Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that voters in this year’s general election should pick candidates from whichever party is prepared to hold Theresa May's Government to account over Brexit. There has even been speculation that he’s about to team up with the Liberal Democrats to make the anti-Brexit case. As a Liberal Democrat who ticks those boxes, I guess I should be overjoyed. But when I heard the former Prime Minister’s comments, I couldn’t help but think: “Thanks, Tony… but no thanks.”
Blair is half right on the message, but he is absolutely the wrong person to deliver it to the British people. Last time Blair waded into the Brexit debate, on the Remain side, most people I spoke to on the doorstep in Yeovil told me they thought he should butt out.
There is nothing new in Blair’s plea. The Progressive Alliance and More United have both advocated this approach. The problem with this big idea is that the electoral mathematics simply don't stack up.
The latest polls, taken by Lord Ashcroft after the announcement of the general election, see the Conservatives and Ukip added together on 54 per cent of the vote, and we all know how the EU referendum vote panned out in terms of numbers. It will take far more than a narrow electoral pact to change the direction of the country and appealing to voters on all sides is what is required.
Only the Liberal Democrats can make that appeal. Labour is irrevocably split on the biggest issue in recent years and, more importantly, it is not standing on an anti-Brexit platform. Emily Thornberry has even gone so far as to admit on the BBC’s Newsnight that her party “hadn’t picked a side” over Europe. And the Green Party does not have sufficient support across the country to make much of a difference in a general election.
What would make a real difference would be if pro-Remain Conservatives decided to use this election to put their country first, before their partisan interests, and campaign for what they really believe in. Some Tories, such as Andrew Marshall the former leader of Camden Conservatives, have already realised that the hard Brexit championed by the extreme right-wing of the party is the real danger. Marshall and others like him are prepared to back Liberal Democrat candidates for this election only – because it is not just a vote for Westminster, but a second vote on the future of our country in Europe and the world.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, is right: the only thing standing between Theresa May and a hard Brexit is the Liberal Democrats. If you want to put a stop to hard Brexit, then you have to vote for it in the parliamentary constituency where you live.
So I say to Tony Blair, thank you for your confidence in us, but your vote is just one vote. And Lib Dems like me will be asking people from all sides for theirs.
Daisy Benson is the Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for Yeovil