The Centre Must Make Globalisation Work for People
Renewing the Centre
Twenty years ago you were about to become Prime Minister for the first time. How do you feel twenty years later? And do you think your legacy has been squandered or can it somehow be saved?
Tony Blair: I certainly look older, if you look at all the photographs from twenty years ago. In principle, the anxiety I have is obviously over Brexit. I think there are many things about the country that changed when we came into power and they remain changed. There is a whole set of social attitudes, many social reforms that remain. Peace agreement obviously in Northern Ireland. Many of those things remain either in place, or a work in progress. But the dominant question for me is Brexit because it‘s a huge step for Britain. I have said this many times:it is a serious mistake for us as a country to separate ourselves from Europe. And that is frankly the dominant issue in the election. There will be a number of other issues too, but this will be the dominant issue. It is the dominant issue in British politics. As someone who believed that Britain should play a strong role in Europe, this is obviously a matter of great sadness.
If you were to cast your mind back twenty years ago moving into Downing Street, the Cool Britannia party, was this all a camouflage or was this the country that Britain really is? So what is Britain? The country that you formed twenty years ago or the one we are seeing now?
TB: Well, countries very rarely have one strain or element of thinking within them. Usually they have many. All the countries have, to a degree, a politics that is divided by globalisation and attitudes to it. By social issues, everything from women's issues, gay rights through the whole panoply of social questions. And there is also to a degree a generational divide, which you also see in the Brexit debate. Never forget: roughly two thirds of the younger generation voted for Britain to stay in Europe. And two thirds of those over 65 voted to leave. I don't think that Britain has lost this creative or innovative spirit, it is just that in the course of the referendum those people that believe for a lot of different reasons by the way that Britain should come out of the European Union, they triumphed in that referendum. But it is also important to realise that, you know, the vote was not 65 to 35, it was 48 to 52. The numbers that voted remain are 16 million people. Roughly speaking you can win a general election with 13 million. There was a higher turn out and there was a very substantial Remain vote. I don't think that attitudes have changed enormously. There is a mood in Britain at the moment of: just get on with it! Even among some people who voted remain. But I still think there is a long way to go in this debate, because it is not so simple as just getting on with it. So to answer your question: I think that spirit that we represented has not disappeared, but it was then – and it is now – in competition with a different one.
One of the difficulties is that the economic bargain that your generation of politicians formed has stopped working for enough people?
TB: Well, you had the financial crisis and you had big changes that came as a result of globalisation. But I don't think that invalidates the essential attitude that: the answer to the problems and the challenges of globalisation –- whether cultural or economic – is not to shut the world down. I always say to people: I have not been in power for the last ten years. But if I had been I would not have been doing exactly the same things I was doing in the years that I was in power, because the world has changed. But the basic attitude which is: open minded not closed minded; and which is in favour of accepting globalisation as a fact, accepting its benefits but preparing people for its consequences – that theme is in my view still the right theme in answer to the challenges of globalisation. If you try and stop globalisation or hinder it, you end up either with protectionism, isolationism or as we can see all over Europe today political battles over immigration, where in the end – I am not saying there should not be strong rules around immigration – but if you end up dividing countries around this issue, it's a cul-de-sac.
Do you think differently about certain issues now? For example in 2004 Britain did not have a transition regime during the EU enlargement. Do you look at this differently now?
TB: The circumstances would be different post-financial crisis. In 2004...
I mean back then...
TB: Yeah, exactly, the point is that the context was different in 2004. By the way, just to put this on the table, because people often say that the root of this problem was the failure to put transitional arrangements in place. The majority of people that came from Europe came after the transitional arrangement period would have elapsed. They actually came later, the biggest numbers we have had were in the last years. The transitional arrangements would have taken you to 2011. I actually think it is dangerous to go down this path. One of the things we have not done and we should have done is make the case for enlargement. To me the most extraordinary thing about the British position at the moment on Brexit is the two great bipartisan achievements of Conservative and Labour governments, namely the Single Market and enlargement, are now seen as the authors of our European problem. It’s incredible. Imagine what would be happening today given the resurgence of Russian nationalist sentiment. Think what would be happening today in these countries if enlargement would not have brought them into the European Union.
