Over the last couple of months, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has made a few significant interventions in ongoing debates in British politics. He criticised and distanced himself from Jeremy Corbyn, showed sympathy for Theresa May and urged that Britain take a radically different approach to Brexit, among other things.
The reaction to this has been crass. Brexiteers have attacked him as “loathsome”, while Corbynistas call him a “war criminal” and do not accept him as part of Corbyn’s Labour Party. Simultaneously, publications from left to right find reasons to blast Blair whenever to opens his mouth. The Independent attacked him on Iraq only a couple of weeks ago, The Guardian (in 2014) called him a “political embarrassment”, MailOnline thinks it in any way relevant to write a piece about how many houses he owns, while The Telegraph and many others constantly run stories about how much money he makes. Politicians from all parties then add to the chorus, from Frank Field (“not a person to influence public opinion now”) to Robin Walker (“Mr Blair hasn't really listened to the nature of the debate that is going on”).
This reaction is wrong and inappropriate. As a country, we should be listening to Tony Blair – and even more so to our political class.
I am not saying this because I am a Blairite. On the contrary, I am a Tory and do not by any means support Tony Blair politically. On his main theme currently, Brexit, I substantially disagree with him – but that is not the point. We shouldn’t listen to him because he is necessarily right. We should listen to him because his is an important, intelligent and relevant voice in a public debate that mostly seems to either not really be taking place or merely consisting of partisan bickering and pointless slogans.
Experienced, rational, convincing statesmen should be playing an important role at a time when the current political leadership is lacking the qualities needed to become them themselves. Of course, Tony Blair made mistakes during his time in office, like all prime ministers do. Every politician and every voter will have views on certain issues that clash with his. Beyond these differences of opinion, however, it ought to be possible for just about anybody to recognise the importance and relevance of this man for British politics and muster respect for Blair’s achievements and public service.
The real reason why we should be taking Tony Blair seriously is a different one, though. His political talent is indefinitely greater than anyone else’s on the current political scene in the UK. In a five-minute interview with Tony Blair there is easily more substance than in the entire pronouncements of Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet put together. Listening to the waffling of Boris Johnson or the sheer incompetence of Diane Abbott, one often feels like the criticism of New Labour and Blair as mere spin could not be further from the truth – or at the very least dramatically exaggerated. When was the last time that any politician in this country managed to come up with a radical new idea, sell it to the public and implement it in a competent fashion? It is hard to find a lot of examples post-2007.
In a partisan political climate, it is at least understandable that the Tories, and especially the Brexiteer wing of the Party, are not willing to engage with Tony Blair in a serious political debate. But the disdain and rudeness with which his own party treats him is outright embarrassing and idiotic. This man – whatever one’s view of his platform and decisions in office – is by far the most successful British politician in the last twenty-five years. He led Labour to three election victories in a row, something no one else has ever achieved for the party. Incredibly, the seven Labour leaders before and after him – Callaghan, Foot, Kinnock, Smith, Brown, Miliband and Corbyn – all did not win a single election. Not one. How dare his party of losers now have the arrogance and petty-mindedness to cast Tony Blair into the political wilderness?
All of this is exacerbated by the frankly quite pathetic state of British politics at the moment. The country is run by a Conservative government that seems to have lost any sense of direction and given up on conservatism. The main opposition party is led by a group of extreme politicians who lack the intellectual clout and political competence to come up with a really radical programme, instead opting for reactionary, ineffectual and often nonsensical policy positions. The other alternative, the Liberal Democrats now are a party whose former leader’s views on homosexuality aren’t really liberal and whose policy on Brexit isn’t really democratic. And the third largest party in parliament quite literally wants to destroy the United Kingdom.
The cross-party political class in Britain should, at the very least, appreciate the apparent willingness of one of the most influential British politicians in generations to actively take part in the debates of our time. They might agree or disagree with him, but not even bothering to listen to him in a serious fashion is an act of pure ignorance and dereliction of duty.