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Say what you want about Tony Blair – but he is a shrewd political operator through and through.
Ahead of two key by-elections for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, Tony Blair has demanded that people ‘rise up’ against the Brexit vote – and has slammed Corbyn for being a facilitator of the vote to leave the European Union. In reality, the Labour leader is simply respecting the result of a democratic referendum, and this is something that a majority of Labour voters and the general public think he should do.
Moreover, Blair neglects the fact that it is his abandonment of the working class under New Labour that created the perfect conditions for the Brexit campaign to thrive. Working class heartlands who have voted Labour all their lives felt left out in the cold during the Blair years, as the Parliamentary Labour Party failed to represent their Euroscepticism like they did in eras gone by. However, the content of Tony Blair’s speech today may be complete drivel, but also predictable, as everybody knows that he is an advocate of the European Union. What people are really questioning are his motivations.
Labour are fighting two key by-elections that will be decided in the coming week. Both Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland are marginal constituencies that overwhelmingly voted to leave the European Union last year. Corbyn’s three-line whip on triggering Article 50 will have persuaded some disillusioned Labour voters that his party are willing to respect the result of the referendum, despite campaigning for Remain. That respect for seats such as Stoke, who voted leave in overwhelming numbers, may be the difference between Labour retaining the seat and UKIP gaining it.
Nobody is questioning Blair’s right to speak out. However, it is not a stretch to say that giving an anti-Brexit speech a few days before Labour fight UKIP in one of the tightest by-elections in years is nothing short of sabotage. After all, why would Tony Blair want Jeremy Corbyn to storm to victory in these two by-elections? It would consolidate Corbyn’s leadership and by implication damage any attempt from the Progress faction to trigger another leadership contest. One must be sceptical of Blair’s timing. He could have given his anti-Brexit speech at any time – the process of leaving the European Union is going to take years. Instead, he chose the perfect time to inflict maximum damage on Labour and Jeremy Corbyn – ahead of marginal seats that could make or break the Corbyn project.
For a politician who is lauded as knowing how to win elections, Tony Blair’s speech could seriously damage Labour’s chances. But as always, Tony Blair’s motives are entirely self-serving. It is imperative that the people of Stoke and Copeland are reminded that Blair does not represent the views of the Labour Party any more – otherwise his blatant sabotage might succeed in damaging Corbyn when ordinary working people need him most.