Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
23 years ago, Tony Blair walked on water. In becoming the UK’s youngest Prime Minister of the 20th century, Blair not only ended 18 years of Conservative electoral rule, but won a majority of 179. With the support of traditionally conservative papers, a whopping majority and the 13% more support than the Conservatives, Blair could have gotten away with saying almost anything. Instead he repeated banalities and soundbites instead of offering genuine insight to the British public.
It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that where he now offers insight and pragmatism, he is vilified by those same newspapers, those some voters and those same MPs. Blair has long held developed and nuanced opinions on Brexit– lamenting the “dilemma” of division in Britain, understanding both the “underlying grievances” with Europe and the benefits membership brought. Blair has transitioned from soundbites to speeches, from idioms to insight.
With our current government (leniently) being described as “badly behind the curve”, Blair has offered a pragmatic and forward-thinking solution to COVID-19 vaccination debates. There is evidence, supported by such figures within the scientific community as the former Head of Immunisation at the Department of Health, that suggests that whilst the two identical jabs lead to 95% immunity, a lone vaccination can lead to 91% protection. Blair’s argument was that; in a race against time, we should use all the vaccinations as soon as they arrive as a first jab. Through this, we would theoretically give twice as many people 91% vaccination, twice as fast, as a double vaccination two weeks apart offering 95% protection. It would be an interim measure, with single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccinations available from the end of January- but every little counts.
Blair offers more suggestions, ranging from the obvious (improve data systems to capture every test result, increase lateral flow rapid testing) to the controversial (the suggestion that individuals should be issued with a health passport- for travel abroad but also possibly for accessing bars and restaurants). In fact, he suggests that the latter should be the “sole course for action”, despite the “objections” he acknowledges.
Whatever you think of Blair- and I have more than enough reservations and fair criticisms- these are valid, insightful and sometimes innovative suggestions. Since Blair’s comments, the government has, surprisingly, instigated a similar policy of delaying the second dose, although it does remain obstinate in its refusal to consider health passports. Blair’s trajectory, however, points not only to the hero or zero nature of British media. It also offers wider insight. It is often remarked how poultry the options for leadership are (just look at the Conservative and Labour leadership races over the last 18 or so months). Whatever party affiliations or past failings, the nation benefits from the continued engagement of former leaders. It helps no one when they have their “trotters up” in Nice. Theresa May leading a backbench rebellion was a welcome reminder that those who have reached the pinnacle are harder to bully, more experienced and less easy to bribe into silence than those who haven’t, and still want to. Tony Blair may be fated to become a Cassandra-like figure; but his interventions show the benefits of reading yesterday’s news.