TONY BLAIR risked plunging the Labour leadership contest into civil war yesterday by issuing a warning to the party not to drift to the left.
In his memoirs, published on the day the first votes were cast in the Labour leadership election, Mr Blair warned that Labour faces defeat at the next election if it abandons the New Labour agenda he framed as prime minister.
His comments were widely seen as support for leadership front-runner David Miliband over his brother, Ed, though the former premier was careful in the book and interviews promoting it not to endorse any of the five candidates to succeed Gordon Brown.
David Miliband made no public comment on the autobiography, but Ed said it was time to “move on from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson” and that he was the candidate best placed to “turn the page” on that era.
Blair’s book, entitled A Journey, lays bare the rift between himself and Brown during his time in power, as well as his concerns about his chancellor’s fitness to follow him into 10 Downing Street.
Describing Brown as brilliant but “maddening”, Blair blamed his successor for losing the last election by deviating from the New Labour message.
“Labour won when it was New Labour. It lost because it stopped being New Labour,” he wrote. “This is not about Gordon Brown as an individual... Had he pursued New Labour policy, the personal issue would still have made victory tough, but it wouldn’t have been impossible. Departing from New Labour made it so.”
Blair said he knew before leaving office that Brown could well be a “disaster” as prime minister. And he revealed that he advised David Miliband in 2007 that he might beat Brown if he stood against him as a New Labour candidate for the succession.
In a warning to the party as it prepares to select a new leader, Blair wrote: “The danger for Labour now is that we drift off, or even move decisively off, to the left. If we do, we will lose even bigger next time. We have to buck the historical trend and face up to the reasons for defeat squarely and honestly.”
In an apparent rebuke to candidates standing on a platform of opposition to spending cuts, Blair warned: “If Labour simply defaults to a ‘Tory cutters, Lib Dem collaborators’ mantra, it may well benefit in the short-term. However, it will lose any possibility of being chosen as an alternative government.”
Conservatives were quick to claim Blair’s backing for the government’s economic policies.
While backing Brown’s interventions at the height of the banking crisis, Blair said his successor then made the “error” of going down the road of deficit spending, heavy regulation, income tax hikes and big-state government.
Anti-war protesters staged a demonstration outside Waterstones bookshop in London’s Piccadilly where Blair – who spent the day in Washington attending the opening of Middle East peace talks at the White House – is due for a book signing next week.
Lindsey German, convener of the Stop The War Coalition, said: “The book is trying to justify the unjustifiable. He is refusing to say sorry or express any regret. He also appears to be saying there should be a war against Iran.”
In his own words: Former PM reflects on life at 10 Downing Street
- David Cameron: “David Cameron was clever and people-friendly, and I thought he had some real steel to him, but he had not gone through the arduous but ultimately highly educative apprenticeship I had gone through in the 1980s and early 1990s.”
- Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness: “I liked them more than I should have... Whether you like them or not, and no matter how strongly you disapprove of their past actions, they had courage in abundance.”
- On walking into Downing Street following Labour’s landslide 1997 election victory: “My predominant feeling was fear, and of a sort unlike anything I had felt before, deeper even than the fear I had felt the day I knew I was going to take over the leadership of the Labour Party.”
- Former US President George Bush: “One of the most ludicrous caricatures of George is that he was a dumb idiot who stumbled into the presidency. No one stumbles into that job, and the history of American presidential campaigns is littered with the corpses of those who were supposed to be brilliant but who nonetheless failed because brilliance is not enough... I was asked recently which of the political leaders I had met had the most integrity. I listed George near the top.”
- Cherie Blair: WCherie Blair had an incredible instinct for offending powerful people and didn’t always help herself.”
- On Iraq: “I am unable to satisfy the desire even of some of my supporters, who would like me to say: it was a mistake but one made in good faith. Friends opposed to the war think I’m being obstinate; others, less friendly, think I’m delusional. To both I may say: keep an open mind.”
- On his feelings about those who lost loved ones in the Iraq War: “Tears, though there have been many, do not encompass it. I feel desperately sorry for them, sorry for the lives cut short, sorry for the families whose bereavement is made worse by the controversy over why their loved ones died, sorry for the utterly unfair selection that the loss should be theirs.”
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