Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged voters to choose candidates who oppose Brexit amid speculation he will support the Liberal Democrats in the upcoming snap U.K. election in 2017.
In a statement released yesterday, Blair encouraged voters to support candidates who had an “open mind” on Brexit, and has previously stated his support for a second referendum. This aligns him with the Liberal Democrats as a senior party official noted.
“We are the only party that opposes a hard Brexit and believes the British people should have their say in a second EU referendum.”
Blair, who won three general elections and spent 10 years as prime minister when he was the leader of the Labour Party, has been a vocal critic of the current leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
And it seems he is willing to go further and support the Liberal Democrats in the June election. In a 1,200-word statement, Blair stated that “unique circumstances require a unique response” as Liberal Democrat officials confirmed he could share a pro-Europe campaign stage with their leader, Tim Farron.
Tony Blair, Europe, and the 2017 Election
Since leaving office in 2007, Tony Blair stayed largely out of the political eye until 2015. Following the significant U.K. election defeat of the former Labour leader, Blair encouraged Labour to “reclaim the political centre ground.” This was a call to repeat his own efforts to move Labour from being a left-wing, unionist party to being a centre-left party that had achieved such monumental success in the late ’90s.
But the Labour Party members did just the opposite, electing a leader whose mandate moved the party back towards its union-based, socialist roots on the left side of the political spectrum.
Tony Blair has also been vocal about the issues surrounding Brexit, warning against the vote as far back as when it was promised by David Cameron in the run-up to the 2015 election.
Why Tony Blair will side with the Liberal Democrats
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, has taken the stance of making his party the prominent anti-Brexit party.
While the SNP may well also be vocal opponents of the move to take Britain out of the EU, their focus has been more focused on Scottish independence and Scotland-centric issues. The Liberal Democrats, however, have told the public it is the party that will give them the “chance to change the direction of your country.” They have stated that they are in support of holding a second EU referendum.
It is very unlikely that the Liberal Democrats could either get into power (their parliamentary share was decimated at the last election, losing 49 of their 57 seats with just 7.9 percent of the vote) or be able to overturn the Brexit bill which has now been formally triggered. Yet Tony Blair’s support suggests that those who oppose Brexit see the Liberal Democrats as the only party that can retain a strong dissenting voice against a dominant Conservative majority.
That Tony Blair would choose not to back the party he led for over a decade in the U.K. election in 2017 is hugely significant. The rise of New Labour was the last shift in the U.K. political spectrum when they won the 1997 election by a landslide. This was welcomed by the large majority of the general public on a wave of popularity not dissimilar to that seen in the U.S. when Barack Obama was first elected president.
Blair was scathing in his assessment of the current Labour Party’s failings, saying that the likely Conservative majority will be “delivered not because of the intrinsic merits of Brexit or the Tories themselves but because of the state of Labour.”
Yet Blair was neither explicit in his support for the Liberal Democrats nor did he encourage “tactical voting or some anti-Tory alliance.” He simply stated that he hoped “as many MPs as possible with an open mind” on Brexit will be elected so that they can “vote according to the quality of the deal and the interests of the British people.”
As the U.K. election campaign begins in a hurry, its seems that Tony Blair will return to the political stage once more. But for the U.K. election in 2017, it is likely to be a yellow rosette on his jacket rather than the red one so associated with the former prime minister.
[Featured Image by Carl Court/Getty Images]