Tony Blair: Party Conference Season Will Be a Watershed Moment in British Politics

Tony Blair: Party Conference Season Will Be a Watershed Moment in British Politics

Tony Blair: Party Conference Season Will Be a Watershed Moment in British Politics

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5 min read

This conference season will expose in sharp relief the changing state of Conservatives and Labour.

The conferences should be marked differently and judged differently. At their conclusion, the choices in British politics will be clearer. 

The Conservative Party is at risk of morphing into a narrow nationalist party, modelled on the Trump phenomenon, whose present leadership are either incapable of stopping the metamorphosis or are playing along with it.

This is the Party which took us into Europe, fought the 1979, 1983 and 1987 elections as pro-Europeans, was critical to founding the Single Market, which championed enlargement of the Union to Eastern Europe to consolidate the Western alliance.

Now it demonises the rules of the Single Market as destructive of our national sovereignty and insists we leave to avoid the payments we make, along with all the other wealthier European nations, to the enlargement countries to help their development.

Senior figures of the so-called Party of business snort with derision at business anxiety.

Even typically rational Ministers are obliged to beat their chests about a ‘no deal’ Brexit, as a smart negotiating tactic, without a thought as to the utter irresponsibility of such an outcome or the absurdity of believing that something which is bad for Europe, but a catastrophe for Britain is going to make Europe cave in to a proposal which is still shrouded in deliberate ambiguity.  

Contrary to myth, Europe will compromise.  

The divisions in the Conservative Party led to a negotiation with mutually incompatible objectives which has led to half in / half out solution which is absolutely the worst option

What Europe will never agree to, is access to the Single Market without adhering to its rules. Never. Because that would destroy the basis of the Market.

A ‘Blind Brexit’ i.e. where we only have a vague idea of the future relationship before we leave should be unacceptable to Europe and should be unthinkable for Britain.

So, Europe will seek clarification of the Chequers proposal.

But if the clarification is, as Chequers implies, for staying bound to Europe’s rules for trade – what else does a ‘common rule book’ mean -  then the Government will be back in crisis.

Here is the challenge for the Tory centre. The problems with Chequers are many and manifold.

But the crucial political one is it has no public support.

It neither properly protects British business, nor does it honour what the Brexiteers regard as the mandate of June 2016.

The divisions in the Conservative Party led to a negotiation with mutually incompatible objectives which has led to half in / half out solution which is absolutely the worst option for the Tory centre because it allows the right to denounce it as pointless – an accusation which unfortunately is correct – whilst escaping responsibility for the Brexit debacle.

Their only way out for the centre of the Party, is to put Chequers to Parliament, have it defeated and then say: fine we did our best, the negotiation is not negotiable in a manner which satisfies both our economic interests and the desire of some for Brexit at any cost. Let the people decide.

If the pro-European Tories stay anchored to Chequers, then it is more likely that the right will breathe life into the dying Conservative Party membership than the centre.

The Conservative Government is not ‘in disarray’. It is in a form of profound dysfunction that is doing deep disservice to the nation.

Yet neither the Labour Party nor its Leader is ahead.

As so often in history, attitudes to the Jewish community are predictive of something larger.

A world view has been laid bare and the nature of a large and growing part of today’s Labour Party unmasked.

Neither correspond to the true Labour tradition.

The Conservative Government is not ‘in disarray’. It is in a form of profound dysfunction that is doing deep disservice to the nation. Yet neither the Labour Party nor its Leader is ahead.

Attlee and Bevin, in the Labour Government after 1945, set up NATO, allied themselves openly to the USA including in the Korean War, initiated the British nuclear deterrent, and effectively shut the door on the pro- Soviet and Marxist left. These went into different varieties of Communist or Trotskyist movements and in so far as they were present in the Labour Party, were a small fringe.

Successive leaders of the Labour Party kept the door firmly shut despite occasional attempts to prise it open.

Under the Corbyn leadership, the door has been opened with a welcome mat.

In have poured these former outcasts from the political wilderness suddenly in charge of a potential party of Government. And with them have come their methods and mission – sectarian, shouty, finger jabbing, with a whole sub-culture of conspiracy theories i.e. the left equivalent of the alt-right.

Their foreign policy is motivated by visceral anti-Western sentiment. Nothing else can explain their abject silence over the assault on Idlib when if this attack was supported by Western intervention rather than by opponents of the West, they would be screaming the house down.

The domestic policy is basically a re-hash of old style leftism which shows little understanding of the modern world.

It is true that they have been joined by young people enthusiastic for change.     

This may offer hope for the future.

But for now, just consider the case of Joan Ryan – a hard working, successful MP subject to a ‘no confidence’ censure by her local Party, because of her role with Labour Friends of Israel, at a meeting conducted with all the venom some of us remember so well from the 1980s, but with the new element of the proceedings filmed by a Party member for Iranian State Television. Done at the conclusion of a week where the Labour Party was trying to re-assure the Jewish community. You couldn't make it up.

Parties feel between a desire for Party unity and a knowledge of what is right for the country. But we do know what is right and it is not the path British politics is presently on.

The Party conferences beginning in late September will be a watershed moment in British politics. They won't only be about resolutions and speeches. They will provide evidence of character, of the driving spirit inhabiting each main Party, of the direction of the soul.

I am not advocating a ‘new Party’, organising one, or wanting to vote for one. In the British system such an endeavour may be impossible.

But the sensible, serious figures in both main Parties need to stand up and demand of their leadership: enough, change course, you do not have indefinite licence to go further towards the extremes or unlimited time to return to reason.

The pull of political tribe is strong, and I sympathise deeply with the struggle many in both Parties feel between a desire for Party unity and a knowledge of what is right for the country.

But we do know what is right and it is not the path British politics is presently on. 

   

The Best Policy Solutions Lie in the Centre Ground

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