Friday 17 February 2017

A Quick Word About Tony Blair

It's been a few months, so we were due another return of Tony Blair. And so we had today's intervention in the Brexit debate, fulfilling his earlier promise that he was going to get more active in British politics again. Naturally, and it couldn't have escaped His Blairness's notice even as he moves among the higher planes, is that there are a couple of by-elections on. In Copeland, the big issues are the local NHS and Sellafield. In Stoke-on-Trent, lying Paul Nuttall, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, are trying to make it about Brexit.

Blair's speech wasn't helpful. Throughout the campaign, UKIP and their little helpers in the local and national press have tried to make a thing about Gareth Snell's Remain voting/campaigning record. He has said on more occasions than I care to remember that had he been a MP during last week's Article 50 vote, he would have obeyed the whip and followed the steer of Stoke Central's constituents and voted for it. He's even gone out of his way to criticise Paul Farrelly's stupid decision to defy the referendum result - Paul represents the tight marginal in neighbouring Newcastle-under-Lyme for Labour. The Tories have tried to make something out of it too. They put out a leaflet, signed by the Prime Minister no less, saying that Stoke's two other MPs - Ruth Smeeth and Rob Flello - voted against triggering Article 50 when, quite rightly, they supported it. Goes to show that Nuttall isn't the only liar in town. And so while Labour is working very hard to say that the Brexit result must be respected, along comes Blair to much fanfare to try and undo it all and muddy the position. At best, unhelpful. At worst, scabbing. I'll leave you to decide which.

That said, if the by-election goes down to a Labour loss, Blair will not be to blame. Like most places, he's not particularly well-liked in Stoke. Then again, not a great many people care about what he has to say either. The local paper have covered it, slots were duly put aside on the evening news, a talking point on local radio maybe, but it's not likely to have much of an affect on the by-election. Stokies aren't thick and know he's yesterday's man. If everything goes belly up, which is looking decreasingly likely, there will be other issues and legacies at play. His fool speech won't even register.


David Timoney said...

Clearly Blair is not trying to influence the by-election outcome but the agenda on the day after the count. Unless Labour improves on Hunt's vote share, the result - win or lose - will be spun as a both a rejection of Corbyn and proof that Labour should have been more enthusiastically pro-EU. What this intervention really proves is Blair's abiding narcissism.

Unknown said...

And the guardian's enduring love for the man.

Boffy said...

Oh Dear Me. I'm afraid that what we have here in your argument is the necessary consequence of opportunist politics that tails public opinion, rather than principled socialist politics that tries to shape it.

Brexit is against workers interests, particularly the interests of those workers, such as in Stoke, who are suffering the most. It was against their interests before the referendum result, and it is just as much against their interest after the result. Principled socialists, and even social democrats had a duty to oppose it, therefore, before and during the referendum, and that duty is not at all changed as a result of the referendum result, any more than socialists have a duty to continue to oppose Tory policies before, during and after an election.

Brexit IS the biggest crisis facing the working class, because it conditions all of those other issues such as jobs, wages, conditions, the NHS and so on, not just for the next few weeks, or months, but potentially for decades to come, and it affects not just workers in Stoke, or Britain, but workers across Europe as we face a nationalist onslaught being driven from within the Kremlin and Trump's White House, linking up reactionary nationalist forces across the globe.

Blair was right to say that we need to rise up to resist it, though it is the policies that he and his ilk pursued for the last thirty years that created the conditions in which that nationalism is now filling the vacuum. Nor, therefore, can the kind of Europe that Blair represents offer a solution for workers. Corbyn was right during the referendum to offer a different perspective of a workers Europe, but to create it we have to be in the existing EU, not helping Theresa May push us out of the door.

As the Weekly Worker say in their paper this week, and as I've said before, there is no more reason for Labour to simply tail this referendum vote, and hypocritically support Brexit than there would be for Labour MP's to support hanging following a referendum, or to support discrimination against gays etc. simply because a referendum has called for it.

A principled politician would stand down rather than argue for a policy which only yesterday they opposed on solid grounds, just as would a principled union representative, whatever vote had taken place.

Corbyn promised to build a social movement. Where is it? It should not have been Blair calling on workers to rise up and resist the biggest threat to them in decades, but Corbyn, Momentum, and the Labour Party, and the by-elections should have been a starting point of such a process, rather than an exercise in opportunism, and simply trying to provide people with cushy jobs as MP's. We had enough of that under Blair and his heirs.

Pol86 said...

If the old ham were truly Machiavellian, he'd come out in support of Brexit, not against it. Those "sincere" pauses of his and that "passionate" catch-in-the-throat must have brought back a lot of memories to many people. But not happy ones.

Speedy said...

What is in the interest of British workers? Before Brexit Labour believed it was to remain in the EU, yet now it is supporting May's worst of both world's solution.

Given that Labour will not win at least the next two elections, wouldn't it be worth actually standing up for what is right rather than hoping to hold on to a seat here and there in defence of what is wrong?

Because by the time Labour are electable again Brexit will have bitten, be very unpopular, and Labour might be able to garner the we-told-you-so vote rather than be dismissed as just the usual unprincipled bunch of jobsworths.

And Blair was right. He was so fucking right - but then, he's only the man who won three consecutive elections for Labour, so is more despised by its members than Thatch. Morons.

