Tony Blair is a master at his craft. It’s a joy to watch him give a speech. That he walks among us now at Easter time is a coincidence I’m sure. But it was still quite a resurrection. Whether because of his training as a barrister, his years in Parliament, or just a natural gift for performance, nobody around today in UK politics does it better than him.
I’m one of that unfashionable group of Labour people who doesn’t hate Blair. I think, overall, he was a good Prime Minister and party leader. The reality of the Iraq war is that, however horrible to contemplate, it probably was necessary. Sitting back and letting Saddam kill people and ruin the country while admonishing him with sanctions that were ignored was doomed to failure. The way we were taken into the war was wrong, but that’s for another blog.
This one is all about Blair’s return to UK politics. This speech was a tour-de-force in the art of dissecting your opponents. Made in his old stamping ground at Trimdon Labour Club, it was a bit of a turn back of the clocks. It was in his last conference leader’s speech in 2006 that he last took the Tories to task over their policies and values. You can easily imagine Cameron and Osborne sat in front of a TV somewhere in the country watching the man they were in awe of as he ripped into them. Osborne couldn’t have been in the best of moods after his performance in the Chancellors’ debates last night. And then came Blair laying the Tory weaknesses open for all.
The Tories campaigning solely as change candidates without any depth, expecting that to be enough to win the public’s approval.
…it is the most vacuous slogan in politics. “Time for a change” begs the question: change to what exactly? And the reason an election that seemed certain to some in its outcome is now in sharp contention lies precisely in that question.
He also ripped into the Conservative party’s lack of policy, consistency, and coherence. Highlighting some of their recent decisions.
When it comes to the big policy issues, there is a puzzle, that has turned into a problem, that has now become a long, hard pause for thought: where are they centred? Is there a core? Think of all the phrases you associate with their leadership and the phrase “you know where you are with them” is about the last description you would think of.
On Europe, they’ve gone right when they should have gone centre. On law and order, they’ve gone liberal when actually they should have stuck with a traditional Conservative position. And on the economy they seem to be buffeted this way and that, depending less on where they think the country should be, than on where they think public opinion might be.
It was a great way for Blair to fire his opening salvo of this campaign. Not only will it have scared the Tories, but I’m sure it’ll have lifted a few Labour activists, giving a sense of urgency to campaigning.
The other purpose it serves is to remind us of the comparison between Blair and his self-appointed heir. Cameron has failed to modernise his party the way Blair did, failed to produce cogent policies as Blair did, failed to win over the public as Blair did. Win an election as Blair did?