Faith, Doubt and Brexit

Anti Brexit march

A warning about the disturbing fundamentalism of Continuity Remain and the anti-Brexit crusaders

In the course of arguing on Twitter this evening, I received back the following piece of friendly psychological analysis from a longtime follower and antagonist.

The text reads:

“You are almost always wrong, as if you’re from another planet. I’m starting to feel pity, not sure if for you or for the people who have to suffer the consequences of what you keep saying with grave conviction. Please take a step back and reflect.”

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Now, I don’t necessarily take issue with the charge of being “almost always wrong”, nor even the insinuation that I hail from extraterrestrial origins. But the funny thing is that I am actually a rather introspective person, and do spend quite a lot of time stepping back and reflecting on my beliefs and political worldview – perhaps in fact never more so than now, when law school has limited my available time to write.

Also, having never attained any level of fame or recognition from my writing (save a solitary appearance on the BBC and the very occasional retweet from a famed Twitter bluecheck journalist) I have not been subject to the temptation to lapse into permanent “transmit mode”, that gnawing need to be seen by my legions of followers as an all-knowing sage, privy to Great Knowledge and the secret schemes of the political elite.

In fact, performing a word count search on my blog reveals that the word “introspection” appears over 30 times in more than 20 articles – usually in the context of me demanding that certain politicians, journalists or other actors engage in some introspection as to their recent behavior, and precisely because I hold myself to this standard of regular self-reflection and accountability.

So I do take it somewhat personally when it is suggested I “take a step back and reflect” on my position on Brexit, because that is something I frequently do anyway. Having begun my age of political awareness as a devout europhile and even ardent euro-federalist, I already know many of the arguments in favor of the EU and against Brexit inside-out, without needed to hear mangled recitations of them from the Continuity Remain lobby’s telegenic campaign mouthpieces. In some cases, I was spouting many of those same tedious lines about “friendship ‘n cooperation” while pro-EU “celebrities” like EU Supergirl and Femi Oluwole were probably still watching children’s television rather than the evening news.

Having been on a journey from ardent euro-federalist (I once proudly wore a polo-shirt emblazoned with the Euro logo, soon after the single currency’s launch) to reluctant supporter to resigned leaver to committed Brexiteer, I have naturally examined and re-examined my views and the evidence supporting them on repeated occasions. That’s what it is to change one’s mind. And when it comes to the question of Britain’s European Union membership, I would always sooner listen to someone who once held an opposing view only to change their minds – whichever side they ultimately end up on – because at least I then know I am dealing with someone who has likely evaluated conflicting evidence or willingly exposed themselves to alternate viewpoints. The result is almost always a more productive exchange of ideas, and the avoidance of those dreary social media debates where two ideologues simply sling dueling talking points at one another with no intention of engaging in real debate.

Thus I continually questioned my beliefs before I started taking a more outspoken role in the Leave movement. Was the EU really as harmful to our democracy and impervious to attempts at reform as I had come to believe? Were many of the benefits of EU membership really replicable through other means that did not involve supranational government? Was the EU actually the best we could hope to do in terms of looking at governance beyond the nation state at a time of globalization? Were there realistic prospects of spurring that broader international discussion through Brexit, or would it be an act of national self-mutilation that had no ripple effects beyond Britain? Would it be better to just bide our time sheltering inside the European Union while we waited for someone else to finally address the pressing issue of balancing global governance with national (and local) democracy? Does it look like anybody else is about to step up to the plate and begin that work? Is the EU actually going to step up, admit its past failings and respond in a humble new citizen-centered way?

