Theresa May is criticised for her handling of the European Arrest Warrant vote. Photo: BBC
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35 Tories rebel after Speaker halts May on European Arrest Warrant

Disarray in the House after the Speaker gives backbenchers a chance to clarify this evening’s debate on European crime measures.

This article originally appeared on the New Statesman's election website May2015. Follow it on Twitter @May2015NS.

What is going on in the House?

Points of order are flying, the Home Secretary is speaking in disjointed hesitations and Labour sense a chance to escape a torrid news cycle.

The furore is over what exactly parliament are debating, and whether the government is trying to use tonight’s vote to pass measures they haven’t give the House a chance to debate.

The issue at hand is a package of European crime measures. The government opted out 110 of the measures last year but are now partially opting back into 35 of them.

These include a contentious measure know as the European Arrest Warrant. It is opposed by dozens of backbench Tory MPs and Ukip (who protested against it outside the House today).

The debate this evening was meant to be on only 10 of the EU crime measures, and not the EAW. Except Theresa May and the government tried – and still appear to be trying – to suggest that a vote for those measures would also given them approval to opt into the EAW.

In winning approval in this way, it was hoped the government would escape a fight with its backbenchers, who would not approve the EAW in a clearly stated debate.

The problem for the government is the Speaker, John Bercow, suggested members would have some “latitude” to discuss the measures the government has excluded from tonight’s motion, but is planning to opt-into.

During the debate, that “latitude” turned into a scarcely veiled criticism by Bercow that “Most of us think a commitment made is a commitment that should be honoured”.

He was referring to David Cameron’s promise to hold a vote on EAW before next week’s Rochester by-election. There ensued a farce where David Davis summed up the mood of the House by telling Bercow “We are debating we know not what”.

Continued calls were made for May to clarify whether the House was actually debating the EAW, and whether the government would take a vote tonight as a vote for EAW.

Bercow clarified that “the vote is on the regulations, not the European Arrest Warrant”, and then the House divided for a vote on whether to extend the current non-debate of the EAW, or have a longer debate which would, presumably, have involved a more direct debate on the EAW.

After reportedly rushing Tories MPs to the House – including the Prime Minister himself – the government passed the motion to continue their shorter debate by just nine votes. 35 Tory MPs rebelled against the motion, seeking a fuller debate on the EAW.

It remains unclear whether May will try to use tonight’s vote as an endorsement for the EAW. Labour’s Chris Bryant has asked whether she will permit a direct vote in the next week, but has so far received no answer.

May2015 is the New Statesman's new elections site. Explore it for data, interviews and ideas on the general election.

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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad