Of all the political, mainstream-media, social-media oddities to have emerged since the Brexit referendum, Lord Adonis is one of the oddest.
He is the champion of a People’s Vote to kill off Brexit (although he dresses it up as a referendum on the final deal), yet has never been particularly keen on a People’s Vote when it comes to his own political career. His roles as a minister and member of the Cabinet from May 2005-May 2010 were only possible after Tony Blair elevated him to the Lords as Baron Adonis. So perhaps it’s no surprise that he ranks Blair as one of the best 10 British politicians of the ‘last century.’ Mind you, he has Michael Heseltine and John Major on the same list, so we probably shouldn’t take him too seriously.
The thing about Adonis is that he does take himself very seriously and wants others to take him seriously, too. This is from a profile last February: ‘If anyone might be expected to get involved in the creation of a new centrist party, it’s Adonis. He is, in many ways, the centrist’s centrist – originator of many of Tony Blair’s most audacious clothes-stealing policies, a “what works” purist. What attraction can Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party hold for him? With a gaping hole in the centre-ground of British politics, why not fill it? With a substantial minority of liberal voters looking for leadership, for somewhere to mark their x with any enthusiasm, for an alternative to the shrieking horror story that is modern-day Westminster, why not provide it? You have to put yourself forward if you want to be lucky. The centre needs some heroes. Andrew Adonis should be one of them.’ He loves that sort of catnip.
What Adonis never really addresses is why, if the EU is, as he keeps saying it is, so wonderful, a majority of voters opted for Leave? It’s far too easy to say that people voted on the basis of lies. Most elections are based on a mixture of lies, emotions, hatreds, score-settling, clashing ‘facts’ and competing end goals. Tony Blair, the man responsible for Adonis’s place in the House of Lords, took the United Kingdom to war on the basis of a whopping lie about the evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. I don’t remember Adonis getting too exercised by that act of chicanery.
Anyway, the Remain campaigners (and I’m not dumping the entire blame for this on his doorstep, by the way) didn’t exactly spend the referendum campaign selling the merits of the UK’s membership. David Cameron’s deal would have left us as some sort of constitutional granny-flat; mostly in, but quite a lot out if he had trouble from his backbenchers and possible defectors to Ukip. Instead of being told how good membership had been for us, we were mostly told how awful it would be if we left. In other words, after 45 years of membership of the ‘European project’ the champions couldn’t even muster a majority around a positive message.
Yet instead of wondering why they lost, key Remainers chose, instead, to pour bile on those who chose Leave rather than Remain. During the campaign most of the Remainers I heard simply gave us a variation of, “Oh yes, it’s not perfect and it still needs lots of reform, but hey, better in than out.”
Remain ran a terrible campaign against, as Adonis himself admits, a Leave campaign which key Leave supporters ‘hoped and expected would be defeated’. Even Owen Jones admitted, during the referendum, that ‘the official Remain campaign is going down like a cup of sick with the people it needed to win’.
The other issue which Adonis needs to address is what happens if the referendum result is overthrown and the United Kingdom remains in the EU. Do we accept a single currency? Do we accept an EU army? Do we accept what has become, to all intents and purposes, a common EU foreign policy? Do we support the continuing push towards the creation of a super-power, standing toe-to-toe with Russia, China and the US? Those are questions which cannot be ducked in another referendum or People’s Vote. Those are questions which will still matter to millions of Leave voters; people like me, for example, who thought long and hard (and wrote articles in the run-up to the 2016 vote, dismissing the ‘lies and distortions’ from both campaigns), acknowledged the risks involved, and still voted Leave.
What disturbs me most about Adonis’s present campaign is the fact that he has become so personally bitter in his articles, speeches and tweets. He may claim to despise the tactics of people like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, yet he has fallen into the same trap of allowing the headline-attracting sound bite to trump the substance of his argument.
And for a man who built a reputation on knowing how to handle detail he has become a master of the sweeping generalisation and vicious put down. Indeed, he is, at times, so unpleasant that he probably does more to undermine his position than to help it.
I suggested, back in the late summer of 2016, that another referendum was more likely than not. I said then, and repeat it now, if that is to happen then let us have the debate we were denied in 2016. I’m still not convinced, though, that a peer – particularly one who was never elected to the Commons – is the best champion of a People’s Vote to reverse a referendum decision. But, as I said above, Brexit has thrown up many oddities.