I also inevitably thought about how history would judge the positions I took and the statements I made, particularly at a time when social media records every throwaway remark or careless retweet, creating a rich seam of information that can be used by the unscrupulous to destroy one’s reputation and career. If Brexit was likely to fail and its opponents succeed in portraying it as a doomed nationalist spasm fueled primarily by xenophobia, was it worth the risk of me sticking my head above the parapet and supporting it? With so many powerful people on the pro-EU side, Remainers never seriously had to worry about being viewed by the history books as a latter-day Nazi if Brexit succeeded despite their opposition – they had more than enough manpower in the political, commercial, academic and cultural arenas to effectively absolve themselves from any blame for standing in the way of Brexit if it did lead to good things. Not so Brexiteers – like the American revolutionaries who would have been hung for treason had they not prevailed, history’s judgment would likely be merciless to Leave advocates and voters if Brexit did not go well, even if the fault was that of saboteurs determined to ensure that it not succeed.

Even after winning the referendum in 2016, I questioned my choices. The very next day, as Brexiteers toasted victory, I travelled with my wife and friends to Greece on holiday. As we passed through the EU flag-starred lane at passport control, I again asked myself if my decision to support Brexit had been a mistake; whether the EU, imperfect as it is, was the best we could do; whether it were better to remain in a vast bloc and regulatory superpower that looked likely to centralize further and become more powerful, even if it meant the further atrophy of British democracy, in order to remain “in the club”.

And of course the dismal events of the past two years – as Article 50 was triggered prematurely and without a plan, negotiated ineptly by a government sorely lacking in expertise, held to account by a Parliament full of MPs who cared more about appearing superficially knowledgeable or striking partisan poses than actually understanding the important minutiae on which everything depends, watched over by a debased and infantilized national media which either failed to contain its bias or do its due diligence – only led to more such introspection. Was it all a terrible mistake? Was there never anything good to be won? Was it inevitable that things would end up this way, with our government, opposition and legislature beclowning themselves in front of the world on a daily basis?

Yet after all of my questioning, my answer remains the same – Britain was right to vote to leave the European Union. I was right to campaign for Britain to do so. Even now, we are right to pursue Brexit and to resist those who would like to simply maintain the status quo in our governance and relationship with the EU. The fundamentals have not changed – indeed, Continuity Remainers seeking to overturn the result have generally still not bothered to discern precisely what those fundamentals are, in order to better communicate with Leave voters.

I do, however, wonder whether my far more famous and eminent counterparts on the Remain side have ever once engaged in the kind of introspection and self-questioning as to their stance of opposing Brexit and uncritically embracing the EU that I perform on a routine basis regarding my opposition to the project. And I strongly suspect that many of them have not.

Do you think for a moment that James O’Brien, LBC’s anti-Brexit polemicist-in-chief, as ever once taken a break from his task of finding the most inarticulate, confused and angry Brexit supporters to “defeat” in argument on his show to question any of the fundamental issues about the EU and Brexit that I and other Brexiteers consider every day?

James Obrien Brexit LBC

Do you think that eminent celebrity academics like AC Grayling ever once take a break from rending their garments and peddling conspiracy theories on Twitter to consider whether they might themselves be trapped in a closed ideological echo chamber which prevents them from fulfilling the basic academic and scientific duty of exposing their dogmas and hypotheses to scrutiny and criticism from alternative perspectives?

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Do you think that grandees like Tony Blair and John Major ever really stop and reconsider the pivotal moments in their administrations, and ask themselves whether they might have ever misjudged the march toward greater EU integration without public consent? Or is it more likely that they are simply desperate to cement their legacies rather than concede potential error?

Tony Blair and John Major warn against Brexit

Do you think that progressive-left religious leaders like the vast majority of bishops of the Church of England – people who are supposed to unite the nation in faith but who have often chosen instead to use politics to divide us while idolizing a slick salesman’s vision of European unity – have ever prayerfully reflected on their behavior?

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Do you think that issue-illiterate, virtue-signaling woke celebrities like Gary Lineker and Eddie Izzard ever engaged in a serious evaluative process of understanding valid complaints about the EU and the driving forces behind Brexit, or is it more likely that their publicists simply spotted a good opportunity for them to effortlessly win acclaim from the chatterati?

