Since his retirement from front-line politics, Tony Blair has become in the eyes of the status quo, the sensible voice in the deafening noise of populism. Like few ex-prime ministers before him, he still wields a high degree of soft power through his charity ‘The Tony Blair Institute’. After a recent interview with Andrew Marr (New Statesmen, 26th July), where he revealed to play down the importance of tackling climate change and his worrying view that there should be greater alignment between AI and personal data; it raises the question, just how sensible a voice is Tony Blairs? And is it his voice or someone else’s?
Tony Blair has become the self-anointed king of the centre of politics. His words are still held in esteem with mainstream media and politicians. Any leader or party who veers from this perceived centre is labelled as ‘populist’ or ‘extreme’, and his policies are described as ‘progressive’ and ‘modernising’. They are words that have a subtle but powerful effect to the listeners’ interpretation of the left and centre. The Left is seen as in the past and the centre is the future, but why should this be the case? There is no obvious reason why free market capitalism should be seen as progressive, especially when the disastrous effects of inequality are being felt as a consequence. It seems to be another tool to keep the status quo as it is, for those it is working for, the richest in society.
Blair’s idea of the centre is that of a politics that is objective, unchanging and always the ideal. He cares little for changing landscapes (apart from AI which he champions even though it is likely to worsen inequality), and still sees the centre of politics as the same as it was in the 1990’s. Owen Jones in his book ‘The Establishment’, shows how through history, the centre of politics has always shifted, evolving with the times. The conservative governments of the 1940s and 1950s, would now be described as Marxist, with nationalisation of industries commonplace, and unquestioned from both parties. The centre should change with the times, if it doesn’t evolve the country will stagnate. Blair still ignores the detrimental effects of globalisation on parts of society and seems to care more for grand global ideas, than the real needs that are being urged for in society.
At times Blair is assumed to be left-wing. Domestically when he was first elected as Prime Minister, he brought in radical social changes that had a tangible positive effect on those who grew up in the 1990’s/2000’s, with the only sticking point generally being the Iraq war in people’s minds. A recent BBC documentary however challenges this view. In ‘Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution’, it is shown, through interviews with colleagues who were in and around the party at the time, that the real architect of social change was Gordon Brown. Tony Blair’s vision for the country was far more on the right, with privatisation of industries central to his beliefs, and it was Brown who actually dragged him to the centre. It appears in interviews with Blair that he only agreed to the social changes for electability rather than any particular passion for them. Blair, under the guise of Labour, managed to appear more of the Left, while introducing fairly right-of-centre policies. His father voted Conservative and according to the documentary he never really appeared that interested in the fundamental history and beliefs of the Labour Party.
During his interview with Marr in the New Statesmen, it was interesting to read his passionate belief in digitising medical records and that this could be something that could be done by the private sector. This obviously has a number of ethical issues to leave personal records like this in the hands of a private company, who could use the information to pass to third parties much like Google does with search histories. It begs the question why Blair believes in these views and where they originate.
In a recent article in ‘Unherd’, an investigative journalist Tom Mctague did exactly that. He found that Blair is in fact being given large donations through his charity ‘The Tony Blair Institute’ by Larry Ellison, the Billionaire owner (4th richest man in the world) of company Oracle. It just so happens that Ellison plans to create a national electronic database for health records. Tony Blair has become a private lobbyist but one that is unelected. The uncomfortable issue this raises is that Tony Blair still holds the ear of important figures in the political world. Keir Starmer regularly holds audiences with Blair and his policies are now worryingly close to that of Tony Blair and his institute. The emphasis on the importance of AI for growth, changes to planning or downplaying of climate change, have all been recently adopted by Starmer. Indirectly wealthy individuals like Ellison are having an impact on British political policy, through the TBI.
The centre of politics that Blair so prizes, originates in part to where the money is at. The idea that Blair’s centre is the divine objective right for power has more to do with the interests of powerful individuals, than anything that is genuinely beneficial for the general public. We should resist this outdated notion that is ingrained in society and the media, to allow for the real change that society needs.