He has much to teach us. Photo: Getty
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We need to bring back the Blair approach to foreign policy

As far as foreign policy is concerned, Britain's leaders would benefit from a lesson or two from Tony Blair.

It may seem odd for a liberal to look at Tony Blair in a positive light. But in a paper I’ve written for CentreForum today entitled “Rethinking the Blair doctrine”, I do just that. Specifically, I look back at a speech the then prime minister gave in Chicago on April 24th, 1999 regarding liberal interventionism.

In that speech, Blair outlined what he thought were the five key questions that should be definitively answered prior to any western power becoming militarily involved in any conflict abroad. It was a good set of principles, to which I would only add one further question (“Is there currently a military conflict active in the region/country at the time of consideration?”).

Four years and a bit later, Britain was part of a coalition of western nations that invaded Iraq. It was an invasion I and many others opposed and continue to think was a poor idea – in my case, at least partly because I feel none of the considerations Blair himself outlined in his Chicago speech of 1999 had been adequately met in the case of Iraq. However, this does not mean that the Blair doctrine itself wasn’t still a very fine set of principles to apply to any future consideration regarding liberal interventionism. Nor, more importantly, does it mean that liberal interventionism itself should become devalued in and of itself in light of the Iraq invasion.

Related to this, liberalism should not be the creed of unadulterated pacifism. Yes, any war needs to be fully justified (thus going back to the Blair doctrine in the first place), but as internationalists, how can any conflict, ever, be ruled out? I ask you this: if military intervention can be taken prudently and decisively, in a part of the world in which an active war is already taking place, in other words intervention can definitively save thousands of lives – should that be opposed? My answer to progressives is, no, it should not.

I take Syria as a case in point. In my paper, I argue that Britain should have intervened. I believe that had we done so, the Syrian civil war could have been ended there and then and what has followed – most notably the ascendance of Daesh, aka ISIS – could have been averted. But I have to admit, this is mere speculation. Neither you nor I will ever know in what such a course of action would have resulted. I say all of this to illustrate I am well aware that thinking about liberal interventionism is difficult and comes down, in every case, to making difficult decisions. But they are also decisions I think cannot be avoided. Even if you choose the road of pacifism in every instance, you are still making a choice, one that may affect thousands of lives.

I sincerely wish we all lived in a Francis Fukuyama “end of history” world in which the belligerence of nation states, either against other nation states or their own people, was something confined to the past. Sadly, in a world in which Assad and Putin, not to mention the Saudis and the Iranian theocracy, not only thrive but command real international power, we still live in a world in which military choices will still have to be made for the foreseeable future.

Nick Tyrone is Chief Executive of Radix, the think tank for the radical centre.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.