Gary Lineker celebrity Remainer Brexit

Do you think that the self-regarding doyens of the prestige international media ever take a break from communing with Bono to learn the causes of populism in order to question whether their very actions might contribute to the problem, and whether their uncritical acceptance of the legitimacy of bodies like the European Union (and consequent feeble scrutiny of them) was harmful to the very democracy they claim to defend?

Fareed Zakaria Bono Populism Brexit

Do you think that the plum voices of the BBC ever take a break from smearing UKIP voters or flatly declaring without evidence that Tory MPs belong to the “far right” in order to question whether they are really promoting the cause of truth and serving the whole of society?

James Naughtie BBC bias journalism Brexit - ERG conservatives far right

Do you think that shamelessly biased Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow ever actually seriously considered whether he was wrong to negatively highlight and criticize the number of “white people” attending a pro-Brexit rally in Westminster?

Jon Snow Brexit Protest criticise white people journalism media bias

In all of the above cases, I believe that the answer is probably “no”. Convinced of their righteousness from the start, these individuals and many others switched into permanent transmit mode on 24 June 2016 (and in some cases long before), never once subjecting themselves to the discomfort and potential cognitive dissonance of questioning their own assumptions.

Maybe these people have actually forfeited the public trust and the right to their bully pulpits in the media.

Maybe when evaluating how Brexit is being attempted, resisted and portrayed in the media, we should ask ourselves who is actually engaging in an intellectual exercise of any kind, and who has simply lapsed into triumphantly bleating articles of faith, with little questioning of their own side. I would argue that many of the latter can be found in prominent positions on the Continuity Remain campaign, or at the apex of those organizations and industries which most strongly support it. And ironically, many of them can also be found publicly marveling at the inability of Brexiteers to reconsider their stance, question their dogmas and change their minds.

The truth is that Brexiteers have had nearly three years of unremitting exposure to the scorn, derision and hatred of many of the most respected and influential groups in our society – the politicians elected to our Parliament; the people who staff our civil service, lead our educational institutions, run our largest companies, lead our charities and edit our newspapers; the people who act in our favorite films and television shows, entertain us with their stand-up comedy or represent us at the pinnacle of professional sports, literature, music and the arts. Three years of this unremitting negativity and hostility from opposing forces in the most powerful reaches of the country; three years of embarrassing failure after failure by the people tasked with executing the decision we made at the ballot box on 23 June 2016, and still there is no overwhelming desire among Brexiteers nor the country as a whole to scrap Brexit and remain a member state of the European Union.

You could say that this is emotion over reason, that it is faith over fact, that it is a desperate act of confirmation bias by people who simply don’t want to admit to themselves that they were wrong. But every single one of these attack lines is also a piercing dagger which can just as easily be aimed right back at the heart of the Continuity Remainer “resistance” movement – people who despite being rebuffed at the referendum against all the odds and opinion polls have still not engaged in any kind of meaningful introspection at a group or individual level, and many of whom never once questioned their stance on Brexit, prior to nor after the referendum.

We are continually told that Remain voters and their movement’s heroes are more highly educated – even more moral – than those of us who had the nerve to imagine a future for British democracy outside the European Union. We are told that they are stringent disciples of reason while we are base creatures motivated by nativist superstition and easily led astray by nefarious outside influence. But it’s all a total sham. Theirs is a priesthood with no monopoly on fundamental truth, just a desperate faith in the European Union as the solution to problems which it has shown no capacity to meet.

There is indeed an emergent quasi-religious movement in Britain, one which holds its truths as unquestionable dogma, which views nonbelievers as automatically “lesser than” and which blindly fetishizes a flag as representation of all that is good and true in humanity. But the new faith militant in British politics is not the fractured and browbeaten Brexit movement. It is the Cult of Continuity Remain, and the banner under which it triumphantly marches bears the twelve yellow stars of the European Union.

 

EU flag body paint

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Tony Blair And The Shell-Shocked Centrists: The Fears Of A Fading Elite

Tony Blair - New Labour - Centrism

Pity Tony Blair. Unloved and discredited in his own country, he still fails to understand the role he played in the anti-centrist backlash on both sides of the Atlantic

A panicked, uncomprehending Tony Blair is struggling to understand the appeal of left-wing insurgents such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, LabourList reports:

Tony Blair has said he finds it difficult to understand the surge to prominence of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders amid doubts over both men’s capacity to win general elections.

