Tony Blair - once again - has felt a very pressing need to talk about Jeremy Corbyn.
It's ironic that both Blair and Corbyn wanted to radically change the Labour Party. Tony Blair did so from the Right (at least economically; not socially or in terms of what Blair called “values”). Jeremy Corbyn is attempting to do the same from the - to use Blair's own words – “Hard Left”.
Let's put Corbyn in some kind of context. Almost all Labour Prime Ministers (if not all party leaders) since the 1960s has been against - or at war with – the radical/revolutionary Left. This includes Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Gordon Brown and, last but not least, Tony Blair himself. Now the Labour Party has a radical-Left leader. Thus, despite the recent mythology, it wasn't only Blair who had a problem with radical socialism.
Blair on Corbyn as Leader
Tony Blair offers us what seems to be a compliment directed towards Jeremy Corbyn. He said that Corbyn has what it takes to win an election. Nonetheless, if he did win, the United Kingdom would be in “real trouble”.
Clearly, you can be fundamentally against someone and still believe that he or she has what it takes to win an election. I too believe that Corbyn could win an election in the future. However, some people wouldn't like me saying this because it could end up being some kind of negative self-fulfilling prophesy.
Let's recall here that Blair once thought (just over one-and-a-half months ago!) that the Labour Party under Corbyn would suffer a “rout’ and “annihilation” at the June 2017 election. That didn't happen. Blair now admits that he was wrong. Indeed he now praises Corbyn's “temperament” and his mobilisation of young voters. Yet despite that, in an interview for BBC Newsnight, Blair also said that he didn't fully understand the increase in Labour support. Nonetheless, he still predicted that Corbyn could become Prime Minister in the future.
Despite saying that Corbyn has what it takes to win an election, Blair also says that Corbyn has no “agenda for the future”. As everyone knows about Tony Blair, he's a master of the soundbite... Corbyn has no “agenda for the future”. .... What!? Of course he has! Simply because Blair doesn't like Corbyn's agenda, that doesn't mean that there he hasn't got an agenda. Corbyn's agenda is crystal clear: he wants to collectivise Great Britain and turn it into a socialist republic. (Check out what's happening in Venezuela!) Now that's certainly an agenda!
Actually, I don't think Blair is much (or even any) worse than any other British political leader when it comes to soundbites. (Think of Corbyn's own soundbite - "For the many, not the few" - here.) Nonetheless the term “soundbite” certainly stuck to Blair and New Labour.
The EU and Brexit
Two things appear to have made Blair change his mind on Jeremy Corbyn: Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
Blair, rather predictably, is against both Brexit and Trump.
It's Blair's Europhilia that's at the heart of his problem. He says that Corbyn has the same position – on a “hard Brexit” - as the Tories. Corbyn himself has fluctuated on this. He likes the internationalism of the EU; with its “open borders” and rhetoric about “rights”. However, although the EU is culturally socialist or progressive; it isn't economically socialist. And Corbyn wants socialism (like Chairman Mao, Hugo Chavez, Leon Trotsky, Lenin, etc.) to infuse literally every aspect of political and indeed private life.
The point about Blair (as well as the EU) being economically capitalist (or right-wing) and socially leftwing/progressive, is made by Blair himself. He says:
“We’re stuck with one political party [the Tories] that’s defined by Brexit and an attitude on immigration that is just out of date, and the other [Labour] with an old-style leftist programme which, I understand why it generates enthusiasm, but it isn’t an answer.”
Yes, I know that it's a pain to get bogged down with these old political terms (e.g., “right-wing”, “leftwing”, etc.) – especially when Blair and so many others see them as being "old-fashioned". It's just that we need to communicate and Blair himself uses them. And, besides that, with Corbyn at the Labour helm, things can hardly be said to have changed that much when it comes to these traditional political positions!
In any case, in the following (as spoken to Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday), Blair does have a point when he goes into more detail about this capitalism/progressive (real or unreal) dichotomy . He said:
“If you follow up Brexit with a hard-left economic programme this country is going to be in real trouble.
“The fact is they aren’t solutions — they are two different visions of the 1960s when this country needs to work out an agenda for the future.”
As ever, to Blair it's all about the economy. Then again, Corbyn (as a socialist) also sees the economy as central. Indeed socialists dating back to Marx in the 1850s - along with free marketeers since Adam Smith - have also focused on the economy. In that sense, they're all reductionist about such “material conditions” having a vital impact on literally everything else.
Blair, along with many other prominent Europhiles, has also said that it's “possible” that Brexit won't happen. This is meant to be some kind of self-fulfilling prophesy, of course. In terms of the logic of possibility, it's of course the case that it's possible that Brexit may not happen. It's also possible that Corbyn will become a Tory or that swallows won't migrate back to Africa once summer has ended.
I mentioned Blair's penchant for soundbites earlier. Blair mentions Corbyn's very own soundbite: a “jobs-first Brexit”. What does that mean? My bet is that even when it's fleshed out it's probably still the case that this soundbite came first and then the policy – if there is one with some real meat on it - followed. (I'm only half joking here.)
Tony Blair is again correct when he said the following:
“A lot of people supported us at the last election on the basis that voting Labour was a way of stopping Brexit or limiting the mandate that Theresa May had for Brexit.”
That's true. Even some hardcore Corbynites are very pro-EU. As I said, they'll love the internationalism, the open borders, the imposition of rights and, well, the anti-“Islamophobia” rhetoric. Perhaps these radical socialists – unlike Corbyn – have bitten the bullet that is the fact that capitalism still rules the roost in most of Europe. (Though it depends on what kind of capitalism we're talking about here.)
This is a big problem for Corbyn. There are loads of quotes of him – dating back to the early 1980s - being fiercely critical of EU and for all the usual radical-socialist reasons.
People may hate Blair, though much of what he says has a strong germ of truth within it. Thus he correctly concludes the following about the Labour-EU-Corbyn situation. He said:
“I’m sceptical that this is a coalition capable of holding together if it becomes clear we are in the same position as the Tories on Brexit.”
Yes, the Tories are in the same boat on the EU and Brexit. If we could weigh both parties in the scales, which one would come out as being the most homogeneous on the EU and Brexit? It really is difficult to say because we also have to factor in voters as well; not just party leaders and MPs.