Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
24 November 2016

Like it or not, Tony Blair is giving a voice to the 48 per cent

Those who want to protect our rules-based liberal order have been left leaderless. 

By Ben Bradshaw

Tony Blair’s interview with this magazine and recent reports that he plans to “re-enter” public life have provoked the usual howls of outrage from both right and left. The anti-European Tory press has always loathed Tony because he won Labour three elections and restored our relations with the Continent after years of decline under the Tories. Some leftist commentators too, still obsessed with the Iraq war, want to silence him, as if they can’t bear the possibility that what he’s saying might be right.

As I stood waiting to be interviewed about the latest floods outside Exeter railway station yesterday, a middle-aged couple shuffled by, caught my eye, raised theirs to the skies and said: “Don’t get us started!” I interpreted this (wrongly, as it turned out) as unfriendly and replied: “No, what’s the problem? That’s what I (as your MP) am here for”.

They answered: “We’re life-long Labour voters. We’re distraught by Brexit and everything else that’s happening and there’s no leadership. We never thought we’d say this, but bring back Tony Blair.”

Of course, Tony Blair is not “coming back” and, as he himself makes clear, he can’t come back. But he is giving voice to the millions of people who have felt completely disenfranchised and leaderless since the referendum. Not just the 48 per cent, but the majority of Leave voters who don’t want us to leave the single market. Indeed, he is giving voice to anyone who fears that our rules-based liberal world order, which has delivered decades of unprecedented peace and prosperity, is about to be torn up for a return to reaction, protectionism, nationalism and worse.

I tell the railway station anecdote, not because it happened just after I’d read a column condemning Blair for having the gall to open his mouth, but because, as someone who spends most weekends going door to door in my constituency, I know the sentiment expressed by that couple is not uncommon.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Maybe I hear it more than most, because people know where I’m coming from, politically. But amid the horrors of Brexit, unending economic misery and President-elect Donald Trump, there is a nostalgia for a time when things got better and a yearning for the practical, progressive, optimistic and outward-looking politics that delivered it. 

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

Just to be clear, I haven’t seen or spoken to Tony since his last Prime Minister’s questions nearly ten years’ ago. I’m not privy to what he’s up to. But if Labour’s most successful leader ever is spending his time and money helping the centre-left find answers to what’s happening and fight back effectively against it, I, for one, am grateful, and I know I’m not alone.