Alastair Campbell says New Labour 'complacency' over immigration helped pave the way for Brexit

'We did not cement the political views we were putting forward,' says the former aide to Tony Blair

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Indy Politics

New Labour's inaction over changing public opinion on immigration helped pave the way to Brexit, Alastair Campbell has said.

Mr Blair’s high-profile director of communications said Labour failed to “cement” its political views on the benefits of immigration when in power, while the Conservatives made it a key campaigning issue.

“There was always a tension between knowing that the economy and public services needed immigration but knowing the issue was causing real concerns,” he told The Guardian.

“I think the fact that we won two elections in 2001 and 2005 despite the Tories campaigning on immigration may also have made us complacent.”

According to Mr Campbell’s newly published diaries, Tony Blair came within days of quitting his job in 2004 to mount a bid to become president of the European Commission.

The former Prime Minister sounded out the likes of then French President Jacques Chirac and then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder on the possibility of him taking over the top job in Europe, Mr Campbell claims.

But Mr Blair only abandoned the plan because he feared he was being driven out of office by the well-documented battle between Mr Blair and his then Chancellor Gordon Brown.

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According to the diaries, serialised in the 'pop-up' newspaper The New European, Mr Blair openly considered leaving his job after he won his third election in 2005 because of the tumble taken by Labour’s majority.

The diaries, which cover the period from 2003 to 2005, were written after Mr Campbell had resigned over the Iraq war but still remained a confidant of Mr Blair in an unofficial capacity.

Mr Blair is said to have plotted his move to become European Commission president in 2004.

Mr Campbell told The New European, which was launched in response to the Brexit vote: “A lot of the time the press exaggerated our difficulties.

“This was one period where, if anything, they underplayed them because they didn't know just how bad things were.

“This was the closest Tony got to leaving and at the time I was terrified it would get out because it was one of those stories that would have taken on its own momentum.

“Tony had pretty much had enough and was being ground down by Gordon. In the end he realised that and decided he had to stay and see it though.”

He told The Guardian: “I think deep down we always felt despite the difficulties we would be able to persuade people of the benefits of immigration and the benefits of the EU.

"We did to a large extent but where we are now, on both issues, suggests that we did not cement the political views we were putting forward.”