He’s the subject of a new, savagely attacking book by TomBower, but sometimes it is worth remembering Tony Blair’s strong points. The most obvious of these is that he was one of the twentieth century’s most successful electoral politicians, the Labour Party’s most successful ever leader, and an undoubted driver of social liberalisation.
It is his election winning expertise that is most pertinent when we consider his recent intervention about the EU referendum debate. In an interview with Nick Robinson on Friday’s “Today” programme, Blair urged the pro-EU (or “Remain”) campaign to adopt a far more positive and enthusiastic stand. Implicitly criticising the emphasis on negative results if we leave (what the “Out-ers” have dubbed “Project Fear”), Blair said that he wanted to see “passion” on the side of those campaigning to stay. Indeed, in his interview he showed once again how well he can articulate his cases, outlining a cogent and clearly heart-felt belief in the positive benefits of the European cause.
Blair is right. While the Remain side appear to have had the best of the arguments up to now, they are going to have to make out a case that inspires people as well as one that injects fear of the unknown. For all its flaws there is much that inspires about the EU project and the Remainers shouldn’t ignore its capacity to hold the voters’ imagination. One of the great errors of political leaders supporting the EU over the years has been both a failure to properly articulate that belief and a reluctance to challenge some of the developments of the EU lest they be seen as undermining the whole project.
The referendum should be welcome to pro-EU supporters as a chance to gain proper public approval for the whole extraordinary project and to stop skulking around in the shadows of bureaucratic torpor. That the Out campaigners, with their recourse to almost the whole of the British print media, should be able to pain themselves as plucky insurrectionists is partly a damning indictment of the failure of leading pro-EU politicians to do more than assume the rightness of their cause.
Well, the EU campaign is, for the moment, the “Remainers” to lose. They have a credible case, more credible leaders and a single campaign compared to the scrabbling between three different “Out” campaign for the electoral commission’s money. Boris Johnson may be emerging as the face of the anti-EU protagonists, but his shtick is becoming old and less potent with voters outside of the Tory party. Set alongside him is a group of largely grumpy and unappealing politicos who look and sound as if they are seeking refugee status in the 1950s.
As for Tony Blair, he has not only given the In team a prodding to more urgent and positive action, but has shown an often unrecognised level of self-awareness in his own precluding of himself from the campaign proper. Cameron and co may be happy with that, but they at least need to imbibe some of his electoral elixir if they are to assure themselves of victory on June 23rd.