Global Financial Markets Forum 2016

Donald Trump’s success is frightening: Tony Blair


Donald Trump's wins in the U.S. primary elections are worrying and highlight the rising popularity of insurgent political movements around the world, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday.

Trump surprised some pundits with his success in the Republican Super Tuesday primaries, winning in Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Vermont and Alabama. Rival Ted Cruz won in his home state Texas and in Oklahoma and Alaska.

The businessman is known for his divisive views on immigration and was previously viewed as too maverick and extremist to succeed in his bid for the leadership of the Republican Party.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at Valdosta State University February 29, 2016 in Valdosta, Georgia.
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On Wednesday, Blair, who governed the U.K. between 1997 and 2007, expressed bemusement and dismay at the popularity of Trump and other polarizing politicians in the U.S. and Britain.

"Sometimes I look at politics today and wonder if I still understand it," Blair said in a conference interview at the Global Financial Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi.

He added that the rise of social media had helped create "insurgent movements that are often around very polarizing political positions."

"I get really anxious when I think that policy is being made by Twitter feed," Blair said. "Those that shout loudest do not necessarily deserve to be heard the most."

Blair led the U.K.'s Labour Party to a landslide victory in 1997 after 18 years out of power, steering the party away from socialism to the center left.

The former politician has expressed surprise at the recent success of more leftist politicians like Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. and Bernie Sanders in the U.S., doubting their electability as country leaders.

On Wednesday, he drew parallels between insurgent, populist political movements of both the left and the right.

"It is clear that these political movements can take over parties — but can they win elections? … My bet is that in the end, the public as a whole is still more center-left and center right," Blair said.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to the crowd after a rally March 1, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.
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Blair's reputation was hit in the U.K. by his decision to send troops into Iraq in 2003, after doubt was cast on assertions that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed nuclear capabilities and posed a risk to the West. Nonetheless, he has garnered a number of advisory roles in conflict and post-conflict countries after leaving government, based on his success in building a peace agreement in Northern Ireland.

This week, he was again in the spotlight after an article in the conservative Daily Mail alleged he had used his role as a peace envoy for commercial gain.

Blair did not comment on the allegations during the conference in Abu Dhabi. However, on Tuesday, his office published a statement saying the claims were a "litany of invention and malice."

"The allegations that Mr Blair blurs the line between charity and business are absolutely false. There are strict rules governing charities and Mr Blair adheres to them completely," it said.

— By CNBC's Katy Barnato at the Global Financial Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi.