The hysterical response to Tony Blair’s speech betrays the Leave campaign’s fear that they will be held to account for their campaign promises, argues Pat McFadden MP
Tony Blair knows that whenever he makes a speech there is first the “shoot the messenger” issue – those on both right and left who will not engage with what he says but will express fury at him saying anything at all.
For the right this is about trying to negate the voice of a Labour leader who beat them three times and challenged the presumption they hold of their right to rule.
For the left, some of it is about Iraq but some of it is an oppositionalist mindset that sees power only as betrayal and therefore those who have wielded it only as traitors. Better the purity of protest than the tough business of actually governing.
But shoot the messenger is a pitifully inadequate response to a serious intervention. And in any case, the issues surrounding Brexit are simply too important for people to stand on the sidelines.
So what of the substance?
Blair’s central argument was that in a democracy people have a right to change their mind. The hysterical resistance to that notion among those who led the Leave campaign is born out of fear – fear that their arguments will be exposed and that they will have to account for what comes next.
There has been some wilful distortion that in talking about imperfect information Blair was somehow insulting the voters. Not so. Instead he was making the point that no one, including the M
ministers in charge of this, can know where we will be in two years time in relation to trade, investment, the potential constitutional consequences or the security implications of the process we are about to embark on.
So yes, we accept the result of the referendum, but that does not mean giving in to the rightwing bullying that says all discussion and debate on what happens next should stop. It should not mean we give in to the distortion of patriotism that says it is undermining to the country to care deeply about the welfare of its people and its standing in the world. Parliamentary democracy has not ended. People still have a right to ask questions and hold the government to account. And in my view parliament has a right to more than a vote on the outcome but a meaningful say on its contents.
And of course, for the centre-left this is not only about Brexit itself. It is also about developing a better answer to the discontents of globalisation, to the sense many working-class communities have about being left out of the country’s economic story. We win when we offer a hopeful uplifting and credible vision of the future which commands broad working and middle-class support. We are a long way from that and there is much to do.
Pat McFadden MP is a former shadow minister for Europe