Sketch: The return of Tony Blair

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 24 February 2017 in Comment

Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson descend into the Brexit debate

The deepest condolences to all those unaffected by events in Sweden.

News of what hadn’t happened in Scandinavia was broken by President Donald Trump, who, in justifying his travel ban, told an audience to “look at what’s happening [sic] last night in Sweden.”

A shudder ran around the arena. Even nice, peaceful Sweden was at risk. It was too awful to think about, and the fact the tragedy in question had not actually occurred will not make it any easier to deal with. After all, if something is so horrible it didn’t even happen, how can you hope to get closure?

At the time of writing, nations around the world aren’t rallying to help the country rebuild. With inappropriately small allen keys and boxes of flat-pack furniture not flooding in from all across the globe, efforts to begin again will not be as efficient as they are baffling.


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It later transpired Trump’s comments hadn’t come from an intelligence briefing, just something he had seen on Fox News. God help us if he ever discovers the sci-fi channel. He’s basically one step away from basing policy on the rise of dark wizards.

But, beyond Trump, the crisis also raised questions about Theresa May’s leadership, with the PM seemingly convinced she doesn’t need to comment on the most disgusting event in modern memory, just because no one can remember it.

To be fair, though, May had other things to occupy her. Things far more real, and far more horrible than anything that’s ever happened in Sweden. She had to deal with Tony Blair – who descended into the Brexit debate, receiving much the same reception as that of a vampire intervening in the workings of the village. And there is certainly something vampiric about the former PM. The paleness. The easy charm. The careful manners. The tendency to launch campaigns of extreme violence with no prior warning.

Arriving in London on an empty ship in the dead of night, Blair had come to denounce the Government. “They’re not driving this bus. They’re being driven. And as we pass each milestone, so the landscape, in which we are operating, changes not because we have willed the change, but because this is the direction in which the bus is travelling. We will trigger Article 50 not because we now know our destination, but because the politics of not doing so would alienate those driving the bus.”

Who was driving the bus? He never actually said. He just seemed to be describing the plot of the movie Speed.

Finishing, Blair declared that now is “the time to rise up in defence of what we believe”, and the intervention was important, because no one understands the power of public protest to shift the stance of Government on matters of international affairs better than Tony Blair.

The comments even drew Jeremy Corbyn out of hiding. Striking back against Blair’s claim that Labour was acting as “the facilitator of Brexit”, Corbyn argued: “We are going to be outside the European Union.”

It wasn’t particularly convincing, but then maybe that’s what Corbyn’s new, kinder type of politics is all about. The man is the political equivalent of a snoozing Labrador. In fact, what a lot of people don’t know about Jeremy Corbyn is that he can carry an egg in his mouth without breaking it. And he regularly does.

But resistance was useless, because Blair had sent out Peter Mandelson to defend the plan. Pressed by Andrew Marr for more details about this ‘rising up’, Mandelson explained: “We firmly believe that many people who voted in the referendum had no idea of the terms on which the Government would decide to leave the EU.”

This seemed fair enough, but what exactly did he mean by ‘rise up’? “What we’re saying,” Mandelson explained, “is sign up to Open Britain, give us some money and help us campaign against this Brexit at all costs.”

Give us some money – not a bad plan, then. People often refer to Mandelson as the ‘Prince of Darkness’, which is really unfair, because he is actually just a Lord. But still, at least he knows how the second chamber works, using his appearance to urge his colleagues to “not throw in the towel early”.

And it’s always interesting to switch over to the Lords. It’s like finding an old football World Cup sticker album and remembering the stars of days gone by. The place is like an alternative universe, where everything is a different colour and all the ministers who lost elections years ago are still in power.

But it’s reassuring to know the place exists, and that any forgotten MP who loses their seat could well be there right now, sleeping on the backbenches, in much the same way that a child believes that a dead pet has just gone to live on a farm. Not that any of that mattered much in the end, with peers nodding at the first reading despite Mandelson’s protests. And so it turned out to be a very confusing week, with Trump lamenting a tragedy that hadn’t actually happened, and Tony Blair trying to undo an event that had already happened, and with none of it making any difference to anyone.

Forget Sweden, trying to understand the current state of the UK shows fact can be stranger than fiction.

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