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What the Return of Tony Blair Tells Us About the Void at the Heart of Politics

Blair's office has denied he'll make a comeback, so brace yourself to see a lot more of Tony.
November 23, 2016, 2:40pm

(Picture by Stefan Rousseau PA Wire/PA Images)

Sound the air-raid sirens, hide in your cellars, hold the people you love close to you and don't ever let go: Tony Blair is back. And why wouldn't he be? In an ideal world, all disgraced former Prime Ministers would be put down painlessly, with a bolt through their heads to make sure they never bother anyone again. But this is far from an ideal world. The evil is returning everywhere; the whole planet hates what it's become, and is now busy trying to twist and churn itself back into an earlier shape.


Brexiteers are trying to rebuild the country out of clotted cream and the Queen's greying flakes of sloughed-off skin; they want a Britain permanently frozen in the three or so years between VE day and the arrival of the Windrush. Bring back the blue passports, bring back imperial measurements, bring back hanging and unpaved roads dense with horse manure and an average life expectancy in the late teens – if nothing else, we won't have to spend so much on education. America is shortly to be great again; France is in serious danger of electing a new Vichy regime, helplessly puppeteered by itself; a world that can no longer think of new ideas is collapsing chaotically into its own past. So it shouldn't be any surprise that the leering, spectral face of Tony Blair is once again hovering over British politics.

The line is that he's here to rescue us from this reckless slide into our own past, to halt the Brexit madness and make the sensible centre-left relevant again; only someone with the charisma and experience of Blair can get us moving forward. Don't believe it for a moment. He's not the solution; he's just another symptom, another dark childhood memory that has inevitably returned to haunt waking life, bursting in with all the senselessness and terror of the repressed.

Naturally, he's denied everything. The first grim omen of Blair's return – aside from the strange tidal waves of blood sluicing through the streets of British towns, the oily residues appearing all over Parliament, the mass die-offs of migrating birds and so on – was an exclusive in the Sunday Times, unsubtly titled "Blair: PM is a lightweight and Corbyn's a nutter so I'm back". An unnamed source told the paper that the former Prime Minister thinks there's a "massive hole in British politics", one that only he had the virility and grit to fill up. He would, it was claimed, shortly be seeking a new political headquarters in Westminster – no doubt soon to be circled by hundreds of portentously croaking ravens. Almost immediately, his spokeswoman denied the report. "The London staff will all come together in one location," she admitted, but "it won't be in Westminster" – and the idea that he would try to influence Brexit negotiations are "wholly false". Which, given Blair's previous history with the truth, pretty much amounts to an early warning that he's about to parachute into Parliament, firing depleted uranium in all directions.


These denials weren't helped by the appearance of his former advisor and perpetual lickspittle John McTernan on Newsnight, words leaking from his cabbagey head as he drawled that "people are getting very excited, and correctly excited, because he's the biggest political figure of our era, and people can't stop talking about him because everyone wants him back". Who is this "everyone"? A horrifying picture emerges, of Tony Blair sneaking back into Westminster like Napoleon returning from Elba, to meet a new French Infantry of simpering policy dweebs and dribble-smeared TV commentators: an army floating in its own private reality-bubble, ready to conquer Europe once again. It'd be a farce and a failure of a campaign, but he keeps on doing it. After all, Tony Blair never really went away; he could hardly shut up throughout last year's Labour leadership campaign and beyond, constantly popping up like a whack-a-mole to obliviously announce how little understanding he actually has of politics. Forget a windswept island in the South Atlantic – if we want to finally be done with Blair, we need to shoot him into space.

It's safe to say that everyone does not want Tony Blair back. He remains one of the most widely loathed politicians in the country, damned for taking us into a war under false pretences that is still filling the skies of Iraq with burning oil wells and soaking the desert with blood; hated for his corruption and his mad greasy glibness; abjured and irredeemable – only 8 percent of the public believe he has nothing to apologise for, a full 53 percent say they can never forgive him. If he were to take command for the beleaguered, zombified remnants of the Remainers, all it would do is confirm the sense among Brexit voters that the political classes are made up of dusty ghouls and has-beens, creatures stuck in the past with no idea how people really think. Which raises the question: how is this even possible? How can the idea of someone so utterly discredited returning to politics – even the slightest suggestion of it – be taken seriously? Why is it discussed in the papers and on Newsnight rather than circling unnoticed on the Blair office's Twitter feed and in the "in other news" sections of the local press?


We should take Blair seriously when he says there's a hole in British politics; it's just not where he thinks it is. The moderate centre-left he claims to represent is hardly lacking for representation – there are hundreds of whining liberal mediocrities making their Quixotic moral stands in Parliament or in the opinion pages, the Hilary Benns and Owen Smiths and John McTernans. Since Blair left he's spawned an army of tiny, feeble, mewling Blairs to clog up the gutters of politics.

The hole is everywhere: politics has been hollowed out. The Prime Minister is freewheeling, fanatic and incapable; she won't let us see the secret Brexit plans she doesn't have; she attaches herself leech-like to the forces of blind dumb patriotism and arbitrary social cruelty, because what else is there?

The Leader of the Opposition lacks a constituency or a purpose; he's increasingly unable to articulate popular discontent or even anything at all. The SNP are a grandstanding parliamentary rump, made incapable on a national level by Britain's system of elective dictatorship. Politics has exhausted itself. Decades of middle-way managerial politics have led us into a catastrophe that nobody really knows how to escape, beyond hiding in the past. It's cycled through every permutation of the conventional wisdom, wearing through the fabric of ideology to open up a vast and ravenous void that's now tearing away at everything from the inside. This is why Blair is back. It's not that a space opened up and he slithered his way back in – he's empty space himself; a lacquered glossy sheen forming around an utter nothingness. Blair never had the answer to any problem; he was just good at rephrasing the question. He can't save us, because he's the affliction. A space has opened up in British politics, and it looks like Tony Blair.



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