Tony Blair has lunch with the press gallery: this time there’s no third way

Written by David Singleton on 6 December 2018 in Diary

The former PM also had good news for centrist dads everywhere.

Back in the late 1990s, Tony Blair was keen to reconcile both ends of the political spectrum with a new all-encompassing ideology. "The third way stands for a modernised social democracy, passionate in its commitment to social justice and the goals of the centre-left, but flexible innovative and forward-looking in the means to achieve them," he stated.

How times change! As the former prime minister sat down for lunch with the Westminster press gallery he was clear that his old philosophy could not quite cut the Brexit-flavoured mustard.

"As I’ve discovered every time I address groups of people on Brexit, on one thing the nation is united: do Brexit or don’t. But not half in or half out. 

"This is a sentiment which unites many Leavers and Remainers. It is a belief that Britain should approach this part of the future with confidence one way or another, not remain lost in nervous indecision.

"This time there is no acceptable third way."

Blair had started off addressing the assembled lobby journalists with a couple of amusing anecdotes and a nod to his old foe at Number 11. He told Press Gallery chairman Kate McCann: "I was a bit worried when you said there’s someone you always wanted to invite here. I thought you were going to say ‘but Gordon turned me down’."

He then made comprehensive argument for a referendum on the terms of Brexit and then took questions from the hacks. First up - to Blair's evident distress -  was the Express, which wanted to know if the former PM ever felt any self-doubt about his position? 

“What would you really think if I said ‘no I’ve never felt any self-doubt’? Of course it’s a very, very difficult decision,” said Blair, making little attempt to disguise his disdain for the fervently pro-Brexit tabloid.

He also gave short shrift to another right wing tabloid which wanted to know if he had seen much bullying when he was running New Labour with Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson.

“They were a pretty angelic bunch,” replied Blair in response to a Sun journalist.

What should Theresa May do now, asked a journalist from BBC Radio 4’s PM programme. Would he go ahead with the Brexit vote if he was prime minister? 

“If she can’t get this thing through she’s got to be the facilitator of finding the thing that works,” he said. “Personally, I don’t see what the point is of going down to a huge defeat. But that’s a secondary issue because the real issue is whether she is prepared to work to see what compromise has parliamentary approval. And my belief is... she’ll find there isn’t one. And that’s when my solution becomes more acceptable.”

When The Times asked if he was concerned about public disquiet resulting from a second referendum, Blair said it would be a rather strange spectacle:

“It’s a curious thing to riot on the streets because you’re asked for your opinion.”

Asked by Bloomberg whether centre-left types still had a place in today’s Labour party, Blair insisted that yes they did. Just don't expect the party to become less left wing any time soon.

"If someone wants to join the Labour party today, I think it's an unresolved question about whether it can return to a more centre-left, what I would call a more modern, progressive position. I don't know the answer to that. But I certainly wouldn't discourage a young person from joining."

When The Guardian asked whether Corbyn could win an election or a new centre-left party was needed, Blair gave a grudging yes while refusing to admit that he secretly wants to see a new party.

“Obviously Labour could win an election under Jeremy Corbyn, because they very nearly did last year,” he said. “I still think the Labour party would win far more easily if it was in a centre-left position.”

But at least he had some good news for any centrist dads fearing that their brand of politics is no longer in vogue.

“I still think the centre ground is the right place to win. I don’t believe, by the way, it’s gone out of fashion with the British people. It’s just gone out of fashion with British political parties and at some point it will come back in to fashion.”




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