Weaponising Tony Blair

Blair smilingRegulars round these parts know I’m not a fan of Tony Blair. I don’t think much of his record in office, though I do recognise his legacy was more complex than Iraq and neoliberalism with a smile. Nor was I too enamoured of his new year interventions, which were widely read as a pop at Ed Miliband. If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all in my humble opinion. Well, a month on and there’s been a bit of a volte-face. The Observer reported on a reconciliation between the offices of the former and current leader, with Blair apparently happy to do whatever the party requires of him in the general election campaign.

Most fellow lefties would probably say thanks but no thanks to that, but there are still plenty of Labour Party members and supporters that do like him. Whisper it, even a few trade unionists do too. And outside the lefty echo chamber and the frothing comment boxes of The Graun and Telegraph, there are still some people broadly supportive of Blair in the real world. Tory journalists might scratch their heads with faux puzzlement as to why Labour’s most successful leader makes many party members come out in a rash, but there will be voters who don’t follow the ins and outs of politics who could well be thinking the same thing. For every vocal anti-Blair hater, there is likely to be a few more quiet folk happy to give him time.

Making use of Blair in the election campaign, of weaponising him, might therefore not be as daft as it sounds. But how? Former leaders are always tricky to deploy. They threaten the reopening of old controversies, and could grab the limelight from the current leader. It’s always best to keep them in the background in a supportive, auxiliary role. At least so goes the received wisdom. The participation and handling of Blair however is doubly complex and tricky. Labour’s immediate problem is not the drift of its voters over to the Tory camp as per “normal” elections but the fracturing of its coalition, as per Scotland and, to a lesser extent, the Greens. Blair’s not likely to assist with the job of winning softer voters among these groups back to Labour. The same goes for bits of the working class vote that abandoned Labour before 2010 and are now happy to vote UKIP.

How to make use of Blair? By treading very carefully. Were I in charge of the campaign, there are three possibilities that come to mind. The first would have him do various pro-business-type events already on the campaign grid. Again, the claims Labour’s manifesto will be anti-business is idiocy straight from the 1992 Tory playbook. Nevertheless, there are some centre/centre rightish voters who aren’t necessarily politically clued up that might be swayed by nonsense of this sort – I’d draft him in to support Chuka Umunna on occasion, and front the odd business-focused fundraiser. Having Blair publicly endorse Labour’s Keynes-lite policies could help out in the odd marginal and rebut this silliness.

That brings me on to the second. This depends on the whims of the media of course: setting up interviews where Blair puts the Blairite case for voting Labour. These would be moments in the campaign, talking points for commentariat, and are bound to attract wider coverage. They’re not without their dangers, however. He might go off-piste and a savvy interviewer could use it to score points/open controversies. Best get Andrew Marr in, then.

Lastly, Blair should hit the campaign trail, but only in specially selected constituencies. A few south east marginals, perhaps the Scottish borders, the odd seat that turned Labour in 1997 and only went back to the Tories in 2010, here a bit of Blair visibility might assist and win over the waverers.

This begs the question, why does Blair want to help? According to wiser heads than I, this is all about positioning. Alan Milburn and John Hutton caused a minor stir with their comments about Labour’s NHS policy last week. I’m all for retro and nostalgia, but their prescriptions for more markets – sorry, “choice” – were something of an unwelcome throwback not at all related to Milburn’s post-Parliamentary career as a private health consultant. Understandably quite a few Labour people were peed off, not least in the leader’s office itself. Therefore Blair’s return, if it can be called that, is a way of throwing off any stigma of disloyalty by mucking in. That way any post-Miliband leadership candidate most associated with the Blairist tradition, which is looking increasingly like Liz Kendall should we not win come May, will not be tarred by the treachery brush.

Maybe that, or perhaps Blair as a party member would just like to see Labour win.

    • You may not vote for him nor would I, but you have to accept that labour today is a middle class party of the right not the left.

      You have Progress which is running around ensuring that only Progress members hold new seats, one was selected this week who was socialist societies, Fabians and a Progress member, they are hand picked he is of course a SPAD never had a job out side of politics.

      Labour is about a Million miles from socialist labour, but then again socialist labour was not that great either was it.

      None other than William Beveridge, the architect of the post-1945 welfare state, was highly active in the eugenics movement and said that “those men who through general defects are unable to fill such a whole place in industry are to be recognized as unemployable. They must become the acknowledged dependents of the State… but with complete and permanent loss of all citizen rights – including not only the franchise but civil freedom and fatherhood”. A belief in eugenics was certainly not confined to the jackbooted far right.

      Labour at it’s best….

  1. Blair said he will do anything to help Labour win the election. I can think of a very short snappy reply that sums up what a lot of us think he should do, and it would help Labour win a lot of votes. Not mentioned above.

  2. I’d weaponize the gent on the next flight to the space station. With point of the rocket up his backside.

    But I’d aim it at the moon.

  3. Prove it Phil. Prove that Tony Blair’s “list of friends” is very long.

    Because I don’t think it is.

  4. Uncanny resemblance between Tony Blair and Tony Abbott of Oz; the two could be brothers.
    Abbott seems to be subject to being ousted from the Leadership; The Aussies seem to be very prone and capable of ditching their leaders at the drop of a hat, viz Kevin, and Julia, whereas we Brits we soldier on with the same lame duck leaders till the bitter end. A thought just struck me: Ed Milliand has that same ‘something of the night’ that M Howard had.

  5. I appreciate that Phil is not a fan and says there are risks and Tony Blair’s most recent offer to help Labour’s campaign is worth taking up ony “by treading very carefully” but I don’t agree.

    There are some weapons Ed simply shouldn’t be prepared to use, and Tony Blair is one of them (Trident is another by the way but that’s for another day). Yes we have Blairite members and Blairite supporters, and even Blairite candidates who I want to win because I want a Labour government. They can invite Blair to back them if they choose just as left Labor candidates will (rightly) choose to present a clear anti-austerity message that we know Ed and his team will not.

    But segmenting the electorate and presenting different and conflicting messages to different “markets” as if we were selling the same washing powder in different coloured boxes is the legacy of Blair which has got politics and politicians into the hole it is in today.

    Voters are not stupid. They know that they’re not going to agree with everything any party says. But they’d sooner vote for a party they trusted, that was principled and honest, than one that told them what they thought they wanted to hear.