It’s all so undignified that I can understand Tony Blair’s reluctance to declare himself. The skirmish over who will be the European Union’s first President has become so intensely personal, and silly, that Britain’s political class has managed to forget the only issue that should really be at stake; our national interest.
The Conservative Party don’t come out of this well. There is a logic to part of their argument – they don’t want a President at all so why would they campaign for it to be Blair? But the rest of their complaints simply don’t wash. Last night Mark Francois, Tory spokesperson on all issues Brussels, claimed that it would be undemocratic for Blair to get the job because he had been forced out of power in Britain. This is a strange argument to make. It is just about conceivable that, in removing a Prime Minister mid-term and replacing him without any electoral process, the Labour Party acted in a way that demonstrated a lack of concern for democratic principles. But, to suggest that this in some way disqualifies Tony Blair for a completely different job, with a completely different remit, is extraordinary.
The Conservative Party needs to be more pragmatic about this issue. They can continue to oppose the Lisbon Treaty by all means but, if it is ratified before they are in office, there is very little they can do about it (as demonstrated by the frontbench’s refusal to explain how, exactly, they would ‘ensure that matters do not rest there’). In this, worst-case, scenario we will need to ensure that Britain’s interests are adequately guarded in the new governance of the EU.
What better way to do this than having Britain’s most famous and internationally recognized former Prime Minister take up a central role? Yes, there are political differences between Blair and his ‘heirs’ but on the big issues of foreign policy he would prove a worthy advocate for Britain and our interests. Blair is, after all, an Atlanticist, an advocate of universal human rights and a passionate critic of ‘old Europe’ and their reluctance to engage with the world’s most pressing problems.
The Lisbon Treaty will, in all likelihood, be law by the time the Conservative Party comes to power. By using up political capital to scupper Blair’s chances the Party is placing old, partisan resentments above our nation’s interest. If they want to influence the future direction of the EU, perhaps even renegotiate the elements of the treaty that cause them concern, they will need leverage and influence – exactly the resources that Blair can bring to the job.