Monday 10 October 2016

The Return of Tony Blair

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.


Metatone said...

What I find amusing is that any Blair comeback has to be premised on the 48% - but that brings him into direct conflict with Uncle Rupert... just not going to happen...

BCFG said...

The chilcot report is today's toilet paper!

Another crushing indictment of Western values. Instead of facing war crimes this criminal monster thinks he can get elected again! Instead of demanding his arrest the British people, well just carry on consuming as if it has a zero footprint. And these values are to be spread to every corner of the globe!

Cripes, and they say ISIS is a poisonous and dangerous ideology!

Anonymous said...

He may indeed, surrounded by sycophants, "think" that - but it merely shows how delusional and even deranged he has now become.

Even polls - now routinely used as means of manipulating public opinion rather than merely reflecting it - consistently show a Blair led Labour would do (even) worse than under Corbyn.

And rest assured, Chilcot would no longer be "forgotten" if he really did attempt a serious comeback......

asquith said...

Blair, like his dwindling band of followers, has fundamentally not grasped that this isn't 2006, and apart from the fact that the "prosperity" of his time was a fake based on a banking and housing bubble, it is impossible to recreate that time.

Our times call for different solutions, and whatever you may think of Shameron and Gidiot, they weren't afraid to repudiate Thatcher and May has taken this even further, they donidn't act as if we were still in the 1980s, whereas for Blair, Mandy etc it never stops being 2006, with the illegal war in Iraq being just one of the terrible things they did and no acknowledgement of the fact that they can't carry on.

What, apart from his farrago of a foreign "policy", is his response to the global economic meltdown of 2008 and its aftermath? How does he propose to challenge Saudi and Qatari atrocties in Yemen? (Which gets so little attention even though it's as bad as Syria and the blame pretty unambigously lies with the Gulf states and Western enablers such as, it now turns out, Bozza).

Unfortunately the return of disgraced former defence secretary Liam Fox roves that neoconservatism isn't dead, but we can confront such reactionary attitudes by getting behind Tim Farron, not bringing back that tit.

jim mclean said...

Latest polling shows Labour voters would prefer Blair. although JC has just overtook the Dont Knows in the PM stakes. We are screwed