be a queue of industries and institutions demanding the same arrangements.
But the new prime minister was highly dismissive of Tony Blair’s intervention in the affairs of the nation although she has clearly adopted some of his traits.
Thanks to a leaked recording of a speech she made on May 26, just a month before the referendum, we now know that she speaks with forked tongue.
Mrs May told a Goldman Sachs audience that she strongly supported the EU single market. She said that Brexit would deter international investors and lead to major companies quitting Britain and relocating on the Continent.
“We shouldn’t be voting to recreate the past, we should be voting for what is right for the future…the UK needs to lead in Europe.”
She added: “The economic arguments are clear. Companies would leave the UK if the UK leaves the EU”
Well that’s not what she’s saying now.
Together with her change of heart over the third runway at Heathrow — she previously opposed the plan to satisfy her constituents in Maidenhead — Mrs May is clearly someone capable of saying one thing and doing another.
In that respect, there doesn’t appear to be a great deal of difference between her and Tony Blair.