The former prime minister said the two veteran left-wingers faced a “question of electability” but admitted that stagnating living standards for people on lower- and middle-incomes had generated anger at elites in Britain and the US.

Blair also warned political parties they would be powerless to help people unless they “selected someone who is electable”.

[..] Blair, who was speaking to The Guardian and The Financial Times, said candidates who could “rattle the cage” were emerging, in a reference to Corbyn, who came from the left fringe to easily beat the party establishment to claim the Labour leadership, and to Sanders, who hopes to emulate him by winning the Democrat nomination ahead of Blair’s friend Hillary Clinton.

“It’s very similar to the pitch of Jeremy Corbyn,” Blair said. “Free tuition fees: well, that’s great, but someone’s going to have pay for it. An end to war, but there are wars.”

Where to begin?

Let’s start with Tony Blair’s “pass the smelling salts!” terror at the supposedly unhinged and crazy far-left politics of Bernie Sanders. That’s the same Bernie Sanders who would be chased out of Britain with flaming torches and pitchforks for being too right-wing, were he the UK prime minister, thanks to his support of private sector-delivered healthcare and the right to bear arms.

The interesting thing – and Todd Gillespie at Spiked has also picked up on this – is that with his support for civil liberties and the rights of the individual over the big guy (corporation or government), Bernie Sanders is in some ways a better conservative standard-bearer than most of the people currently squabbling for the US presidency – and certainly far more so than our own Coke Zero Conservative prime minister, David Cameron.

In many ways, when Tony Blair comes charging into the US presidential contest in support of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders, he is not making the principled case for a pragmatic, centre-left policy platform capable of winning elections, as he so smugly claims. After all, the American Right is also tearing itself apart at the moment, and there is nothing to say that Sanders could not defeat one of the more inexperienced or unpalatable GOP candidates still standing.

No, what Tony Blair is doing here is siding with the political elite – of which he is very much a part – and the tired old orthodoxies which people have grown so heartily sick of that they are now desperately casting around for alternatives in people like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. A former Labour prime minister who remembered anything at all about his party’s roots might not be quite so quick to publicly embrace a US presidential candidate awash in Wall Street donations and influence.

But Blair genuinely can’t see the problem with consistently, publicly and unapologetically siding with globalisation’s winners and richest beneficiaries while either ignoring or actively harming those who are left behind. And he cannot understand why this fawning deference to money and power is creating a populist backlash which has changed the course of his party.

Which brings us on to Jeremy Corbyn. LabourList’s report of Tony Blair’s comments continues:

He suggested the sudden rise of Corbyn and Sanders, each after years spent toiling in relative obscurity on the left of their parties, reflected a loss of faith in the centre-ground of politics as well as the changing technology of political communications.

“I think there is a combination of factors behind these movements which are happening both sides of the Atlantic. 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…

“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.”

Blair is absolutely right that there has been a loss of faith in centrist politics. But centrist politics is not an innocent victim. Centrist politics has delivered a cross-party political consensus which was defiantly pro-European in face of public euroscepticism, which doggedly refused to talk about immigration even as a centre-left New Labour government spurned transitional controls and allowed hundreds of thousands more economic migrants a year into Britain without ever consulting the people, which sought to label anyone who questioned this policy as racist, and which trotted out the same tired old tropes about Our Beloved NHS and precious public services while doing almost nothing new or radical to reshape them for the twenty-first century.

Many people in Britain yearn for more genuinely left-wing solutions to be offered by a political party. Many would like the railways renationalised, and the energy companies too. This blog believes that such moves would be hugely regressive and statist, and very quickly result in poorer service and less choice for consumers. But those who believe in nationalisation deserve a voice in the political debate – a voice which Labour studiously excluded for many years. If Tony Blair seriously believed that high-handedly shutting people out of his party would store up no resentment for the future and possibly one day result in a backlash, then he is quite delusional.