Shai Masot said...

John Rentoul screaming the thwarted Tory-lite plan for Stoke Central out loud!

John Ruddy said...

What Boffy said. Couldnt put it better myself.

Though I do agree Phil, that if we lose the by-election, it wont be because the guy who was leader 10 years ago made a speech defending Labour party policy as voted on at conference last September.

Anonymous said...

Your link to Buzzfeed led to this – “One campaign newspaper issued by Labour consists of four pages of attacks on Nuttall, with no mention of the party’s own candidate, criticising him for being an out-of-town fraud... There isn’t much good news for Labour – their vote in a former heartland (Bentilee estate) appears to be hollowed out and largely absent as the party takes the blame for years of stagnation on the estate.”

But leave that aside, two-thirds of Labour’s voters that voted Remain may have decided to go elsewhere. And the third that backed Brexit, which is now also supported by Corbyn’s team, have a choice – they could also vote Ukip (in Stoke) or Tory (in Copeland). Now if we assume (a questionable assumption maybe) that in next week’s by-election voters decide to ‘punish’ Labour according to how those voters acted in the referendum (on the false premise that Labour ‘opposes Brexit’), we might assume that just 63% of the 12,220 that voted Labour in 2015 might do so again=7700.

Also, just 70% of the LibDem voters might vote for the LibDems again but that’s just a few anyway. Ditto for the Greens. NO Remain supporters of the LibDems or Greens (or Ukip, 4% of them voted Remain!) will switch and vote Labour. That leaves the Tory and Ukip candidates. 96% of Ukip voters might well vote Ukip again=6760. And 58% of Tory voters (Leavers) may back the pro-Brexit Tories again=4060.

But the Tories cannot win in Stoke. So whilst the 42% of Tory voters that backed Remain are maybe not going to vote for the Tory this time, they may choose the LibDems (not Labour) - so those 2940 ex-Tory votes will be wasted. BUT now add to Ukip the 37% of Labour voters that backed Leave and Ukip gets an EXTRA 4520. That’s a Ukip tally of 11280. Against a Labour tally of 7700.

Obviously these were general election figures and this is speculation but sadly that looks to me like a Ukip victory in Stoke. I really hope it’s not true and that my assumptions are proven wrong. But if Labour had taken a clear Remain approach in parliament it might have attracted the Tory and LibDem and Green remainers - or 4690 extra votes - in this critical by-election. That would have meant perhaps a total of 12,390 votes=a Labour win. Opposing Article 50 would not only have kept Labour true to its principles, it would have potentially retained Stoke.

Anonymous said...

Blair and co. must be privately hoping that Labour lose both by-elections. The Brexit intervention was about stiffening the resolve of the Labour Right against Corbyn.

Ed said...

Jesus, the Brexit-related delusions here are still strong from Boffy, Speedy and others. The idea that Labour can simply disregard the result of a referendum that they voted for in the first place, when there's absolutely no evidence of public opinion shifting decisively towards Remain, and even the majority of Remain voters believe the referendum should be honoured, is so fantastic that it's hard to seriously engage with such arguments. The Lib Dems can afford to indulge in such fantasies, they gave no real interest in mitigating the worst potential impacts of Brexit; they just want to gain a few seats at Labour's expense. But Labour can't afford to indulge in fantasy politics. Chasing after the chimera of overturning the referendum result in parliament would guarantee the worst possible version of Brexit in parliament.

And no, Boffy, it's not in any way comparable to a referendum on gay rights; there should never be a referendum on an inherently discriminatory question like that in the first place, whereas leaving the EU is an open process; whether or not it leads to rights being taken away from people depends on how it is implemented. Hysterical remainers who are still fighting the last battle should get behind Labour's struggle against Theresa May's reactionary Brexit blueprint (it's telling that for all the liberal fury directed at Corbyn these past weeks, there was very little fury directed at supposedly 'liberal' Tory MPs who refused to support any of Labour's amendments).

It's touching BTW that some admirers of Blair, here and elsewhere, now think votes at a Labour Party conference should be sacrosanct; during the Blair years it was considered a matter of sacred principle that members and conference delegates should be kept as far away from policymaking as possible; the only people meant to have a say were MPs (and in practice, the leader, his advisers and a few close allies). I respect party democracy far more than they do but I don't believe Labour MPs can be mandated to oppose the result of a referendum that Labour agreed should be held. At most you could mandate them to call for a second referendum (which would have to be based on something more substantial than 'you got it wrong last time, time to repent of your error'). And especially not when opposing the referendum result in parliament would be a quixotic gesture that would simply help the Tories in their push for the most reactionary version of Brexit.

I also find it amusing that people who had previously brandished last summer's no confidence vote as proof that Corbyn has to go are now ignoring the fact that the great majority of Labour MPs agree with him on this, including many who have no political affinity with him whatsoever. It gives me no small pleasure to remind these people that principles without power are ineffectual and politics is about devising a strategy to win power and make changes, not futile moralistic gestures that achieve nothing. They used to believe that themselves, when it was other people's dear principles that had to be sacrificed; now that it's something dear to their own heart it seems that pragmatism goes out the window.

Anonymous said...

Ed on the money, yet again.