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Politics & Governance

The Best Policy Solutions Lie in the Centre Ground

Commentary6th December 2016

Judy Woodruff: This year has marked a rise in partisan political divides the world over. But former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is on a mission to encourage citizens across the globe to move toward the middle.

I spoke with him earlier this evening, and began by asking about building an agenda for what he calls the centre ground.

Tony Blair: What it means is, as you can see from here and from Europe at the moment, from Britain, there’s a huge wave of anti-establishment feeling. There’s an enormous amount of anger. And it’s collapsing governments and political movements across the world right now.

And my view is that we’re entering into a situation of enormous instability, insecurity, fragility. And because I happen to believe that the best policy solutions lie in the centre ground, then I want to see, how does the centre revitalise itself? How does it develop the policy agenda for the future? And how do we link up people who have the same basic ideas and attachments to the same basic values across the world?

Judy Woodruff: So, are you talking about creating new political parties in the middle?

Tony Blair: No. It’s really about linking up people who look at what is happening in the world, know that the world needs change, and not the status quo, don’t want the centre to be a place where we’re just managing the status quo, but instead where we’re really articulating change and developing a policy agenda that’s going to allow us to address the concerns of people left behind by globalisation and, you know, communities that are fragmented, and allows us also to address it in a way which provides answers, and not just anger.

Judy Woodruff: And, I mean, what we see in the United States is both political parties pretty fiercely jealously guard their own territory.

Tony Blair: Yes.

Judy Woodruff: The Republicans don’t want to give up any ground. The Democrats don’t want to give up any ground. Is there really room left for something in the middle?

Tony Blair: Well, there’s a necessity, I think, because the trouble with today’s politics — and it’s exactly the same on the other side of the Atlantic — is that people — and this is partly as a result, I think, of social media interacting with conventional media.

And people divide into groups where they talk to each other, but don’t talk across the divide. And yet most of the challenges we face in the world today are challenges that are to do with trade, with technology, with how you make sure that people are properly educated, reform your health care system.

These are challenges that we all share in common. And they require practical solutions. I mean, they may be radical, indeed, in many circumstances, should be, but they need to be practical, evidence-based, and capable of not just exploiting people’s anger or riding their anger, but saying, this is something that’s going to improve your life.

I mean, we have taken a situation in the UK because of concerns, for example, over immigration and other things, so Britain now is on a path out of Europe.

Judy Woodruff: Right.

Tony Blair: I still hope we will ultimately change our mind about that.

Judy Woodruff: You hope it will be reversed?

Tony Blair: I think, as people see what it really means, and when we see the alternative offer on the table, then I think people may think again.

But I can’t tell that at the moment. The likelihood at the moment is we just proceed with Brexit. This is a huge decision that we have taken that’s going to isolate us as a country at the very point in time when the world is moving closer together.

So, it’s a — this for me is a — I have always been in that center ground — in my case, on the center-left in politics. But I think, right now, there is an urgency about it.

And you look, for example, at what has just happened in Italy.

Judy Woodruff: Right.

Tony Blair: You see, in Austria, OK, people say, well, it’s great because the more moderate person won. I mean, someone with a — frankly, a virtually neo-Nazi battleground got almost 46 percent of the vote. So, this is serious.

Judy Woodruff: But what we’re looking at in Europe is a move away from what was the traditional centre of politics to the right. Why isn’t that — why isn’t the right ascendant right now, or why don’t you believe the right is ascendant?

Tony Blair: Well, it may be ascendant in political terms, but the question is whether they have got answers to the problems people face.

Look, if you’re living in a community that’s become fragmented and left behind, there’s not proper investment in it and so on, in the end, the answer is to make sure that we go and we help those communities, we educate the people properly, we build the necessary infrastructure of support for people.

It’s not, in the end, stopping a process of globalisation that isn’t ultimately a policy of governments. It’s driven by people, by technology, by migration, by the way the world’s changed.

So, the risk we have is that we close down in the face of this. And then, of course, as all the history demonstrates, you end up becoming protectionist, isolationist. You end up with even bigger problems.

Judy Woodruff: Well, and I want so ask you about that, because, of course, we have just elected in the United States Donald Trump, who would argue, I think, that he’s somewhere in the centre. He’s not far right. He’s certainly not far left.

And I want to specifically ask you, Tony Blair, about his foreign policy moves. He had a phone call the other day with the president of Taiwan, which is raising all kinds of questions about the US relationship with China. He has had phone calls with the prime minister of Pakistan, friendly phone calls.

Do you have any observations to make about his early moves and what he said about foreign policy?

Tony Blair: No. And, I mean, the reason for that is, I think what — in this period of time, I would virtually discount everything. Let’s wait and see what actually happens. And I…

Judy Woodruff: Do you have concerns, though? I mean, he talked in the campaign about whether NATO is necessary anymore.

Tony Blair: Well, I think it’s really important that we — that NATO’s got a vital role to play. It’s very important that we protect NATO.

But I’m one of these people that, once you have had your election and you have elected your candidate, let’s see what actually happens. There’s no point, and there’s certainly not for me as an outsider giving a running commentary on the president-elect.

Judy Woodruff: But, as somebody who’s been in the centre, at the centre of policy-making in the West, to have a president coming in who’s already stirring this kind of comment and controversy…

Tony Blair: Stirring is OK. It just depends what happens in the end.

I mean, look, ultimately, this will be decided by what policies are adopted by the new administration. The president-elect, I don’t — has not chosen yet his secretary of state.

Judy Woodruff: Right.

TB: Actually, the choice on defense is…

Judy Woodruff: General Mattis.

Tony Blair: Yes, most people would have a high regard for. So, I’m — for me, let’s wait and see what actually happens.

And, in a sense, what is more motivating to me is not a result in a particular case. It’s, what are these practical solutions that are going to allow us to develop our countries in the way that protects the basic liberal democratic values and are values that are dear to me and are the essence of the success of our countries, in my view?

Judy Woodruff: Tony Blair, joining us to talk about the centre ground, and waiting and seeing on the president-elect, thank you very much.

Tony Blair: Thank you.

Watch the full video and listen to the audio here


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