Tony Blair has always been an exceptional and talented politician. Blair is both an extremely gifted speaker and possessed of a sound analytical mind. When Blair returns to the spotlight, making a rare intervention, it usually dominates the British media and political scene for days, if not a week, afterwards. This isn’t simply because Blair, like or dislike his analysis, often offers a potent understanding of many phenomena afflicting the world from Islamism to the rise of the populist right, but because his skills as a communicator remain honed.
However, whilst Blair’s skills remain undoubtedly honed in on the crafting and delivery of messages, Blair has lost some of his touch. Newton’s Third Law states the “For every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The variable Newton didn’t anticipate was Blair. Though Blair’s messages will without doubt resonate with many parts of the nation, it seems Blair cannot see that often, he is more of toxic liability than an asset on certain issues. The reaction Blair receives are vicious, often unwarranted, but the number of outraged denouncements of him are telling. Blair need only open his mouth and find a legion oppose him. Consider the 2016 Independence Referendum, I know many in the Leave campaign were “overjoyed” when Blair gave his endorsement to the struggling Remain campaign.
At the time, a Leave campaigner told me, “Blair’s embrace is often fatal these days, and if it doesn’t hammer the final nail in the coffin for the Remain campaign, it will bury the cause eventually.
.A prescient comment. Blair’s continued support for the Remain Campaign has put me at odds with someone who previously I closely politically aligned with, and still do on many issues. Blair seems to believe that the British electorate got the 2016 European Union membership referendum wrong. He seems to believe the electorate not only chose that wrong result, and this result is so heinous that the possibility of leaving the European Union cannot be countenanced. But fatally, Blair seems to believe that the British public’s opinion on this issue should be disregarded. The Blair of old would not have reacted to the political challenges of Brexit in quite the same way. It seems the Blair of 2017 is very different from the Blair of 1997.
The Blair of 1997 would most likely have come to a compromise with the electorate, and shaped a vision that was compatible with the expectations of the British people. Blair, it seems, has lost the ability he once had to speak for the nation, but also to be ambitious. Overturning the referendum result isn’t ambitious, it’s just delusional. Shaping the referendum debate to favour an open Independent Britain, a hub of international trade, that champions social justice and human rights across the globe? Now that is ambitious.
Perhaps, one could say, Blair is a fallen hero. Once seen as a great hope, now seen as a talented man who lost their way in power. Not just fallen, but that he has wandered even further since. Blair’s hamartia, it seems, is his blindness to how the good will he once held has evaporated, whether this is attributed to a form of hubris or simply inability to see the turn of the tide is something only Blair could ever know.
There admittedly does come a point where hatred of Blair becomes an addiction for some, who discard facts to suit a basic visceral hatred. Blair Revulsion Complex, very common amongst the far left, the right and far right largely because he effectively kept their influences of politics, was always present. I have defended Blair on a wealth of issues, on a wealth of his achievements and I won’t stop to suggest that New Labour didn’t make our country a better place for so many people. I did that from the day he left office and I don’t plan on stopping. But Blair also has serious issues, that many of us social-progressives who happen to also be in the centre of politics need to discuss.
Blair’s work with several Governments, like the thug-like regime of Uzbekistan and the dangerous Kingdom of Saudi Arabian, leave a bad taste in the mouth of anti-authoritarians. I can understand Blair’s argument for doing so: he believes that the best way to influence these regimes is through dialogue and limited trade and co-operation. In fairness, this is an evolution of Blair’s politics from what could possibly be described as the idealistic days of the Chicago Doctrine. But Blair, though I don’t doubt being well motivated in his dealings with these nations, seems to be suffering from a Messiah complex. He seems to believe that he can fix problems that many men before him have failed to fix.
Blair’s inability to reconcile his previous anti-authoritarian and interventionist stances with his differing style of political belief today, though, has left many feeling he is tainted with hypocrisy. Every time Blair speaks, his message is poisoned. When Blair lends his public backing to an idea, it perhaps casts more of a shadow than exposing it to light. It is right that we acknowledge in moderate and centrist politics, that even figures like Blair make mistakes and that we can react to political decisions not going our desired way.
Importantly, though, there is something even more critical that we need to acknowledge. Political figures have their time. Blair’s was 1997. Hillary Clinton’s was 2000. Too many grand politicians and titans seemingly now believe that they can continue forever, that the support they once had will simply exist when they need it. They seem, despite being highly intelligent and often offering tantalisingly interesting musings and notes on the perils our globe and political situations face, to be unable to understand that the mood regarding them has changed.
Whether it be Blair offering to lead a resistance against Trump, or Clinton stating she is in the resistance against Trump, neither party seems to be able to understand that what made social democracy and centrism so electable was that it was engaged. It didn’t resist against the people’s choice, it tried to show a better way by logical criticism and trying to shape narratives without grandstanding. Hence, Remainers shouldn’t want Blair to lead their movement, they should want someone fresh-faced, enigmatic and more like Blair was in 1997. Someone able to captivate and inspire in the new political times of today. Someone able to enter the political discussion with honesty, and vision. If we constantly turn to the established leaders of old, how will we discover the vanguard of coming generations?
Blair had his time, and think of his time what you will, but it happened. Blair had his time ,and that time in which he was regarded so favourably has run out. Ultimately, Blair had his time and now it is time for new leaders to shape the way forward for our country.