You may have heard that Tony Blair has recently decided to resurface once more. Today, the former Prime Minister gave a speech criticising the current Brexit process, suggesting that it should be rethought and that the referendum decision was based upon “imperfect knowledge”. A lot of Brexiteers – including the Foreign Secretary – have hit back hard; some Remainers – such as Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron – have praised it. Analysts on BBC Radio 4 have mused upon whether Mr Blair is being groomed to become the leader of the public pro-EU camp.
If this is true, the Europhiles are making a huge mistake.
I read the transcript of Mr Blair’s speech. It was eloquent and relatively impassioned, and I don’t necessarily disagree with all of it. If another veteran politician had given the speech, I would agree that they might be suitable to become the public face of the pro-EU camp, if one could be effectively organised. However, Mr Blair is inherently unsuited to do so.
Tony Blair is one of the most disliked major politicians in recent British history. Even almost ten years after he left office, people still view him with revulsion – indeed, many actively hate him. Perhaps most notably, this hate for Mr Blair is almost non-partisan; people of many different creeds, classes and political viewpoints detest him. The long-awaited result of the Chilcot enquiry last year, which was damning in its criticism of the former PM, has only thrown wood onto the flames of anti-Blair sentiment.
Most people cannot forgive Mr Blair for leading Britain into the 2003 Iraq War on insufficient information and dubious legal ground. Many see him as a liar and even a war criminal; the fact that he decided to become Middle East Envoy for the U.N was viewed as a laughably cynical move by a multitude of Britons. People do not see Tony Blair and think peace and honesty – what springs to mind is instead war and deception.
Moreover, Blair seemed to primarily angle his speech at the economic arguments against the European Union. This was the argument presented by the Remain campaign last year, and it failed. The vote for Brexit was not just about the European Union. It was partly – perhaps mostly – a revolt against a liberal elite, an ‘Establishment’ that many felt had ignored them for years; as Dan Carlin stated, it was the revenge of the “gangrenous finger” of the body politic. Blair is the embodiment of that Establishment. His message that people did not really understand the consequences of Brexit sounds condescending and arrogant in the extreme – exactly playing into the stereotype of the sneering liberal elite. People are already dismissive of elites and experts, whether rightly or no – how does Blair think he is going to persuade people by taking the same patronising view of the public?
Indeed, what exactly does Mr Blair think he will achieve by speaking out? It is hard to know if this recent publicity has come from genuine passion for the European project or a cynical attempt to reintroduce himself into British politics. As much as I try to stay balanced, I can’t help but be swayed by the latter argument – either that or Mr. Blair is somewhat delusional about his public image, which I doubt. He is so unpopular politically that he surely could not do anything but harm the pro-EU camp by getting actively involved. To be flippant, the best way for him to help the Europhiles might be to make a speech in favour of Brexit. The Blair name is so toxic these days that it harms whatever it touches.
Mr Blair, whatever his motivations, should keep out of British politics from now on. Why he does not simply retire into obscurity and keep his head down is beyond me.