You can't keep a good man down. Or, depending on preferences, a bad stench always lingers. Yes, Saint Tony has pre-announced a possible comeback. Caught between the rock of ruinous Toryism and the hardplace "ultra-leftism" of the Labour Party, His Blairness has identified a yawning gap where the centre ground should be.
We've been here many times before, including quite recently. The problem with any notion of the centre ground is it does not have a meaningful existence in the same way political values and the forces attached to them do. Blair had little time for such old hat, he took what we call in political science a spatial approach to politics. Find out where most people are on an issue, and try to be closer to that position than your opponents: that is the route to electoral success. The problem is the electorate tend to be all over the place. They might be left leaning on some things, such as the need for more housing, and are appalled at the tax dodging antics of the filthy wealthy. And right on others, like getting tough on crime and cutting immigration to nothing. The problem is one Theresa May has triangulated that territory quite successfully, if the latest abysmal poll is anything to go by.
The problem for Blair is that while he has an inkling the current political situation has something to do with the dull, authoritarian managerialism of his reign, he doesn't understand how or why. And neither do his disciples. Yes, Tone's time as PM saw a number of positives, but alongside the one huge, fat negative his approach didn't so much as challenge the neoliberal consensus as strengthen it. The subsequent erosion of the bedrock constituency Labour depends on is a direct consequence of his positioning, which means a 1997-style triangulation strategy is nigh on impossible for our party - even if it was led by a Blair-like figure. Jeremy Corbyn's Labour might be miles away from power, but it is doing the necessary spade work of sinking new foundations that will pay dividends in the long term.
The second problem with Blair is if he were to make a comeback, of leading politically he has no inkling. For all the trite talk of tough decisions, his pitch prior to '97 was "aren't the Tories useless and sleazy". Because they were and the public had had their gut full for 18 years, he didn't have to offer a political or philosophical critique. All the previous sins of Labour's approaches to power were compounded and reinforced. Facing a choice between adapting to or leading public opinion, always understood by Blair as right wing tabloid editorials, it was more prostration than meek acceptance. Tellingly the one time he did try and lead public opinion was on Iraq, and we know where that ended up. Therefore the current situation, whether Jeremy stays six months or leads the party into the 2020 general election demands something more than what Blair and his acolytes have to offer. It requires politics.
That said, while Blair has the habit of passing banalities off as profundities, he does make one useful point. His affection for "the centre" is a preference for elite politics, of those interludes where certainties are, well, certain, and not likely to be upset by realignments and the rude intrusion of masses of people. It assumed one form during the calm years of the post-war consensus, and another once the destruction wrought by Thatcherism settled down. Politics is in flux right now, and that isn't about to change. But in time, it will. The shape it's going to assume is up for grabs, but as things calm the strength of conservative forces in the party will gather and, if we're not careful, take us through the whole cycle again. Blair is the past, but he is also a warning of what could come.