Blair acts as though the rise of Jeremy Corbyn is merely a function of social media, and angry far-leftists hijacking the conversation. But it goes far deeper than that. The rise of Corbyn on the British Left, Sanders on the American Left and Trump on the Right are not an inchoate expression of public rage, but rather an indicator that a fully rational public has finally realised that the political consensus of the main political parties is not delivering what they need – be it middle class job security or success on the world stage.

The growth and prosperity delivered by the centrist political consensus in Britain has not been experienced uniformly by all citizens. That much is understandable – different policies will impact different socio-economic groups differently. What is unacceptable, though, is the fact that the centrists from both main parties never made a concerted effort to tweak those policies to help people who were left behind. They simply advocated more of the same.

More European Union. More government spending on the bloated, unreformed welfare state. More uncritical praise for the NHS. And more of the depressing view of Britain as nothing more than a nation of schools, hospitals and public services rather than a great nation built on our commercial, private sector initiative, and with boundless untapped potential.

Choose to treat the people like mindless, avaricious consumers rather than thinking, engaged citizens with a stake in their world, and you had better make damn sure that you deliver sufficient prosperity to keep everyone happy and distracted. This is how the centrists have treated us for years – essentially saying “you leave the global governance and great ideological questions to us, and in exchange we will deliver you a cheap supply of flat-screen TVs and other consumer goods”.

But when not everybody can afford the flat-screen TV or the iPhone or to scramble on to the property ladder, they start to look around them and notice things. Awkward things. Things like the fact that they no longer have the final say in issues affecting them, because sovereignty has been outsourced to the European Union. Or things like the character of their towns and cities – even their whole country – visibly changing because of levels of immigration about which they were never consulted. Or things like a broken welfare state which ensnares some people in lifelong dependency while allowing others to fall straight through the safety net to their deaths.

Brendan O’Neill picks up on this point – the fact that it is those who have not benefited economically from centrist consensus politics who are most likely to recognise that all is not well with our democracy – in his excellent piece in the Spectator:

The Third Wayists are quaking in their boots. The middle-class, middle-of-the-road technocrats who have dominated politics for the best part of three decades are freaking out. These people who bristle at anything ideological, are disdainful of heated debate, and have bizarrely turned the word ‘moderate’ into a compliment feel under siege. And no wonder they do, for on both sides of the Atlantic their very worst nightmare — a revenge of the plebs — is becoming flesh.

You can see this sometimes clumsy but nonetheless forceful reassertion of pleb power in everything from Trumpmania to the staggering back to life of Euroscepticism — or what snooty moderates call ‘Europhobia’, because every point of view that runs counter to their own must be a mental illness, right?

[..] In both Middle America and Middle England, among both rednecks and chavs, voters who have had more than they can stomach of being patronised, nudged, nagged and basically treated as diseased bodies to be corrected rather than lively minds to be engaged are now putting their hope into a different kind of politics. And the entitled Third Way brigade, schooled to rule, believing themselves possessed of a technocratic expertise that trumps the little people’s vulgar political convictions, are not happy. Not one bit.

And with regard to euroscepticism specifically:

We’ll see more of this in the coming months, more defamation of those who dare to say: ‘I don’t like Brussels.’ But Euroscepticism represents, not some swirling, xenophobic disgust with Europeans, as it has been pathologised by the pleb-fearing PC lobby, but a people’s feeling of exhaustion with the ossified oligarchy of the Brussels machine. It speaks to a desire among ordinary people to take back some control over their lives and destinies. And as The Economist pointed out, this Eurosceptic urge is strongest among the less well-educated — that is, the plebs, those tired of being treated as welfare, nudging and paternalism fodder by the new political elites.

So bring it on, this revenge of the plebs. Let’s cheer their rude, intemperate injection of ideology into the flat, lifeless sphere politics has become over the past 20 years. And let’s enjoy the squirming of an aloof political class and commentariat who mistakenly thought they had put the pesky masses and their troublesome views out to pasture.

