Leading Article: Mr Blair has upset the old left - so he should

SUCH IS the way of politics that Tony Blair is now expected to turn his other Janus face in order to persuade Labour's core voters that he is really "one of them". The conventional wisdom has suddenly decreed that Labour's poor performance in the European elections proved the Prime Minister risks losing the next general election - and this is supposed to be because he has offended the party's traditional base by pandering to the rich and the middle classes. It is nonsense.

Mr Blair is certainly capable of tailoring his message to different audiences. He also enjoys giving maximum offence to old-fashioned socialists. His joint statement with Gerhard Schroder on the Third Way, for example, went on about entrepreneurship, flexible markets and small and medium-sized businesses in a promising if unspecific way. But he can also slip into the socialist vernacular too, albeit in a modernised dialect: he can talk convincingly of the evils of social exclusion, of racism and of child poverty. The conventional wisdom now expects him to do more of that.

One of the Prime Minister's strengths, though, is in not bowing to the traditional gods whenever it seems the obvious thing to do - and this is one of the moments when he needs to contradict expectations and go out of his way to offend Labour's core supporters again. He must drive home the point that the old left's solutions are not relevant to the problems of today. If the old left is going to use the European elections as an argument for higher state spending, higher taxes and more regulation of businesses, then Labour is right to be "embarrassed" by what its traditional supporters believe, as John Monks of the TUC said accusingly at the weekend.

Even if the European elections did suggest that Labour's natural supporters were alienated - and the fact is that Labour's new converts seemed to have stayed at home too - it would be wrong to appease them. Mr Blair needs to repeat that efficiency and compassion go together: the poor are best served by enterprise, labour market flexibility and job creation. The weekend speculation about John Prescott's future is best ignored: if the Deputy Prime Minister can help sell that message to the conservatives of the left, then he has a role to play.