By Ed Pond
Mr Blair has had too much attention in the last few days. That could be a bad thing because it advances his selfish cause, while damaging Labour's, especially in terms of those by-elections on the 23rd (date's not an omen, surely?). But does it really advance his cause?
Quite possibly, as many have pointed out, each cringe-worthy second of airtime featuring him or 'The Dark Lord' benefits the Leave position. Those two, and what they are seen to stand for, really are poison to much of the population. Some zealous remainers of course cherish Blair because he was the most Europhilic British leader since Grocer Heath. Many have been willing to keenly endorse his words, despite the toxicity behind that nervous grin - or in the case of Friday, the grim 'stoic statesman' face that heralded in Mars, God of War.
So with the hope that repeatedly invoking the devil's own nineties power-duo does in fact damage the remain campaign, I'll contribute more comment on the matter. Viewing our ex-Prime Minister's soliloquy to his imaginary subjects was genuinely quite disturbing. Here, for the very first time, was a direct commitment to try and reverse the referendum result. We knew what 'Open Britain'- the organisation that morphed from the unfortunately initialled 'Britain Stronger in Europe' - was probably up to; but at least on the surface they were euphemistic and lobbied for single market membership, etc. Here, however, with their new front-man, they held nothing back: this decision is bad for you, and we will change your mind. We will always be here, throwing everything at our pet project, and we will not go away.
The Liberal Democrats were saying as much immediately following the referendum - before euphemism took over - but although galling, it wasn't too scary because they were (and are) light-years from ever forming a government. This seems more worrying because it is cross party, well-funded by Branson and others, and through Blair has close access to the EU hierarchy. It will embolden other figures, elected or otherwise, with a similar thick skin and blind faith in the federal European dream. Soubry, Clarke and Clegg's ears have pricked up at their neoliberal master's voice, you can bet.
We in the Leave camp should not, of course, be frightened by this as such. In the speech was every single cliché that failed to win the referendum or stop Article 50 passing the Commons (see my previous articles 'Anti-Article 50 Platitudes'). No case-breaking barrister wizardry featured in a rather dull address with more dramatic hesitations than... Barrack... Obama... himself. Blair's whole approach hinges on a second referendum being secured, and there seems no chance of that. Even if his campaign 'persuades' people, as he rather ominously put it, how will that affect anything? Wheels are in motion. Nevertheless, with Mandelson's recent Lords shenanigans aiming to slow these wheels, there can be no room for complacency. The continuous battle for public opinion wages on, and Leave cannot let the other side get 'Blair superiority'. So keep on writing articles, phoning talk radio and everything else in a friendly, constructive manner. Out-Blair Blair.
Meanwhile, in Corbyn City...
Jeremy Corbyn is on the correct track with Brexit, but needs to get tougher. He should have sacked the 12 remaining shadow cabinet members who voted against his three line whip to support the Article 50 bill. He can still phase them out gradually. The chances are they will walk away over another Brexit issue soon enough, and this will deprive them of that. Of course, Corbyn was a prolific whip-violator himself - but in this instance the rebels were not only defying their leader, but the electorate's referendum decision.
Diane Abbott managed to force herself to vote in the third reading for Article 50, and she's experienced much unacceptable abuse lately, so we'll leave off her for the moment. I would suggest, however, that Corbyn should keep a cautious eye on Abbott and not listen to her advice much. And in all seriousness, Jeremy should put some Eurosceptics on the front bench. Gisela Stuart's 'Vote Leave' credentials might jar a few elbows (and why not?), but she is prominent, strong and articulate. John Cryer would be a quieter option, but with no less resolve. The toast of Vauxhall CLP, Kate Hoey, could have a role; or maybe even The Beast of Bolsover could get something junior. I don't know the other six MPs that came out for leave, but give them an interview.
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