Tony Blair back with second act in the UK
After the UK’s Brexit vote in 2016, and two decades after he won a landslide general election, the former British prime minister has returned to reshape the centre of British politics
Tony Blair is back with his second act. After the UK’s Brexit vote in 2016, and two decades after he won a landslide general election, the former British prime minister has returned to reshape the centre of British politics.
He says Brexit brought him back. He is one of the leading voices that seek to reverse it, as he strongly believes it will do much damage to the UK’s economy and politics. He is also quick to point out what led to it.
“Brexit and (Donald) Trump are a result of the mainstream centrist parties that have failed because they are afraid to speak uncomfortable truths to the public. Challenging the public is now almost something improper,” he said at the inaugural MintAsia-Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in Singapore.
“The truth is that there is populism in both the left and the right. The right blames the immigrants, and the left blames globalization and the pro-business groups. This is riding the anger, not providing the answers.”
Blair thinks he has an answer. He wants to reinvigorate a progressive centre in UK politics to shape a world that is post-ideological.
“A progressive and pragmatic centre in British politics has been vanquished with disastrous consequences like Brexit,” emphasized Blair. “If you leave a large space unoccupied at the centre, someone is going to come along and fill it.”
Blair has occupied that space.
“Brexit completely changed the dynamics of British politics with the Labour Party shifting too far left under Jeremy Corbyn, and the Conservative Party too far right, under Prime Minister Theresa May. I could not stand aside and watch,” he said.
He wants to shape the future of UK and EU with a focus on finding solutions to complex issues such as immigration and job losses that led to Brexit. “Large-scale immigration from the Muslim world is the single biggest driver of EU politics today. We can’t simply dismiss it as prejudice as it does nothing for the cause. In fact, as Brexit shows, it has done a disservice to it,” he stated.
“There is no effective party to champion the cause of people in the centre. The populism of the right and the left is rampant. The old rules no longer apply. Things said in politics today which would have disqualified a candidate a few years back is now a passport to voters’ hearts. Policy positions previously regarded as mainstream are sneered at, and those regarded as outlandish are very much inland today. And political alliances that have endured for a century or more are breaking apart, owing to profound social, economic and cultural changes,” he explained.
Blair added that the right is fissuring and the prevailing sentiment is nationalist, anti-immigration and often protectionist, giving rise to a new alliance. In the UK, traditional Labour supporters in old industrial communities and wealthy de-regulators and business owners have united in their dislike of the way the world is changing and its political correctness”.
He sees the role of the new centre that he wants to help shape as addressing the cause of the “millions of disenfranchised people right down at the bottom of the heap who are getting excluded from society’s mainstream and go generation to generation without hope or opportunity. Their concerns need to be brought back into the mainstream of politics. They are real. And they must be solved.
No easy task. Meanwhile, the cloud of Brexit looms large over his country.
“It would be perhaps wise to assume at this stage that Brexit will happen,” Blair said. “The odds are stacked against us. I just hope it does not happen. I will continue to do what I can to oppose it.”
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