Tony Blair met with the Italian far-right because the country is 'crying out for' centrist politics like this

Blair’s reason for being in the centre was that we have to be realistic. That's now been updated to, 'we have to be so realistic, we deny the reality'.  Maybe their problem – and they may need to look into this, as it’s complicated – is that things can change

Mark Steel
Thursday 06 September 2018 17:55 BST
Tony Blair says Brexit could lead UK down 'dark path'

It was encouraging to see Tony Blair smiling with the far-right Matteo Salvini, Italian Interior Minister and Federal Secretary of the Northern League in Italy, after a meeting he said was “friendly and positive”.

Blair has always been a fan of the centre ground, which is why he befriends and advises such famous centrists as Colonel Gadaffi, President Assad, the government in Azerbaijan and now Salvini. He has no time for the extreme ones, as they could never win seats in areas like Nuneaton.

Salvini ordered a census of the country’s Roma population, using the same laws established by Mussolini in the 1930s, and said anyone who isn't Italian will be deported, adding that he “unfortunately” won’t be able to deport the Italian Roma. These are the sort of people a Labour leader should be mates with, not those awful characters Jeremy Corbyn hangs about with, who say rude things about ethnic groups.

This is why some people demand a new party of "the centre", that follows the values of Blair and can win support in areas Corbyn never could. Before last year’s general election, these people said: “It’s all very well winning support in the Labour heartlands, but Corbyn has to win in Canterbury and Sussex.” After the election they said: “It’s all very well winning more votes in Canterbury and Sussex than Blair got in 1997, but he has to do better in the Labour heartlands.”

If Corbyn had won in both, Stephen Kinnock would say, "that’s all very well, but he has to win amongst marsupials. And his standing in the wallaby community is shocking. If Jeremy can’t do more to reach out to kangaroos he’ll never win an election, so while I have immense respect for him, for the good of the party, he should set himself on fire’.

Tony Blair and Matteo Salvini meet at the latter's official ministerial residence in Rome

This new party is something the country is “crying out for”, said businessman Simon Franks, who promised that he would fund it.

This was clear from the first leadership election that Corbyn won. The candidate Blair backed, Liz Kendall, won 4 per cent of the vote. If supporters of this new party were working in a research department, they’d say: "This chocolate bar was approved by 52 per cent, so instead let’s market the other one, made of beef dripping with cactus spikes, as it's preferred by 4 per cent. People are crying out for it."

In Scotland in 2015, where Labour was run by supporters of Blair such as Jim Murphy, Labour fell from 36 seats in the Scottish parliament to just one. In Germany, Greece and Spain, support for parties that governed "from the centre", with Blair’s support, have collapsed – in Greece’s case down to just 5 per cent of the vote.

And Hillary Clinton managed to lose to a man who pulled that old election-winning trick of boasting: “I grab women by their pussies”. This must be because around the world, people arrive at the polls and cry out "party of the centre" all day, leaving themselves no time to vote.

Blair’s reason for being in the centre was that we have to be realistic. That's now cleverly been updated to "we have to be so realistic, we deny the reality".

Maybe their problem – and they may need to look into this, as it’s complicated – is that things can change. Perhaps, things that were popular once aren’t popular any more. For example, millions of people today love Ed Sheeran, but if he made up stories as an excuse to invade Iraq, his sales might dip somewhat. The public can be fickle bastards.

Or maybe this is wrong. Maybe a new centre party would thrive by proposing to do all the things that were popular 20 or 30 years ago. It would storm to power by promising schools made of asbestos, and Sunny Delight. Its leaders could be Lance Armstrong or Rolf Harris.

One problem that supporters of this new party have is they don’t appear to have any ideas – other than that they hate Jeremy Corbyn. If they were asked, what are your views on Tudor architecture?, they’d say: "It’s clear from the opinion polls that Jeremy Corbyn’s attitude towards the arches at Hampton Court Palace is deeply offensive to the Tudor community. That’s why I will be joining Cardinal Wolsey in a demonstration across Jeremy’s allotment tonight to stamp on his beetroot."

Last week, supporters of the new party met formally for the first time, and in this meeting "one executive, Adam Knight, split and left with his staff”, according to The Times. So that is an achievement, to have no policies and still manage to split over which no policies to adopt.

The response to the banking crash that seems to be winning support across the West, is a nationalistic one, from characters such as Trump, Boris Johnson and Salvini. In opposition to that are those who propose redressing inequality, such as Bernie Sanders and Corbyn. Maybe these people are the new ‘centre’, whereas the old centre has a novel method of opposing fascism, which is to smile with it and tell everyone it was friendly and positive and a refreshing change from people who are extreme.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in