When we break down European immigration into this country: first of all, the principle anxiety that people have about immigration is not immigration from Europe. I am not saying there are no pressures in certain communities, where you get a large influx of Eastern European immigrants, I understand that, but the biggest anxiety over immigration in Britain is the biggest anxiety over immigration in all European countries, which is essentially, when people coming from a different culture into our society, worries about integration, worries about acceptance of cultural values. So over half of the immigration into Britain is not affected by the Brexit debate. And the bit that troubles people most is -– so when in the Brexit campaign you had these posters of Nigel Farage standing in front of Syrian refugees – this had absolutely nothing to do with the European debate. There it is, it's politics. But if you break down the European immigration numbers and this is vital for what happens in the course of this negotiation. Significant numbers of these people are people who are coming here with a job to go to. There is no evidence we don't want or need these people. We do want and need these people. So they are going to come with their dependants. Then you’ve got students who come here. We want them in our universities. So they are going to come. And then you’ve got the seasonal workers –over 20,000 of them in the agricultural sector alone. We need these people. It is not that British people are not allowed to apply for these jobs. But they are not doing them. Right, so, we need these people. When you actually break it down, the only category of European migrants where we would say we are not sure we want those people are people who come to the UK looking for work but without a job. I believe the majority of those people end up in London. Working in the hospitality sector and food processing sector and so on. The fact that we stop some Polish guy working in a bar in London, is not going to give some young unemployed person in the Northeast of England a job. If you break these things down, even the immigration issue on Europe is not worth the price we are going to pay for stopping what is probably going to be quite a small number of people coming, or putting obstacles in the way of people we want in any event. That's why I think this debate still has got a long way to run.
Are you surprised that the Prime Minister is not preparing the population for what she will have to present to them: that immigration can't be brought down substantially?
TB: I find it hard to understand on a day to day basis what the government's position really is. If you really want to bring immigration down, you can. If you leave the European Union, you can stop all the European people coming here, but we will damage our economy, so I don't think they are going to do that. I think they will end up arguing that the theoretical fact that you make them go through a process and therefore in theory argue that you have control back over our borders, but to me this is weird. So we actually want most of these people, but we will make them go through a process and we are going to leave the Single Market for that. This is why I think this debate has a long way to go. I think there are two reasons why this election has been called now. One is frankly because of the state of my own party. Secondly, this is the optimal moment for Theresa May to say: give me the strong mandate before people actually know what this negotiation means.
Does the economy come into it?
TB: Yes, it does but I also think the impact on the economy from Brexit comes into it. Because at the moment, what people believe is: 'You guys all said it's going to be bad for the economy and it hasn't been' or ‘it hasn't been sufficiently bad'. That's what people believe at the moment. Now, the truth is that the fall in our currency should have given us cause for thought over that, because we have not actually done Brexit yet and we don't actually know what the terms of the deal are.
How should people vote in this election? Do you really think tactical voting, which doesn't have a great history of working in Britain, can work? And should you not really say vote Lib Dem if you don't want to vote for Corbyn, because it's the only party which has a clear position?
TB: The Labour Party does have a position now. I think what has come out this week is actually clear, which is that we should keep all the options on the table, including whether we should remain in the single market. For me this is a matter of my tribe, I'm Labour, but I think like I have said recently, that the reality of this election is that, if the polls are right, the Tories will win. Theresa May remains Prime Minister. The question is, do you have a sufficiently strong opposition to hold them to account, whether Labour or Lib Dem or whatever? So I'm not urging people to vote anything – I have already said I will vote Labour, that's what I do – but I think the only argument that works right now with people is that the conservatives should not have a blank check either on Brexit or anything else.
The fall of the left in Europe we are seeing right now: how do you explain that?