If Tony Blair does not understand the anger and disillusionment directed not just at him but toward consensus politics in general – and there is no reason to doubt that his bewilderment is genuine – then one has to ask: what happened to the political nous of the man who won three consecutive general elections for Labour?

Why, when he has one foot firmly planted on each side of a massive new fault line emerging in our politics – not between Left and Right but between consensus politics’ winners and losers – is Tony Blair unable to understand his own starring role in precipitating the earthquake?

 

Bernie Sanders - Refutes Bernie Bros

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The Daily Toast: Tony Blair On Labour’s Future In The Age of Corbyn

Tony Blair - Labour Leadership - Jeremy Corbyn - Annihilation

The Labour Left may dismiss him as a Red Tory war criminal, but Tony Blair raises some awkward questions about what Labour stands for in the Age of Corbyn

In the Christmas special edition of The Spectator, Tony Blair offers a typically self-aggrandising but (to the Corbynite Left) infuriatingly perceptive take on the challenges facing Labour, and why the emboldened hard Left are not equal to the task before them.

Defending New Labour’s record in government between 1997-2010, Tony Blair writes:

In a society in which fewer and fewer people thought of themselves as traditional working class, we needed to build a new coalition between the aspirant up and coming and the poorest and most disadvantaged. For the task of winning power, the emphasis on the values of community, society, family, compassion and social justice was highly effective.

But for the task of governing, we had to do more than proclaim our values, we had to have the courage and creativity to apply them anew to a changing world and make what counted what worked rather than defending interests or tradition.

That’s the rub: what does Labour stand for in a society where fewer and fewer people  think of themselves as being working class, or attach any real meaning or identity to that label? And specifically, what does the Corbynite Left of the party stand for in this new reality?

Blair points to an uncomfortable truth for Labour. Because few people, other than the Owen Jones romantic Left, still obsess about class. And though economic inequality is very much a real thing, many of us share common tastes in popular culture to an extent which was simply not the case in the 1920s or even the 1950s.

What does social class even mean when thousands of one-percenters listen to the same pop music and partake of traditionally working class interests such as football, and the technological revolution has given the masses the same access to entertainment, culture and travel destinations as the very wealthy? Does class mean anything at all in 2015, besides being a shorthand way to describe a person’s accent? Arguably not.

So what has replaced the issue of class in our public discourse? The answer, of course, is the new obsession with equality. Nebulous and never clearly defined, the Left harp on about equality without ever explaining whether they are referring to equality of opportunity or equality of outcome. But as a crude generalisation, one could say that centrist Labour strives (however badly) for equality of opportunity, while the Corbynite Left dream of a word of total, enforced equality of outcome.

What unites these two warring factions within Labour is the fact that neither side have the first clue about how to use public policy to translate their vision into reality. Centrist Labour is intellectually dead and hasn’t had an original idea since Tony Blair left office, but the rot became particularly bad during the Ed Miliband era. Miliband’s speeches were full of meaningless platitudes and waffle about creating a “fair” Britain, but shockingly free of specific policies or strategies to reshape the country accordingly.

And the emboldened Left are full of spittle-flecked condemnation of the Evil Tories, not to mention the endless, preening virtue-signalling which has become their hallmark. But they offer no solutions either, just a 24/7 Twitter stream of criticism of Tory policy. Want to know what the Corbynites want to do with taxes or welfare? Good luck finding out. Most of them don’t have a clue, and the few that do know won’t say because they know that their real vision for Britain would be hugely unpalatable to the general electorate.

The danger for Labour in failing to stand for an election-winning coalition of voters – as they did when they represented a cohesive working class in the twentieth century – is that others will define Labour to the electorate, and not in a flattering way.

Already, the Conservatives are pushing the message that Labour are the party of welfare, entitlement and anybody who is a net “taker” from society. And what can Labour possibly say to counter this claim, when they can always be found popping up on television to denounce spending cuts without announcing anything amounting to a cohesive plan of their own?

