Don Brind on the Blair intervention
Like many 48 per centers I believe last year’s referendum victory for Leave was built on a mountain of mendacity, epitomised by that bus promising £350 million for the NHS.
So it was good to hear Tony Blair declare, in his speech to Open Britain last week, that Brexit “will not mean more money for the NHS but less; actually it probably means a wholesale rebalancing of our healthcare towards one based on private as much as public provision.”
I don’t trust Theresa May, now the zealous convert to Leave after being a virtually silent a Remain campaigner. So, again, I enjoyed Blair’s withering assault on her. “The Government are not masters of this situation. They’re not driving this bus. They’re being driven.”
So why did the speech leave me feeling uneasy? And why did Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington and a member of the Shadow Brexit team tweet: “I defend Tony Blair as a great Labour leader who improved lives of my constituents. I do this a lot. His speech today won’t help.”
Blair says he accepts the result of the referendum and that “there is no widespread appetite to re-think.” He asserts that people voted without knowledge of the terms of Brexit. “As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their will. Our mission is to persuade them to do so.”
But the big question is how do we get from here to there? Who is best placed to get them to think again? Is Tony Blair somebody Leave voters will listen to?
They certainly won’t be listening to Ed Vulliamy in the Observer that” Corbyn and his MPs want to appease xenophobia in Labour heartlands, at whatever price of principle, to keep their seats warm at Westminster.”
Such patronising tosh is not only unfair to Labour MPs, it part of the Brexit problem. “In politics, firstly, you have to earn the right to be heard” says Labour backbencher Wes Streeting in a wide-ranging New Statesman article that deserves to be as widely read as the Blair speech.
Streeting, a frequent Corbyn critic and a “Blairite” to leadership loyalists, represents Ilford North on the London Essex border which voted narrowly to Remain. He, nonetheless followed Jeremy Corbyn’s lead in voting to trigger Article 50. He explained his reasoning in a joint article with Chuka Umunna
Defying the referendum result, they say, would “deepen Labour and the country’s divisions and undermine our ability to build a coalition uniting the cities with the towns and country, the young with the old, immigrant with settled communities, the north with the south.
“We have to build this coalition in order to win an election to form a Labour government.”
The fact is that if Tony Blair’s dream of beating Brexit is to be realised it will Labour MPs who will do the hard graft of persuading Leave voters to think again.