From Alasdair Galloway
Blair en Marche?
The press seems full of the possibilities of a “new centrist party” which would be in the mould of Emmanuel Macron’s party “En Marche”. This would be led, according to press reports, by Tony Blair, but some of the other names are interesting as well, including as it does (according to a list of names, who should be involved in UK politics, helpfully provided by Blair as far back as 2017) Ruth Davidson, David Miliband, John Major, Ruth Davidson, David Cameron, Yvette Cooper, Nick Clegg, Anna Soubry, George Osborne, Nicky Morgan, Ken Clarke, Peter Mandelson, Paddy Ashdown, Chuka Umunna, Jack McConnell, Alistair Darling, David Willetts, Dominic Grieve, Amber Rudd.
Now, in fairness this was five years ago, but it’s hard to see too many who even then were not yesterday’s men (or women). OK Davidson was still running the Scottish Tories, and the SNP had lost several seats in that year’s General Election, but since then she has given up on Scottish politics and is now a member of the undead (or the House of Lords as we know it better). Ken Clarke was still an MP, as was Yvette Cooper, but they, along with Umunna have been pushed up a siding to ‘virtual retirement’. How active politically are such as John Major, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, Peter Mandelson, Paddy Ashdown, Jack McConnell, Alistair Darling, David Willetts, Dominic Grieve, or Amber Rudd. This might be the basis of a TV series called “Where are they now?”, but a list of current influential politicians it is not. It’s all a bit like Steve Clarke trying to win on Wednesday with a bunch of guys who retired ten years ago.
The basis of the claims is an event being held at the end of next month, organised by the Tony Blair Institute and the Britain Project, with the youth democracy group My Life My Say also involved.
The Britain project features several prominent figures in the political centre, including ex-Tory minister Rory Stewart, the LibDem MP Alistair Carmichael and former work and pensions secretary David Gauke, expelled from the party over Brexit.
At least when the Social Democracy Party was launched in the early 1980s, a much smaller number of egos had to be assuaged (though by no means smaller egos – I mean, David Owen somehow always manages to make Tony Blair seem self-effacing) and look at how that ended up.
Moreover, discontent has already been sown in the movement, with one source involved with it telling Politico: “Some of it is just monstrously ego driven. There is no sense that there is even any desire to tackle all these major problems — the economy, technology, climate and so forth”, before going on to add “It is a smugfest that will invite utter ridicule. The worst thing in practical politics is to be laughed at — it will just be the stuff of comedy.”
And where would it want to take the UK? If there is one thing that unites that group it is Europe and that Brexit was a mistake. If they got to the electorate what might happen. Well just how much of the Tory vote will just not want to know? The Lib Dem vote could end up being roadkill. What about the Labour Party? Is Starmer not the kind of centrist leader that the Labour Party was supposed to need (or maybe even want) after Jeremy Corbyn? So, let’s start a new party to compete with him! Clever!!!
But even worse are not one, but two poison pills
- En Marche is fundamentally about the EU – so start a political party that is about links with the EU (maybe rejoining) just after Brexit. It seems clear the horrors of Brexit are coming home to roost, but that doesn’t mean that the electorate would vote for a return (or that the EU after the last time would go along with it).
- Then there is Blair, who is about as popular as a “pork chop in a synagogue” as one Labour MP described “In Place of Strife” at the end of the 60s. Is it really unfair to say that how well Tony might be viewed in the media, opinion of him among the electorate is perhaps just a wee bit more critical? How many are gagging to get Tony Blair back in Downing Street?
As Mike Small concludes in an article on this possibility, “Instead of looking at what has actually happened to Britain and facing the truth of the toxic media, the powerful forces investing dark money and the spread of far-right ideas into the heart of government – the alternative is to imagine the clock can just be turned back and we can awake from this nightmare without realising that the very people who set us on this trajectory are … wait for it … people like Tony Blair”.
Ironically, supporting this the Britain Project said “The Britain Project was established as a much needed convening space for progressive ideas, working with people from all political traditions.” – most of them yesterday’s men and women who got us into this mess.
What might it do in Scotland specifically? First most of the movers cited have little or no political identity here – how many would know Amber Rudd, Rory Stewart or David Gauke if they met them – or are known but have little cutting edge. Blair’ reputation here since the Iraq War has hardly been uncritical. Would Scotland really rally to a party that is part elderly Labour, with a bit of Tory looking for forgiveness thrown in.
I agree with Mike Russell that “If it is the same old approach Blair always had, ignoring the demands of the Scottish people, then it will go the way of those previous experiences. Labour and the Tories have both had wipe-outs in Scotland because they haven’t listened to Scotland, so if Tony Blair thinks he can put together a new party which also doesn’t listen to Scotland, then I think the implications are pretty clear.”
Just not to Ruth, Tony and all the others hoping for a new life!