- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2020

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair — once the face of center-left politics in Europe — says progressive moderates in the U.S. and U.K. today must get smarter about out-messaging “radical” populists in their midst.

Regarded by many as the most successful Labour Party leader in Britain’s history, Mr. Blair told an audience in Washington this week that the moderate left must “redefine what being radical means.”

“To beat populism, we have to be politically competent, strategically focused, and redefine the progressive challenge for the modern world,” Mr. Blair said at the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank aligned with centrist Democrats.

The 66-year-old, who was prime minister in Britain from 1997 to 2007 and was a Labour Party stalwart prior to that, said center-left leaders today need to get better at explaining how technology can be harnessed to bring about fairness and social change sought by so many around the world.

His appearance in Washington came as the Democrat field ahead of next November’s U.S. election has boiled down to a battle between 78-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders’ far-left populism and 77-year-old former Vice President Joe Biden’s more centrist posturing.

Mr. Blair’s comments, which were live streamed on the internet, also come against a backdrop of disunity gripping Britain’s Labour Party, which suffered a stunning defeat in December 2019, as current Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party swept to power with a majority in British Parliament.

The Johnson victory spiked a years-long period of disarray within Labour, whose centrist forces have been outspoken with their frustration toward the far-left and radical leanings of outgoing party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Since December, Mr. Blair has gone increasingly public with his own criticisms of the far-left within Labour.

As he has grappled with the loss of Labour’s superiority in parliament, Mr. Blair said Thursday, he has come to a conclusion: In an era of “authoritarian populism,” it is time to redefine “radical.”

Mr. Blair said he sees similarities between the political climate among progressives in the U.K. and the U.S., particularly as the moderate Mr. Biden and the self-proclaimed democratic socialist Mr. Sanders battle for the Democrat party nomination.

The former British prime minister described the situation as a familiar representation of “two camps” of progressives being on display.

In one “camp,” Mr. Blair said, there is a “reincarnation” of the old left, who share a desire for “radical change,” believe the “system is rigged,” and are bolstered by the younger generation that claims a similar agenda.

In the other camp lives the former lawmakers and governors, who are appalled by the revival of the “old left” and desire moderation, but are labeled “unexciting” by radicals, he said.

In essence, he said, one camp offers too much change, while the other offers too little.

In order for progressive moderates to hold the main stage going forward, Mr. Blair said, the key will be “harnessing technology for economic and social change in a manner that promotes fairness, social justice and change.”

He went on to assert that moderates must show they do not need to be “far left” on the spectrum to be agents of radical change.

“Those who want to make the case for radical change make it best, not by setting people against each other, but by showing that shared purpose and common endeavor advances us all together,” Mr. Blair said. “The more reasonable our demeanor, the more palatable the radical change.”

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