Tony Blair is back.
It’s been a long time coming for the former Prime Minister’s gradual re-emergence into public life; a PR game played softly, softly – a rehabilitation programme for one of Britain’s most divisive figures, to put it delicately.
First there were the small interventions on the subject of Jeremy Corbyn’s catastrophic leadership. Then came the larger contributions on the EU referendum and the vital importance of staying part of the world’s largest international partnership.
The reshuffling of Blair Inc followed, with the foundation of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and the gradual chuntering down of the more lucrative – and occasionally morally dubious – parts of his post-premiership work.
Perhaps the trickiest part followed: the restoration of the likeability factor. Blair’s greatest strength was always the fact that he just seemed like an okay kind of guy. To the heartlands, he seemed like a bit of a shiny slicker, but fundamentally a fairly decent bloke. To the Labour target voters of the late 90s in the South East and the Midlands, he was relatable – a managerial sort of professional; well put together, eloquent, with a healthy touch of “people like us”.
But after ten long years in power, one obsessively over-commentated foreign policy decision, and worrying rumblings of authoritarianism, Blair learnt the truth of the Batman maxim: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain”. So he was wheeled out on Dave comedy chat shows as the “cool older uncle” figure; a kind of Bill Nighy of British politics.
And now he’s back. In an interview with the Mirror, Blair says he’s ready to “get his hands dirty” again in the rough and tumble of frontline political life.
No former Prime Ministers currently sit in the House of Commons, nor will do so after the election. The only former chancellor likely to return to the House is Ken Clarke, whose time at the helm of the economy is slipping ever further into the ether.
In such a complicated political environment, we need those voices of experience and wisdom – voices like Blair’s – in the House of Commons, not just in newspaper interviews and comedy show panels.
Let’s be clear – we need Tony Blair at the heart of our politics.
When the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer holds rallies standing under the insignia of a regime that killed more people than Adolf Hitler, to a crowd holding vast banners of the face of the murderous tyrant principally responsible, how can it not be a good thing to have the voice of the statesman responsible for a decade of vast increases in living standards heard loud and clear in our politics?
Because make no mistake, Her Majesty’s Official Opposition has been colonised by political extremists, whose drive to pervert our politics irreparably can only end in total disaster.
All this, of course, comes as a cowardly, hapless, ill-prepared Prime Minister embarks on jolting the country on the most treacherous and hazardous course in the past half century – a move she probably knows in her heart to be deeply and fundamentally unwise. Why else would she be holding an election before the calamity of her captaincy through the waters of Brexit becomes fully apparent after we crash out of the EU in 2019?
In such a climate, should we welcome the return of the only man to bring Labour an election victory in the past 50 years?
Should we cheer the renewed prominence of a politician who brought us the minimum wage, leaps in the quality of state education, Sure Start centres, record low hospital waiting times, and vast expansions of the rights and protections of women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT people?
I’m afraid I won’t apologise for saying yes.
Tony Blair is a titan figure in our national history, and while his past is by no means uncomplicated – the four-letter word that Corbynites use instead of rational argument – his is a legacy that should be celebrated, remembered, and welcomed into the contemporary political conversation about our national future.
Lovers of reason and the sensible middle way, rejoice! Twenty years after that landslide election kicked the Fellowship of New Labour into action, and ten years after he stood down as Prime Minister after The Two Towers and the ensuing mess of the Iraq war, we come to the third instalment of the Tony Blair saga: The Return of the King.