LDV readers say: overwhelming NO to idea of EU President Blair

by Stephen Tall on November 18, 2009

A couple of weeks back, LDV posed the question, Do you support or oppose Tony Blair becoming the first President of the European Union?

There’s no room for doubt about the overwhelming view of readers of this site (who may or may not be representative of Lib Dem supporters more generally) – here’s what you told us:

>> 27% (144 votes): Yes – no matter what you think of Blair, Europe needs his leadership abilities
>> 73% (389): No – he is the wrong person for the job
Total Votes: 533 Poll ran: 28th October – 17th November 2009

I agree with the majority view – for all his undoubted qualities, Mr Blair’s style of grandstanding, sofa government strikes me as the very opposite of what the European Union needs. I think Nick Clegg was spot-on in his views:

Blair really is the wrong person for this job. He won’t be very good at it and he will not enjoy it. This job is about giving the EU strength that is the sum of its parts, and it is not importing Hollywood stardust in the hope that a political globetrotting superstar will transform the fortunes of the EU.”

Conversely, I think the tactics of Tory shadow foreign secretary William Hague have proven that, for all his advancement of years, he has yet to mature as a politician. The Tories vigorously opposed Mr Blair’s candidacy, though for very different reasons than Mr Clegg – indeed, Mr Hague’s attacks on the man who bested him at the 2001 general election seemed wildly OTT (“over my dead body”) for a man who might soon be leading Britain’s diplomatic strategy in Europe and beyond.

Mr Hague and the Tories’ tactics were a mistake:

1) The Tories look unpatriotic – they have given the appearance of preferring a Belgian prime minister over a British ex-prime minister.
2) The Tories have missed a tactical opportunity – there are many wavering New Labour voters who remain fans of Mr Blair. Mr Hague should have been love-bombing them, not acting gratuitously ungraciously.
3) The Tories look isolationist – for all that they’ve achieved their aim in helping kaibosh Mr Blair’s hopes, Mr Hague’s actions have reinforced the view (at home and abroad) that the UK is much happier grumbling than grappling.

Are any of those also issues for the Lib Dems? Potentially, but Europe is not as divisive issue for our party: no one doubts our commitment to trying to make the EU work better, and we actively promoted the idea of alternative British candidates. The Tories meanwhile seem determined with every action they take – leaving the EPP, blocking Blair – to demonstrate they have no wish to adopt a grown-up foreign policy in Europe.

Shouting angrily from the sidelines, never wanting to get stuck in on the pitch, seems to be their preferred position. It might not matter in opposition; it will sure as hell matter in government.