TB: It's simple. It's absolutely simple. The world is changing very fast. The chief characteristic of the world is accelerating change and for the left it means it has got to be constantly modernising. That was the whole idea of the changes to the Labour Party 20 years ago. It doesn't matter what you call it, that attitude is more relevant in 2017 than it was in 1997, because the world is changing even faster. So anything that looks as a form of conservatism of the left is never going to work because the progressive forces only win when they understand the future and show how they can make it work for people. This is why what has happened in France to my mind is absolutely inevitable. If the left goes to a sort of old fashioned type of politics it's going to lose. And the real problem is that even a social democratic position that isn't a modernising social democratic position...okay, in my view that is less electorally damaging than a far-left position but it's not adequate either, because the Conservatives will always own a certain space in politics. That space will allow them to present themselves as competent economic managers, be in favour of the business sector so look safe economically, and culturally they are able to borrow enough of the more right perspective that they are able to protect themselves. So they are always going to have their space in politics carved out. The progressive forces have got to show how the future can be made to work for people and have a sense of optimism. So we have got to be the people who are at the cutting edge, for example, on how technology is going to transform our societies and transform our economy. How do we protect people against that? How do an active, empowering government stand on the side of people as these changes happen? If the left defaults to a kind of anti-business, isolationist position it just loses.
Is it still right to talk about a right and a left?
TB: They still do mean something but there is an additional dimension today that I think is as important which is what I call 'open' vs 'closed'. And so bits of the left and the right come together over isolationism and protectionism. Less so over anti-immigration. So the open-minded approach is the one I obviously want and prefer. But it does mean that on issues like immigration and security, the left has got to have tough positions, because otherwise people think you are not understanding their anxieties about cultural change. And I think it's very important that the left understands that cultural anxiety. Which is not the same way as dealing with it as prejudice, but if you don't have rules you get prejudice.
How do you judge the victory of Macron in France and do you think that something like that, the emergence of a new movement or party, could happen in Britain?
TB: I think the spirit that Macron represents undoubtedly echoes in every European country and indeed in Western politics. What I tried to do with the Labour party is make the Labour party the vehicle for such a spirit. My preference is of course for the Labour party to do this. But if we end up in Britain with a choice between a hard Brexit Tory party and a hard left Labour party, there will be many homeless people. This is essential for us to realise, and the elections is not the best time to have this debate, that what Macron represents in France is not limited to France.
Is Macron your heir?
TB: First of all, he is his own person and not an heir of me or anyone else, but the main important thing to say is that his victory would be a very substantial victory for the outward approach of politics.
If you look at the situation of your party, your country, the only solution would be to form a new party...
TB: No, I'm not talking about forming a new party. And frankly the elections is the least helpful time to talk about that... My desire is for the Labour party to represent these values.
But it is not going to happen. The Labour party has been hijacked by a return to the old Labour.
TB: Let's see what will happen in these elections. People often forgot this, but Labour has been in difficult stages before. So this is probably a discussion to have at another time.
But that's going to take a generation.
TB: No, I think it's important to understand the degree at which Brexit has changed all context of politics. If the polls are right, Theresa May will win on 8 June and is still Prime Minister on 9 June. The British people will demand at that point that there is a seriously capable opposition because the attention will immediately switch to the reality of Brexit. And there is one central question in this all Brexit debate. Because I was not in favour of Brexit for all sorts of geopolitical reasons, the 21st Century, the future of Europe, the future of Britain, the balance of powers in the world. But I've to accept that the people have voted in the referendum and the central question will be can the Conservatives meet their promises and deliver a trade deal with exactly the same benefits than the Single Market. I think the misunderstanding that there is at the heart of this debate is the difference between a third country free trade agreement and the single market. This is absolutely fundamental. Part of the problem is that people regard that as very technical, but it is fundamental because on the technical difference between Single Market and free trade agreement lies the future of literally hundreds of thousands of jobs, of British living standard and businesses. And I think there is not a proper appreciation of quite what the Single Market means and what the difference is with an ordinary free trade agreement with a third country. Once this becomes apparent, and it will eventually become apparent, you'll have a renewed debate about Brexit, its consequence and its wisdom.
What will happen when people will realise that the 27 will play hard ball? There will be lots of very nasty headlines. Are you worried about a very nasty antagonism UK-EU?
