As Wednesday wore on the retraction came. He'd been misinterpreted, apparently. Of course he was.
I've never liked Tony Blair, but nor do I feel a visceral hatred toward him. And now he's in a position where the only thing he can damage is the morale of those Labour activists who carry a candle for him, he's an unwelcome irritant. His repeated interventions smacks of an egotist annoyed by a thin popular legacy, an absence of a fond consensus regarding his works. Contrast this with the remarkable rehabilitation of Gordon Brown, for instance. Placed before this relief, one might venture that there's something of the spite about Mr Blair.
Unfortunately, too many in the business and dubious pleasure of political comment still take Blair's pronouncements seriously. He won three elections don't you know, a feat unparalleled in Labour Party history. Under him the party became a properly professional outfit with a crushing focus on winning. At one point he had the Murdoch press, the Express and Star, and even the Daily Mail under his thumb. Yet politics moves rapidly and it doesn't take long to get completely out of touch. Having an inkling about the real world was never Blair's strong suit anyway. His time at the top was one lived in a rarefied world bounded by Number 10, the media, focus groups, and a grovelling cadre of underlings. A universe with its own set of physics, one in which the world of real people appeared to orbit Westminster, a conceit inverting the true nature of things. Yet all that looks like a life on zero hour contracts with a coal shed for a crib compared to Blair's trajectory post-2007. Since leaving office, Blair has made his millions hobnobbing with Murdoch, Bono, and Nursultan Nazarbayev, better known as the bloody despot of Kazakhstan. What would he know now about middle England, let alone the situation facing people who've seen their living standards decline?
The centre ground doesn't exist. It's a construct. It might be a useful one occasionally, an ideological weapon to paint your opponents as extremists - as Ed Balls does so today, but it is not a fact of political life unless one or more political parties act as though it is. For Blair, the centre ground was always what he said it was: something avoiding connotations of "old Labour" but did not quite match whatever the Tories were arguing that week. Such an approach won over Tory voters in the marginals, but at the price of doing heavy damage to the Labour Party's medium and long-term interests. It's this that precipitated the crisis official politics is facing.
If you think about the centre ground as a point in the political spectrum most people's views are located, you're treating with a nonsensical chimera. A majority does, wrongly, believe austerity to be necessary. And yet are also appalled by the excess of big business, know life is tough, and expect something to be done about it. They also want the NHS protected and the housing crisis eased. You might argue this positioning is well to the left of the government's impoverished small-state ambitions. Then on matters of immigration and Europe, the public in general are more in tune with the Tory positions: keep out as many of the buggers as possible, and renegotiate the relationship followed by a referendum. Both are wrong and are even against the interests of British capital in general, but that's where folks are. Being slap bang in the middle of politics now means trying to reconcile irreconcilable views, and the one party orienting toward both positions is ... UKIP.
Sadly, this won't be the last time Blair tries to stir it during the lead-in to the general election. His directions alternately signpost the brick wall and the cliff's edge, but alas none of that will prevent a gleeful reporting of his comments by the hostile press or prevent their exploitation by a Tory machine desperate for any old crap it can fling the opposition's way. If Blair wants to do his party a service, he can help by keeping his trap shut.