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Don’t dare to dismiss Tony Blair

Tony Blair, left, and current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a man he hardly sees eye to eye on with his views.
Tony Blair, left, and current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a man he hardly sees eye to eye on with his views.

The news that Tony Blair is about to re-enter frontline politics has been greeted by the extremes on both the right and left with forced glee.

The former Prime Minister intends to lead a push against a hard Brexit, according to reports in a Sunday paper and will set up a new political institute with headquarters near Whitehall, possibly with cross-party support.

This is not the first time he has raised his head above the parapet over the EU referendum. Last month he called for a second ballot and urged Remainers to become “insurgents” to fight a full withdrawal from Europe.

Now that he has apparently firmed up his plans, his detractors are over the moon, believing Blair’s unpopularity will scupper any movement he heads.

That luminary of the Tory right, Owen Paterson, said: ‘This is glorious news; he is one of those discredited establishment figures who repels many people.”

Meanwhile, veteran Eurosceptic MP Peter Lilley added: “He does discredit most things he touches, so that must be beneficial for us.”

And MP John Redwood said: “I think it’s a complete win for my side. He’s unpopular with the Labour Party and was never popular with the Conservative Party.”

Reports of Blair’s comeback in the pro-independence National newspaper described the move as “political madness” and latched on to the fact that Jim Murphy, a former Blairite cabinet minister and “failed” Scottish Labour leader, was joining the organisation. More of Murphy later but it’s not hard to see why Blair is causing such consternation.

For a start, his reported comments that “the Tories are screwing up Brexit” and Jeremy Corbyn is “a nutter” are probably in line with what a majority in the country are thinking.

Theresa May, who he apparently thinks is a “lightweight’, has bungled Brexit to date.

She was neither fully on one side nor the other during the EU ballot that resulted in her rise to power and has subsequently made a grave misjudgment, thinking she could bypass the Commons in triggering Article 50.

That issue now remains one for the courts and in the meantime, a “massive hole”, as Blair put it, has opened up in British politics.

It is not that far-fetched for an elder statesman to return to the fray in the name of a good cause. One-time Chancellor Alistair Darling was on the opposition backbenches when he stepped forward to steer the Unionists’ Better Together campaign to victory.

However, Blair’s legacy remains tainted by the Iraq War and as far as his political opponents are concerned, he is a long way from rehabilitation.

Is this harsh judgement shared by the country, though? The Brexit result shocked many commentators because British voters are largely regarded as moderates. We would never elect a Trump figure while Nigel Farage, for all his bluster, has never made it to Westminster and nobody seriously expects to see Corbyn in Number 10.

Blair’s third way approach obviously chimed with the electorate or he wouldn’t have become the most successful Labour leader ever, the winner of three consecutive general elections.

It is extraordinary how this fact is lost on today’s Labour Party, which is so quick to disown the only politician in recent history to make it electable.

Blair is not talking about running for office again – although I suppose we can’t completely disregard the possibility – but if he uses all his professional skills to mobilise an alternative EU vision, he will be at the very least a thorn in the side of the May government.

He is said to have been in discussions with staunch Remainer George Osborne and who knows who else.

But his decision to recruit Murphy is a shrewd one, no matter what jumpy Nats are saying.

Murphy might have “failed” in that he lost his Westminster seat in the SNP rout at the last general election but he certainly didn’t fail in that rather more crucial vote just months before.

In the run-up to Scotland’s plebiscite on secession, Murphy took his Irn-Bru crates and megaphone around the country and stood up to the rent-a-mob Nationalist bullies who hounded him. The Unionists’ triumph that September was in no small part down to him.

The SNP is in as big a mess over Brexit as the May government. Nicola Sturgeon was hoping the vote to quit the EU would ignite Scottish nationalism but it has had no such effect. Most Scots can still see the advantages of UK membership over those of the EU.

The First Minister has cornered herself into the shrill and implausible position of blaming Brexit for everything, without producing a constructive counter argument.

Now she will have to listen while Blair, persuasive whatever your politics, articulates that argument, as will May and her hardline Brexit colleagues. No wonder they are all furious.

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