TB: There will be a very lively debate about it. Because those people who are hostile to Europe should not be allowed to dictate the terms of it. The best way to describe it is a football analogy. The Single Market is like the Premier League and a free trade agreement is like the League 1. The Single Market is a unique commercial creation, it means when you sell goods or services from London to Berlin is the same than from London to Newcastle. Free trade is completely different. One of the things in this campaign that we should have to point out, is that if you decide to go for a free trade agreement, and you take off the table the Single Market, it's not that there is some tough negotiating positions that allows you to put the same details in the free trade agreement that you have in the single market. This is the misunderstanding. It's that once you've taken that off the table, you are in a different type of game. Back to the football analogy, you can decide what type of game you play on the football pitch but you can't decide whether there are 11 players or not, whether there is a referee or not, what size the goal is. When you decide you get out of the single market, and you go to a free trade agreement, you've already created a narrowing of the space of the negotiations. The sensible position for Britain to say would be we keep all the options on the table, including debating what is our requirement on freedom of movement, or whether there is any given part of that principle in Europe. So that we don't put a sort of Swiss or Norway model off the table, I think Europe would be very open to that.
If Theresa May wins and stays in power until 2022, does it bring some of these positions back to the table?
TB: It does as far as she uses her majority. I wonder the degree to which it is strategic or accidental. The odd thing is that if you've said to people straight after the referendum 'we're going out of the Single Market t', I think the people would have said 'we've not taken this decision yet'. But now it's happening without a debate and what's happening is that Tories have realised they can capture the UKIP vote into the Tory party. The thing happening in these elections is the Tory party regaining that UKIP support and they try as well to reach Labour supporters that voted Leave. The difficulty with that is that when you get further down the line, it becomes harder for you to backtrack, because you started to create a dynamic within your own political party towards a harder position. You even have crazy people saying they want to get out without any deal. This would be an enormous shock to the British people and economy. I hope that, if she gets this huge majority, she will use it for the purpose of bringing things back on the table but I fear, and this is why this is so important to have a strong opposition, that within the Conservative Party the pressure will be in the opposite direction.
I remember the passionate speech you made at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. And at one point you could have become president of the European Commission. What would be your advice to Europe today?
TB: My advice to Europe would be to understand that this debate has got a long way to go and to try to avoid being in a position of hostility. Now, as I say, there are certain facts that are facts that you can't alter by negotiations, like the rules, the way Europe operates, but I think the attitude of Europe should be to understand that this debate, although the Conservative government will say this debate is over in the UK, the reality is it isn't over. Because until people see the final terms of the deal they are not going to close their mind. What people think at the moment in Britain is 'well, we took that decision, nothing has happened, get on with it'. That's the current mood. But that mood could shift very quickly.
Do you think Europe has still a future? Do you still believe in the European project?
TB: Of course! I still think Europe needs fundamental reforms, and I still think there's got to be a much greater emphasis in Europe on doing the things that Europe really should do, as a source of cooperation between member states. I do think it would be a mistake for Europe to go down the path of a form of integration that means diminishing the nation states. This is a mistake for Europe. But all the things I said back in 2005 I still believe. It is a sad delusion on the part of the anti-European forces here to think that Europe is going to disintegrate and give up. It's not! The rational for Europe is stronger today than it has ever been. Which is not to say that there haven't been missteps in Europe, there have been significant missteps but the basic rational for Europe is the result of the 21st century geopolitics. What is happening economically is the size of your population is going in time to determine the size of your economy. It did by the way up to the time of the industrial revolution, that's why China was the largest economy in the world back in the 16th, 17th centuries. Now China is going to be an extraordinary powerful country, India is going to be a powerful country, large population countries are going to be big powers. For the Europeans, even for Germany, and France and the UK, we're going to be medium size countries, the only way we defend our interests and our values is together. This is the rational for Europe, it's not about peace today; it's about power.
Is there a realistic chance that people here will say, okay, forget about Brexit, this deal is too bad?
TB: If you ask 99 people out of 100 today, they will say the answer to that is no coming back from Brexit that people will go ahead at any event. All I say to you is it was 52% to 48% and you only need one about in fifteen of those who voted Leave to change their minds. I do think that this debate has got a long way to run, but I may be completely wrong and most people here would say I am wrong.
You mean the debate about being a member of the Single Market or member of the EU?
