Tony Blair recently made a speech (here) where he spoke about the need for a directly elected President of Europe. Not surprisingly, as soon as he made the speech, the usual suspects made their remarks about how Blair was pretty much advocating a job that he quite fancied himself. This raises an obvious question: could Tony Blair be elected President of Europe?
The default conventional logic is that Blair’s Iraq legacy makes him unelectable in Europe. I’m not so sure. People forget that Tony Blair is probably the greatest political communicator of his generation, and led the Labour Party to victory on three occasions. More importantly, Tony Blair made people who would never have considered voting Labour (like me) look at the party in a new way.
I always equate Blair with Richard Nixon. Now, I’m sure Blair would just love that comparison, but students of political history who study Nixon recognise that like Blair, Nixon had an incredible ability to read the political gut of American voters and find where the centre really was. In 1972 Nixon won reelection in a landslide that carried EVERY SINGLE STATE except Massachusetts. Nixon now, post Cambodia, Allende and Watergate is painted as a far-right possibly unhinged monster, but for most of his political career Richard Nixon was Mr. Middle America. Not just that, but his political skills got him from first term Congressman to Vice President in six years, party nominee for president in 1960, which he lost by a tiny fraction, and then, incredibly, the ability to come back successfully in 1968 as the New Nixon, the standard bearer of moderate sensible American values.
Let’s imagine the scenario. The office of elected President of the European Union, combining the Commission and Council President, is declared. The EU parties, the EPP, the PES, the ELDR and The Greens start looking for candidates, mostly amongst the faceless masses of the European Parliament.
Then Blair announces that he wishes to seek the nomination of the European People’s Party. The whatnow, you say? But, wasn’t Blair a member of the Labour Party? Yes he was, but only because Britain didn’t have a proper Christian Democratic party. He asks to be allowed attend and address the EPP convention, where he is nominated by former Irish prime minister John Bruton, and then addresses the meeting in English, French, and a little apologetic Spanish and Italian. He talks about the European centre, about his Catholic faith which warms the Bavarians, Spanish and Italians, about his commitment to Europe as an equal partner with the USA, which sits nicely with the Germans and the Dutch, and about the need to balance the free market with social cohesion, which sits nicely with Christian Democrat philosophy. On Iraq, he defends the values that led to his decisions, but accepts that if he knew then what he knew now…he is eloquent, funny, self-deprecating, still good looking for his age and by the end of the meeting the panel of ex-commissioners and MEPs intending to throw their hats into the ring look very second-tier indeed. The nomination is his for the asking.
As for the campaign, if the other parties manage to nominate candidates of equal electoral charisma, like Joscka Fischer, then it’s game on. But what are the chances that they will nominate candidates with the same household recognition as Blair? Sure, the far left will go ballistic, and dog his campaign across Europe, but so what? They were never going to vote for him anyway, and they never seem to get the fact that their high profile hysteria will recruit as many supporters to Blair as they will cost him.
Then, of course, Blair will do what he is a master at: He’ll ignore the hard left, savage the hard right and construct around himself a coalition of moderate centre-left and centre-right people whose values he will identify and speak for, the great silent majority who wants jobs, law and order, decent public services, a non-ideological approach to problem solving and who really don’t like extremism be it religious or political. Or as we used to call them: Blairites.