By Tim Focas
“While politics is, on occasions, the place of low skulduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes, and I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. That is that, the end.” Ten years after uttering these poignant final words at the dispatch box, Blair is back! Only this time, he’s fighting a very different war – a full scale financial attack on the biggest democratic vote in Britain’s history.
It’s hardly surprising. After all, this was the man who was once snapped cycling around Amsterdam followed by a platoon of EU leaders. And if his latest set of company accounts are anything to go by, Blair’s love of European integration has in no way mellowed. In his latest move, Blair plans to shift over £9 million from his own consultancy firm to a new institute aiming to tackle “the new wave of populism”. Even for Blair, this move is somewhat baffling. Particularly when one assesses his own party’s effort, or lack of, to keep Britain inside the institution he values so dearly.
It would be foolish for Blair to think that this era of populism is only emanating from the right. Today, Labour is almost unrecognisable from the three-term election winning machine that used to eat Tory leaders for breakfast. The party has shifted away from political pragmatism to the very thing Blair’s crusade is trying to stop. From Keynesian economics on steroids with pledges to inject £500 billion into infrastructure spending, to the reintroduction of the 50p top rate of income tax and renationalising the railways, it is the left of his former party that is helping to define this age of populism.
Hence why a large chunk of Blair’s cash should be put towards opposing these very populist policies his own party would like to implement. It is not as if taking the fight to the left of Labour is new to Blair. The trouble for Blair is that getting his own side to shift even slightly to the centre is only half the battle. Unlike Blair’s time in at Number 10, the political landscape now involves right aping populist language from the left in order to win votes. When a Republican President elect proceeds over an agenda of scrapping free trade agreements, and a far-right French leader condemns austerity measures as “draconian”, the only thing Blair can be sure is that his fight against popularism will only achieve similar outcomes to the war in Iraq – long term pain for very little gain. At least this time, the only thing to take a hit will be Blair’s balance sheet.
Tim Focas is Director of Financial Services and the City of London at Parliament Street