‘Time to rise up against Brexit,’ says Blair

Call to arms: Blair wants to find ‘a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge’. © PA

On Friday Tony Blair issued a rallying cry to those who want to keep Britain in the EU. He believes that the Brexit vote was based on a lack of knowledge. Is he right? And does it matter?

It is 20 years since Tony Blair’s Labour Party won a landslide at the 1997 British general election. Then he was the man of the future, the purveyor of a new type of politics: liberal, pro-capitalism and internationalist.

Now he is one of Britain’s most divisive figures. And on Friday he spoke out about the issue dividing British politics: Brexit.

Blair is not a fan. Speaking in the City of London, he said it was his ‘mission’ to persuade Britons to ‘rise up’ and change their minds on leaving the European Union. ‘We should have the opportunity to reconsider this decision’, he said.

He also criticised the current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for encouraging his party to vote for the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty — the official EU exit process.

Nick Clegg, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, tweeted: ‘I agreed with every word of that.’

But others were scathing of Blair’s intervention. The former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith called the speech ‘arrogant’, while Boris Johnson urged British people to ‘rise up and turn off the TV next time Blair comes on with his condescending campaign’.

Perhaps the most controversial comment in the speech came when Blair said people voted ‘without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit’.

This echoes complaints from those who were opposed to a referendum in the first place: that the issues at stake are so complex — who, for example, really knows what the ‘single market’ is? — that the decision cannot be left to ordinary people.

Research since the vote has shown that education levels had a higher correlation with voting patterns than any other factor, with those with degrees far more likely to be pro-EU than those without.

But many voters are ignorant about parties’ policies at general elections too. Does this matter?

Knowledge is power

Yes it does, say some. How can people make a rational decision about anything based on a complete lack of knowledge? The fact that low education levels correlated with anti-EU sentiment proves that this decision was based on ignorance. This ignorance was capitalised on by the campaigns, which twisted facts and dredged up dodgy statistics to make their case.

But Dominic Cummings, the former campaign director of Vote Leave, sees it differently. Writing in The Spectator, he says that ‘the idea that millions of graduates voted because they studied the issues is laughable’. Instead, Cummings says, the better educated are actually more likely to hold irrational opinions than the less educated, because ‘they are more driven by fashion, a gang mentality, and the desire to pose about moral and political questions’. Sometimes, more knowledge may not result in greater wisdom.

You Decide

  1. Should those who voted to remain in the EU accept the referendum result?
  2. Would you like Tony Blair to be Britain’s prime minister again?

Activities

  1. Give clear, concise definitions of the following terms: ‘single market’, ‘customs union’, ‘freedom of movement’, ‘European commission’ and ‘Member of the European Parliament’.
  2. Research a former prime minister of the United Kingdom and give a five minute presentation about him or her to your class.

Some People Say...

“Only people with university degrees should have the right to vote.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why does a speech by a former prime minister matter to me?
The issue about the effect of education levels on political views is very relevant to you, whether or not you are planning on going to university. What is most important is to try to avoid simply copying the opinions of those you spend time with and to think independently.
Tony Blair says that Britain’s exit from the EU is ‘not inevitable’. Is he right?
Eight months on from the vote to leave, Britain has still not triggered Article 50, which gives Britain and the EU two years to negotiate a deal before Britain officially leaves. But the Conservative government promised to trigger it by the end of March, and has a majority in the House of Commons to push it through. It is overwhelmingly likely that Britain will leave the EU.

Word Watch

Most divisive
Blair came into office with higher approval ratings than any other post-war prime minister, but he is now hated by many. His decision to take military action in Iraq, which he still says he does not regret, was a major factor in damaging Blair’s credibility among the electorate.
Lisbon Treaty
An agreement that amends the two treaties which form the constitutional basis of the EU, the others being the Treaty of Rome and the Treaty of Maastricht.
Dodgy statistics
The Leave campaign’s claim that Britain sends £350m to the EU every week was seen as dishonest by many, as was Remain’s claim that leaving the EU would cost families £4,300 every year.
Dominic Cummings
Seen by many as the mastermind of Brexit, Cummings is a former advisor to Michael Gove. His truculent style and his disdain for politicians has made him a ‘marmite figure’: his admirers revere him as a genius, but Nick Clegg calls him a ‘loopy ideologue’.

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