At the end of last year MPs and commentators were left fuming about what had happened to David Davis’s “now you see them, now you don’t” impact assessments on the economic outcomes of Brexit.
Never fear. Politics abhors a vacuum, and Tony Blair’s Global Institute for Change has stepped in to fill in the detail, leading Alistair Campbell to chide Theresa May that a former PM has done more detailed economic research than the current one on the most important political decision for a generation.
Blair hit the airwaves yesterday morning with some chilling statistics on the drag on growth, the rising cost of living, and skills shortages across the board including an 89% fall in applications to become a midwife. Moreover, the report also showed that those areas in the North of England which voted most strongly to leave would hurt the most.
The key thing to take away from Blair’s argument is that he says that 2018 will be the last chance for the public to have a say on whether or not the deal being negotiated with the EU will be better than the existing one. He is pushing Labour to take a strong principled position and differentiate itself with what he calls “the Tory Brexit”.
This approach creates a problem for the Labour leadership, who have pursued a policy of constructive ambiguity in order to balance affluent middle class remainers with huge swathes of the electorate in its northern heartlands who voted to come out.
Jeremy Corby has consistently ruled out a second poll both in recognition of the political risk associated with going against the “will of the people” but also because his world view over thirty years has been that the EU is a bosses club and that its regional aid rules will block his plans for infrastructure investment.
However, polling from the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary Institute, conducted in December, shows that eight out of ten Labour members either agree or strongly agree with having a second vote.
This would indicate that the vast majority of Labour’s half a million members are aligned with the unions and the Parliamentary Labour Party in support of remaining in the EU – or at least in the single market and customs unions.
Despite the opprobrium that Mr Blair’s interventions draw from Labour’s new model army, his analysis and political approach remains the only coherent argument coming from the left of centre.
The public are overwhelmingly bored with Brexit and just want to get on with it. It is conceivable that, even when the chlorinated economic chickens come home to roost, they may not even lay the blame at the door of Gove and Co. and look, instead, for saboteurs and enemies within to take the blame.
However, as Phil Collins argues in the Times, the only person with the reach and credibility able to cut through remains Jeremy Corbyn. It is highly unlikely he’ll take advice from Tony Blair but without him, it would seem, the remain case will be lost.