Former Prime Minister Tony Blair is really confused by the success of left-wingers Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.
Blair, who won three general elections as Labour leader, spoke to The Guardian and Financial Times in a joint interview about the “question of electability” and the “curious” phenomenon of people choosing candidates who don’t have a realistic chance of reaching office.
Blair, speaking in Washington, said:
“One of the strangest things about politics at the moment — and I really mean it when I say I’m not sure I fully understand politics right now, which is an odd thing to say, having spent my life in it — is when you put the question of electability as a factor in your decision to nominate a leader, it’s how small the numbers are that this is the decisive factor. That sounds curious to me. Surely it should be a major factor because if this is not about you, but it’s about the people you want to serve, then selecting someone who is electable is really important because otherwise you can’t help people; you’re powerless.”
Sanders entered the race for the Democrat nomination as an unlikely outsider but has emerged as a major rival to Hillary Clinton, while in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn defied all expectations to fend off moderate competition and record a landslide victory in the Labour party leadership contest.
Blair, who has been a vocal critic of Corbyn in the past, puts the success of the Labour leader and Sanders down to a combination of stagnant living standards for working people with the growing influence of social media.
“Part of it is the flatlining of lower and middle income people, the flatlining in living standards for those people, which is very frustrating. It’s partly an anger for sure at the elites, a desire to choose people who are going to rattle the cage. And it’s partly also about social media, which is itself a revolutionary phenomenon which can generate an enormous wave of enthusiasm at speed. When I first started in politics, these things took so long to build up momentum; your decision points were well before that moment was achieved. But it’s also a loss of faith in that strong, centrist progressive position and we’ve got to recover that.”
Any hopes Blair may have of his brand of centrist politics returning to the Labour party any time soon look to be slim, though, as a YouGov poll published this week shows that over half of the party’s members believe Corbyn should lead them into the next election.
The former Prime Minister is a fan of Hillary Clinton but was not drawn in to making predictions regarding the next president of the US.
“I think Hillary’s a very strong, capable person and I’m a supporter of hers, but who the Americans choose is up to them. It’s not wise to get into that.”
He continued to explain that the centre-ground has lost a “cutting edge” and has “a lot of thinking to do” if it is to attract the level of support that it used to.
The 62-year old was in Washington to attend the launch of a commission on countering violent extremism at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
It has been set up to try and develop an understanding on the root causes of Islamic extremism – a problem that Blair doesn’t believe would be tackled effectively by things like Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the US.
“It’s important that people are aware of the fact that we need allies within Islam to fight this and those allies will be in the majority Muslim, so it’s not sensible to alienate them from the outset.”
Closer to home, Blair described the case for Britain staying in the EU as “overwhelming” and described pulling out as a “huge leap of difficulty and uncertainty.”
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