Do you remember when Tony Blair first entered No 10 Downing Street? Just about everybody was applauding: it was as if a great weight had been lifted from the public back. At last the Tories had been shown the door, with a quick kick at their behind to hasten the exit.
Then, for me at least, Blair began to present a problem: he couldn’t make decisions without having tested them on a focus group.. He was a sweet talker and very effective in defending what he was doing – or rather not doing – but that wasn’t really enough. Most people were glad to see the back of the Tories, Blair was a fresh face and a fresh voice, but was he too keen to be everybody’s friend? Was he incapable of making a firm, bold decision?
The invasion of Iraq provided the answer to that. Blair didn’t care that millions in Britain marched against his decision to plunge his country into a disastrous excursion based on the lie that Sadaam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But nothing would stop Blair from being Bush’s lapdog and the rest is the bloody legacy we now associate with Blair.
Now he’s back. This morning, he was on the BBC’s flagship radio news programme, Today, explaining why he believed the British people should be given another referendum on the deal the Tories finally came to with the EU – or a general election based on that deal. John Humphries accused him of being opposed to the democratic wishes of the British people; Blair maintained it was nothing of the sort.
In my gut I feel Humphries may be right, but I’m still glad that Blair has added his voice to the Think Again side of the argument. Of course Blair is at least in part intent on destroying the direction the Labour Party is heading under Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Party insists it accepts the will of the British people and just wants a good deal. Blair says Labour should be leading the charge against what will be disastrous for Britain.
The situation takes me back to my childhood, when occasionally I’d attend a cattle fair with my father in places like Plumbridge and Castlederg and Fintona. There, the dealers would scrutinize each animal for sale, eye it, prod it, check its mouth, check its rear, underside – every aspect. Only when that had been done did the bargaining begin, with middlemen bringing the parties together when they seemed about to reject a deal, compromise, rejection of compromise, swearing that the other party was asking the impossible – until at last hands were spat on and palms met each other with a resounding smack.
Just as no cattle dealer would have entered negotiations without knowing exactly what condition of beast he was going to be negotiating about, so the people of the UK really do need to know what they’re letting themselves in for. The pig in the poke may be a thriving grunter or a sickly slab. The potential buyer, assuming s/he is sane, will demand to get an eyeful of what s/he is buying before making their bid.
Blair mentioned the peace process in Northern Ireland as just one of the things at risk from Brexit – a view echoed by a former UUP Minister I interviewed some weeks ago. There is no doubt that Tony Blair can be glib and deceptive.There’s no doubt that his reputation will never recover from the bloodbath that was the Iraq invasion. But he’s talking sense about Brexit and about the need for the British people to think again about what they’re letting themselves into.
You’ll note I say ‘the British people’. We in this part of Ireland have given our answer long ago. We know a pig in a poke when we see it and we want no part of it.