TB: Why is it that the Tories have said they are going to walk out of the Single Market? Well, it is partly because they prioritised immigration control above everything else. It is also partly because they fear this argument that if you went for a type of Norway or Swiss options, which by the way at one point they were advocating, the risk for the Brexit case is that people say: what's the point of that then? We might as well stay in the EU. So that's why they've got to make a sufficiently big gap that they don't land up in the argument of: okay, we're going to have all this complicated bureaucracy, and then we're going to have to keep up by all these rules in any event, and well maybe we want to keep most of the Europeans here, and then people will say why are we exactly doing this Brexit? That's the argument they fear. So that is why they even talk about no deal, because they don't want to get into a debate that ends you up in a situation like that. Suppose you decide you want equivalence or mutual recognition, I don't know whether Europe would agree on such a proposition, but suppose it does, the moment you get into those types of debates you get into a lot of complicated rules. You get into adjudication systems that are going to look something like the European Court of Justice, maybe be the European Court of Justice and so you start to pull the threads of their central argument so this is why when you put the Single Market back on the table. Okay, we may decide we want to have a lesser relationship with Europe but we still want to stay in the Single Market for example, but as I keep saying to people the challenge of this whole negotiation is that it is a deliberalisation negotiation. It is incredibly difficult to do, because you've had over four decades of interlocking.
So you haven't given up hope of Britain being part of the EU?
TB: I will personally never give up that hope, but I would have to tell you and warn you that most people would tell you that I am completely wrong on that and that it is a decision which has been taken and all that. I personally think that when people see the details, they will hesitate, but I may be completely wrong on that.
Do you see democracy in itself is in danger by people trying to bend the rules, to come back to your football analogy, by trying to reinvent the rules?
TB: I think there is a battle about globalisation and the way to deal with it. And the cultural and the economic consequences of it. Because this is a world of accelerating changes and some people find it very uncomfortable. For me the task of the progressives and even the people on the centre right of the Conservative politics, our task is to show people that we understand their anxiety so we can deal with their anxieties. So we need a strong enough government that is on people's side in the face of this challenges. What you should not try to do is stop globalisation. But this is the democratic debate and one of the reasons why there is this sort of temptation in politics today, to go for a kind of autocratic model which you can see in Europe, one of the extraordinary things to me is how there is support for the strong leader concept in a way that is, well, anti-democratic actually. The reason for that is people want savings from the consequences of changes they see around them. It is very very important that people from my position show that they have answers to these problems because otherwise the anger that people feel and the sense that they have that there is no one listening to their worries grow.
You got to know a couple of US president pretty well. We are now at 100 days of Donald Trump. Do you believe he is as reliable a partner as Theresa May seems to believe?
TB: I wasn't a Trump supporter, I was for Hillary, obviously. But I always say that you have to judge the presidency of what actually happens. And by the way, it is in everyone's interest that this is a presidency that is a force for stability and not instability. I think you can see in some of the positions adopted, there is somewhat of a shift from the candidate to the president.
To come back to your own party. The Brexit debate has created a huge split. How can the Labour family come back together again? And can the current approach to Brexit manage that?
TB: I don't think there is that big of a split in the Labour party on the issue. The vast majority of the Labour party voted Remain. The problem is, if you are a Labour MP, and my own former constituency is an example of this, where 70% of your constituency voted Leave, you are obviously in a difficult position. Because if you say: I'm still for Remain, they say “you are not listening to me, we voted Leave.” That's why the position the Labour party has come to is a perfectly sensible position. Which is to say: in the end, we'll make up our mind on the basis of the deal. If the government meets its test, we'll have to accept Brexit will go ahead. I accept that, by the way. I accept Brexit will go ahead if the government delivers what it promises, which is a relationship with Europe that delivers exactly the same exact economic benefits as the one we have now. It's just that I don't see how they are going to do that. I doesn't mean that I agree with the decision. I simply have to accept the outcome of the referendum. It is very important to understand what people like myself are saying. I am not saying the will of the people should be defied. I am saying the will of the people may change once they see the actual terms. I use this analogy of a house swap: you might agree in principle that you are going to buy this other house. But we haven't seen it yet and we haven't done the survey and we haven't looked at the neighbourhood. We are going to do that now. And then we may decide: well, I am not so sure about this. So, yes, within the Labour party, it is very difficult for Labour MPs in these constituencies, because the Tories are obviously saying: vote for us, because we will deliver Brexit, whatever it takes, we'll deliver it. So, it is obviously a challenge, but the position of the Labour party, as articulated this week, is reasonable enough.
