Continuing our theme on censorship, this piece, written by Alan Bullion was censored by Byline Times, presumably as it criticises the left. Whilst I don’t agree fully with all that it says, I would defend Alan’s right to say it to the hilt. All leaders and political systems have faults and some tend to believe that they are messiah like. Blair is not immune to our failings as humans and in this article, Alan argues that Tony Blair’s commitment to representative democracy may have set up the conditions for UKIP / Farage to gain oxygen and fuel the Brexit debate. As always at Re-Boot Britain, comments are welcome and free. In the words of George Michael, listen without prejudice.
Tony Blair is perhaps the most controversial Labour Prime Minister of the post-war period. Most come to bury not praise his significant legacy and reputation, especially since the furore surrounding the Iraq war and its subsequent aftermath. Just this year we have had an online petition attracting millions of signatures opposing his proposed knighthood, both from left and right-wing critics.
Indeed, it is often
forgotten brushed aside that Blair led his party to a huge majority under the ‘New Labour’ project in 1997, followed by two more convincing general election victories, one after the Iraq war.
In order to better understand how the Brexit referendum of 2016 and its aftermath occurred, I have analysed the timeline and impact of several key events under the Blair/Brown governments which led up to those fateful events of Britain leaving the EU.
Of course, I am not suggesting that these actors alone were to blame. Farage, Cameron, Johnson, Cummings and several others – all privileged public-school educated white men – clearly played their part.
But as I will argue below, the actions of Blair and others around him led to a process where an already sceptical British public became increasingly critical of the EU and its perceived ills. This resulted in the calamitous narrow vote in favour of departure in 2016.
The fringe cause of Euroscepticism under Farage and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) had been previously the province of right-wing fanatics and Home Counties pub bores.
The rise of UKIP as an electoral force
The first touchstone in our trajectory was when Blair went along with the proposal by the then Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown to introduce proportional representation in the 1999 elections to the European Parliament. This led UKIP and its leader Nigel Farage to gain a mainstream and increasingly influential foothold in politics.
Ironically, while Farage was sceptical about winning an in/out Brexit referendum, Blair, along with Ashdown, Cameron and Clegg, were overwhelmingly enthusiastic. They severely underestimated public fears, stoked by Farage, that such a binary vote would result in disaster on a huge turnout, driven by immigration and issues such as ‘sovereignty’.
Narcissist and messiah?
In June 2014, the novelist and former Labour acolyte Robert Harris, while publicising his book The Ghost, described Blair as a ‘tragic narcissist with a messiah complex’, who would be doomed to live a ‘tragic life’ and face trial at the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.
There was an element of truth in this harsh judgement. Both Blair and his barrister wife Cherie were often accused of being ‘money mad’, rushing around the world advising dubious autocrats on how to improve their image.
There might well have been an element of neediness there, which others such as former Labour MP Leo Abse psychologically analysed in The Man Behind the Smile. Indeed, Blair was well suited to the world of celebrity politics and self-publicists such as Kim Kardashian.The tragedy was that he would never be able to completely resurrect his image after the Iran/Iraq war, despite his other considerable achievements at winning elections.
The truth is inevitably more complex. In my 1996 article ‘What Blair Believes’, published in the Jewish Quarterly, I argued that Blair was driven by a simplistic dualist ideology devised by Anglican mystic John Macmurray, which he imbibed while at university. This belief system basically sees protagonists in international politics as either essentially ‘good’ or ‘evil’, thereby explaining Blair’s support for US President Bush in Iraq.
Blair was highly active on the EU. For example, he was instrumental in establishing the cross-party grouping Britain in Europe, specifically to argue the case for the UK signing up to the Euro (single currency) and the European Monetary Union, via a popular referendum. This came to a crescendo in the wake of the sudden death of Princess Diana in August 2007.
There were serious differences over this issue between Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown. This was further exemplified by the clash over the Treaty of Lisbon and the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), which was signed in December 2007 and came into force two years later under Brown.
Originally a referendum was promised by Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw for Spring 2006, but that never happened, adding more fire to the UKIP fray that the court was increasingly compromising British sovereignty.
Eastern European migrants and the reserve army of labour
In May 2004, Blair, supported by Home Office minister David Blunkett, decided to allow migrant labour from the eight Eastern European countries that would be joining the EU. Unlike the UK, other EU member states such as Germany had instead opted to impose a seven-year delay from these countries achieving full entry to work.
As these Eastern European migrants started to arrive, Blunkett went on BBC2 Newsnight to defend the policy, declaring that there was ‘no obvious upper limit on migration’. That calendar year alone there was a net increase of 350,000. Blunkett later conceded that he lost public support and made a mistake.
At the time I was visiting Kent sixth forms and colleges to make the case for remaining in the EU. Comments from working class children in those schools told stories of perceived resentment at migrants taking jobs such as cleaning, catering and car mechanics, and driving down wages.
It was in 2005 when I campaigned as a parliamentary candidate in Hammersmith and Fulham and was confronted on the doorstep by a British plumber who claimed he had been undercut by the nice Polish plumbers taken up promptly by middle-class housewives.
‘It’s all right for the likes of the Blairs, living their aloof and cosmopolitan lives in Islington and Brussels’, was the implication.
So now we come to 2022, with Tory cuts to universal benefits, rising food and fuel prices, and tax increases.
We are still talking about migrants … while there are severe shortages of food and farm labourers, lorry and bus drivers. And ironically, as the consequences of Brexit become ever more stark, arch Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has
just been appointed by Johnson as minister for Brexit Opportunities. You couldn’t make it up.