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Tony Blair sets up institute to develop 'policy agenda for centre ground'

Published 01/12/2016

Tony Blair says the institute is not a step towards him returning to the front line of UK politics
Tony Blair says the institute is not a step towards him returning to the front line of UK politics

Tony Blair has announced the creation of a new institute which he will use to develop "a new policy agenda for the centre ground".

The former prime minister insisted that the organisation would not be a think tank, and its establishment was not a step towards him returning to the front line of UK politics.

But he said he hoped to develop "open-minded" ideas and practical solutions to global problems which will help politicians counter the growing wave of "populism" on right and left.

Mr Blair - who has called for a second referendum on the UK's withdrawal from the EU - confirmed that Britain's relationship with Europe would be a key issue for the new body, but insisted it would not be its only purpose.

In a statement released by his office, he said: "This is not about my returning to the front line of politics. I have made it abundantly clear that this is not possible.

"However, I care about my country and the world my children and grandchildren will grow up in, and want to play at least a small part in contributing to the debate about the future of both."

Mr Blair said the new not-for-profit institute, to be established in the new year, will take in the work on countering religious extremism, governance in Africa and the Middle East peace process already undertaken by the foundations he has set up since leaving office in 2007.

But he said recent political developments - including the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as US President - had highlighted the need for work to develop a new policy agenda for people on the centre, free from "the plague of social media-led exchanges of abuse". This will form the "fourth pillar" of the new institute's work.

"In the past six months we have seen political earthquakes in the UK with Brexit and in the American election, as well as an explosion in populist movements all over the European continent," said Mr Blair.

"This impacts profoundly all the work we do and the future of globalisation. So I want us to bring all the different organisations together under one roof and to re-orient our mission."

The former Labour leader made no mention in his statement of his successor, Jeremy Corbyn. But his call for people in the political centre ground to fight populism on both the left and right is likely to be interpreted as a warning about the current leader's agenda.

Mr Blair said the "open-minded response to global problems" which he aims to promote "depends on us having an answer to the new populism of left and right which exploits the anger and drives the world apart".

And he added: "This new populism may differ in some respects between left and right - the left anti-business, the right anti-immigrant - but in others what is remarkable is the convergence between them, especially around isolationism and protectionism, in what is an essentially closed-minded approach to globalisation and its benefits and to international engagement."

His new organisation will aim to "build a new policy agenda for the centre ground together with the networks which link people up, and allow a reasonable and evidence-based discussion of the future which avoids the plague of social media-led exchanges of abuse", he said.

"This is not a think-tank - there are enough of those, many doing excellent work we would want to utilise. It is a platform for engagement to inform and support the practising politician. It is what I know I would want were I still in the front line of politics."

Mr Blair said the new institute will be funded from the assets - reportedly around £8-9 million - of his advisory business Tony Blair Associates, which he shut down in September.

He acknowledged that the business - which made millions from an array of controversial clients ranging from oil companies to the authoritarian government of Kazakhstan - was "open to misrepresentation" and had been widely criticised.

But he insisted that much of the criticism was "inaccurate" and said the business had been "entirely necessary" to help fund his other work and had allowed him to "learn a lot about the way the global economy functions".

He added: "During the time since leaving office, I have learnt a huge amount about the world and, frankly, what I can do and can't do to affect it positively."

Asked whether Theresa May would be following the work of Mr Blair's new institute, the Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said: "I think the PM is pretty busy getting on with the job of running the country."

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