Can Brexit put in question the unity of the UK? Is there a chance of Irish reunification, Scottish independence?
TB: As I said during the campaign, of course it is a threat to the integrity of the UK. Now, I hope this threat does not materialise even if Brexit goes ahead. I don't want the break up the UK at all. But of course it poses a strain. At the moment, you can be Scottish, British and European. After Brexit, you can be two of these things but not three of them.
The FT reported that the EU is preparing for allowing a united Ireland to be part of the EU. Is it just political manoeuvring?
TB: I don't think it is political manoeuvring, I think they are just echoing what is in the Good Friday agreement, frankly. Of course, I don't want the UK to be broken up in any way at all but, you know, the border issue is a problem. We'll have to sort it out. Up to now, the Republic of Ireland and the UK have either been out of the EU together or in the EU, together. We've never have one in and one out. I don't know how the border issue will be pan out. To be fair, I think Theresa May will do everything in her power to make sure it is not an issue. But it will cause problems. And by the way, it echoes on the single market issue. There will be rules of origin problems that you will have if you are simply a third party in a free trade agreement situation. It is complicated, I am afraid. I'm sure the government will do everything it can to preserve the unity of the UK.
Concretely, is there any solution to the problem other than reunification?
TB: Yes, you can decide you will keep practically an open border. You can decide that. It is going to cause certain difficulties...
The EU cannot accept that, for the reasons you have mentioned...
TB: Well, this is one of the things we will have to negotiate. Even in this discussion here, in this last hour, we have put things on the table that are obviously going to be extremely difficult. That's why I say the mindset of the British people at the moment, which is: 'we have taken this decision, we don't want to hear about it anymore, just get on with it', is going to give way in the end to 'we are now in year three and we are still discussing this and it looks very complicated', or maybe next year actually. I think it will become apparent in six months, a year's time - which is one of the reasons the election is now - that this is very very difficult. It is not an issue of whether you are a weak or a tough negotiator. The issue is the actual details of this are inevitably difficult.
The alternative scenario to that is what we have seen in recent weeks, with cries of "crash the saboteurs" and accusations of the EU wanting to punish Britain... Could there be a growing sense that the EU is trying to punish Britain?
TB: As difficulties of the negotiations become apparent, there will be a need for a strong opposition, because the cartel that controls the right wing media, and bits of the Tory party, will want to double down on their anti-European rhetoric, in order to say: it is all these European being horrible to us.
So, it will get nasty?
TB: Yeah, but this is where you got to have a strong enough opposition, to say: the reality is not that anyone is being hostile but there are issues as a result of our decision and the fact that we have been part of the EU for the last 50 odd years which makes it inevitably difficult. Issues that are to do with payment, with rights of EU nationals, I think they will get resolved. It is an ordinary negotiation. The thing I literally can't see the answer to is: once you say you are out of the Single Market, how do you get a free trade agreement that is the same as the Single Market. This is what I don't understand. But maybe I am missing something.
Your former constituency is on the list of possible swing constituencies. How does it feel?
TB: My successor, who used to work for me, is an extremely good local MP. I am very confident he will survive. I think there will be Labour MPs who will survive and come through because, in a curious way, people will think: if the polls are right and Theresa May is going to win, we do need an opposition.
If you wake up to hear that your constituency has been lost, how would that feel?
TB: I am very confident that I won't wake up to that.
How do you see your own future? Will you get more involved? Should a new political party be created?
TB: I'm not going back to frontline politics but the institute I'm creating is going very much to argue for open-minded politics, for a renewed centre ground. And on Brexit, even with all the baggage I carry going into any political debate in the UK, I feel so strongly about this, I feel very strongly on behalf of younger generation.
Do you think Macron election would be a chance for Europe, in terms of reinforcing it?