Blair closes his Spectator piece by warning:

Right now we’re in danger of not asking the right questions never mind failing to get the right answers. All of it is about applying values with an open mind; not boasting of our values as a way of avoiding the hard thinking the changing world insists upon.

Unfortunately, even the anti-Corbyn elements of the Labour Party seem utterly unable to grasp this fundamental truth. And too often, it seems that all Labour know how to do is hate the Tories and boast about their own values, rather than identifying solid policies to put them into practice.

Consider how the recent vote on military action in Syria descended into a mudslinging sideshow, with the Corbynite left accusing anyone who disagreed with their pacifist stance of being an Evil Tory warmonger. Or the way that the Labour Party rode to battle against the tax credit changes, the welfare cap and the NHS junior doctors pay dispute, enthusiastically taking up arms against the Conservatives without uttering a word about how they would address very real problems of concern to many British voters.

On these issues and more, Labour currently propose no solutions. While military intervention in Syria may well fail or lead to a worse outcome, no alternative has been clearly outlined – assuming that airy talk about negotiating with ISIS is not to be taken seriously. Ask ten Labour MPs (including the shadow cabinet) what the party proposes to do about welfare or the NHS and you are likely to get fifteen different answers.

In his article, Tony Blair repeatedly argues against focusing on ideology:

Infrastructure, housing, social exclusion – all these challenges require more modernising and less ideological thinking.

But this is misleading. Strong viable governments only come about when there is a coherency and consistency of ideology which informs the policies offered to the electorate. It’s no good just coming up with a basket of pragmatic policies – people rightly see this for what it is: electoral opportunism.

Labour need to pick an ideology, whether it is that of their leader, that of Tony Blair or that of the incoherent band of uncharismatic centrists who currently pass for party heavyweights. And then they need to show the public that real, tangible policies for government can flow through the party, shaped and informed by those ideals. Labour’s credibility is currently so low that opportunistic opposition to individual Conservative policies will deliver them nothing at the ballot box. An alternative platform for government is what’s needed.

And that takes us back to the opening question: who does Labour actually represent in the Age of Corbyn and his sulky centrist antagonists, when nearly everybody with an aspirational bone in their body is abandoning the party?

Jeremy Corbyn - Labour Party - Andrew Marr Show - BBC

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Labour Has Lost The Ability To Persuade Its Own Members, Let Alone The Voters

Tony Blair - Labour Leadership - Jeremy Corbyn - Annihilation

Tony Blair attacked Jeremy Corbyn not thinking it would help, but in order to claim valuable “I told you so” points after a failed Corbyn leadership (which he would doubtless help to engineer). Why can’t the other candidates or their supporters make a positive, coherent case for their own campaigns?

Why has the Labour leadership contest descended into such a farce, with the bulk of party activists seemingly intent on going in one direction (Corbynland), and the angry rump of the Parliamentary Labour Party intent on thwarting their will by any means necessary?

Why has this become a contest characterised chiefly by the inability of nearly everyone – save Jeremy Corbyn – to connect with and persuade others that their candidate’s vision for the future of the Labour Party is the right one?

In truth, we should not be surprised. Because the Labour Party are conducting their leadership contest in exactly the same way that they fought – and lost – the general election in May. First, activists picked their team. And then they embarked on a deafening blitz of grandiose moralising and cheap virtue-signalling on behalf of their favoured candidate, barely pausing for breath and never stopping to hear to what the other teams are saying – other than to search for damaging soundbites, of course.

Apparently the Labour Party has forgotten how to campaign, in the age of social media. Where once there might have been an attempt to reach out to the supporters of rival candidates, to convince and persuade them that they should switch their support, instead there is a lot of shouting, a lot of sharing of internet memes, and not much else.

Unfortunately, the Labour Party’s big beasts are setting a terrible example to the broader membership by behaving in exactly the same way. Witness Tony Blair’s latest full-frontal attack on Jeremy Corbyn in the pages of the Guardian:

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Tony and Rebekah, Sitting In A Tree

 

Democracy cannot survive without a free press willing and able to act as a check on government power and behaviour.