TB: Yes, because he would understand what Europe is got to be. Let's be clear about the British Brexit business, by the way. The sentiments that gave rise to Brexit are in all the European countries. Even to a degree in Germany, certainly in France... So Europe should reform. The frustration I have is that Britain, which is a pro-reform country, if we were in Europe, arguing that case, forming alliances with the new generation of political leaders, we could play a part in that, rather than getting out. But yes, I'm sure Macron will be a force for the change in Europe.
And would Macron be a good outcome for this country?
TB: Yes, because Europe will be more stable.
But he's supposed to be very tough on the negotiations...
TB: As I keep saying, I don't think this is about your attitude toward the negotiation, tough or weak. The facts are the facts. So I think Macron would be good for Britain as well because you would have more stability in Europe and that would give us a better opportunity. And the problem, economically, is that the Le Pen commitment to get out of the euro... just think of waking up to the world economy after that.
There seems to be a shift in your new Institute. You speak about renewed centre ground, when you've always spoken about progressive forces, centre left... now the accent is on centre. The left is not there anymore?
TB: I'm from the progressive side of politics, for sure. But I think you can see today that in this change that's happening in politics, of which Macron is a representative, whatever your political position, when you look at the policy solutions, what I'm really saying with renewing the centre is that the key is to have practical political solutions. The thing that's most important for people of my position going forward is that we create a policy agenda, that can describe to people how globalisation can be used to their benefit and not to the their disadvantage. This is the important thing, how do you make globalisation work for people. Because the fundamental belief I have is that globalisation is a force driven by people, by technology, by travel, by migration... it's not really driven by governments. If political parties come to people and say I can top all this for you, it's a deception. So what I want to do is say: here are the answers to it. If you have a community in the UK that's been left behind by globalisation, we should activate systems of support. It makes infrastructure more important. Education becomes dramatically important. Helping people through this process of change is going to be fundamental. That's why there's a whole debate in the UK about skills and apprenticeships. And how you create a situation in which people, as they change jobs through life, can handle the changes. Artificial intelligence and big data is going to transform the service sector. There's going to be massive displacement for the first time in the service sector. What's happened to manufacturing is now going to happen to services. This should be the debate, how do you help people through this, and it's not even part of the political debate in most of the West.
Back to (your slogan of 20 years ago) 'education, education, education'...
TB: Yeah, that hasn't changed. It's very important to work out what has changed in 20 years and what hasn't changed. Lots of things have changed. But the single thing that's changed the most is change itself, and that's accelerated. So the spirit and attitude that gave rise to New Labour is more relevant today, not less relevant. That's why the left has got to be more inventive and creative and innovative. Not retreat to a kind of old fashioned conservatism with a small c.
Some people say the new election and the intake of the new Conservative MPs would allow May to go back from her stance on hard Brexit.
TB: I don't think we should be under any doubt at all as to what the Tories are doing on this campaign. They're collapsing the UKIP vote into them, and they're going after the Leave vote from Labour. Now that doesn't strike me as a strategy designed to give you an easier ride on Brexit. I don't know the degree to which this is strategic or accidental, how thought through is that in its consequence, I don't know. But I do know that their pitch in this campaign is with the people that are going to deliver Brexit.
So it's going to be hard Brexit or no deal?
TB: I think getting out of the single market is by definition hard Brexit, that's what I think we haven't understood yet.
You are 20 years older but people in power today are more or less your age. There's no reason to think you have to stay in the Institute and don't say now is the time to save this country.
TB: Now is the time to leave (laughs).
And what do you think of Matteo Renzi?
TB: Renzi has a chance (to get back in government). I think he will win the primaries of the Democratic Party. It is important because Italy is a country potentially at risk of populism. And the 5 Star Movement is a danger.
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To mark 20 years since Labour’s landslide election victory in 1997 Mr Blair gave a number of number of interviews, including with a group of foreign correspondents in London. He talked about how the world is changing rapidly and that for progressive forces to win they, “have got to show how the future can be made to work for people and have a sense of optimism.” He added that the task, “is to show people that we understand their anxiety" and have answers to their problems.
Copyright © May 2017 by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change
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