The relationship between the government and the media should therefore be adversarial – although it was thuggish of David Cameron’s government to dispatch the Cabinet Secretary to the Guardian’s offices to bully them into destroying their computers in the wake of the Edward Snowden scandal, rather this terrible, flagrant abuse of power than the chilling alternative of Sir Jeremy Heywood popping by every single afternoon for tea, chitchat and a list of government-sanctioned news stories for publication.

But it is this latter, far more insidious type of close, symbiotic relationship that has been prevalent between parts of the British media and the politicians on whom they report and are supposed to keep in check.

Former prime minister Tony Blair may no longer occupy Number 10 Downing Street, but the self-evident warmth of his newly revealed correspondence with Rebekah Brooks – former chief executive of News International, now on trial for her alleged role in the phone hacking scandal – shows just how overfamiliar those in power can get to those who lead the publications who supposedly scrutinise them.

The following exchange of text messages between Tony Blair and Brooks on the day after her resignation, reported by The Guardian, really says it all:

Tony Blair: If you’re still going to parliament you should call me. I have experience of these things! Tx

Rebekah Brooks: Definitely depends on the police interview first. I have Stephen Parkinson [a lawyer] here today. I have never met him but people say he is good.

Tony Blair: He’s excellent.

Rebekah Brooks: Great news. Feeling properly terrified. Police are behaving so badly.

Tony Blair: Everyone panics in these situations and they will feel they have their reputation to recover. Assume you have quality QC advice? When’s the interview?

Rebekah Brooks: Sunday probably or Monday. Cms committee. Tuesday. Stephen bringing someone called Emma Hodges and we have QC.

Tony Blair: That’s good. I’m no use on police stuff but call me after that because I may be some help on Commons.

Rebekah Brooks: Great. Will do. X

There are two issues here. The first is the impropriety of a former UK prime minister essentially offering coaching to someone involved in a very current public scandal before they are due to give evidence at a parliamentary committee hearing. While there may be no legal prohibition on this type of interaction, it seems very morally dubious. Were the subject of the hearing about anything else it could perhaps be overlooked, but since it was a hearing of the Culture Select Committee specifically on the allegations of phone hacking and the issues raised about the behaviour of the press, Blair’s offer of counsel and friendly support seems to put him squarely on the side of the alleged perpetrators rather than the victims.

The second issue is the self-evident friendship between the former news executive and the former politician. Friendships such as these are forged over time, some of which was doubtless while Tony Blair was still  prime minister. If Tony Blair’s regard for Rebekah Brooks is such that he was offering her emotional support via text message at the height of the phone hacking scandal, what other acts of friendship was he bestowing upon her while he still occupied Number 10 Downing Street? And how might the publications that Brooks ran have reflected this friendship?

Some might argue that it is unfair to question the nature of this friendship. They are wrong – it is entirely appropriate. Serving as prime minister comes with certain responsibilities and standards of behaviour. It may not be part of the oath of office, but one of those responsibilities is surely to maintain professional relationships with business and the media. If both Tony Blair and Rebekah Brooks were doing their jobs properly during the period of his premiership, this would almost certainly have precluded any meaningful friendship from forming. If, however, they were behaving toward each other then as they apparently do so now, everything suddenly makes a lot more sense.

While the release of Tony Blair and Rebekah Brooks’ text message correspondence doesn’t really tell us anything that we didn’t already know – that our elected leaders are sometimes far too close to the press barons who help to control the news agenda – seeing the evidence in black and white is still unsettling.

Recalling Tony Blair as prime minister and then juxtaposing this new image of “T” sending kiss-laden text messages to the woman who then edited Britain’s most-read newspaper casts that era in a whole new, sordid light. The dirty, illicit feeling that reading these messages evokes would be more at home in the television series “House of Cards” than real-world Britain.

We deserve better from our politicians, and from the news media.