Against the backdrop of his rumoured interest in one day becoming an elected president of the European Union, Tony Blair stepped back into the Westminster frontline yesterday, explaining that he simply wanted to “feel what it’s like again”.
Five years after he resigned as Prime Minister, Mr Blair did not quite rule out returning to domestic politics, but added: “I am not aiming for it, wanting it, positioning for it or any of the rest of it, and I doubt it’s ever going to happen.”
Despite his protestations at a lunch for political journalists, he talked on issues ranging from the EU, immigration and public sector reform to climate change, standing up for business and Scottish independence.
In comments aimed at David Cameron and the Tories, he warned that speculation about leaving the EU was “dangerous and immensely damaging to Britain’s long-term interests”. He also lashed out at the UK Independence Party, which he condemned as “never far from being nasty and never close to being sensible”.
But Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, would have been less happy about some other remarks by his predecessor-but-one.
Mr Blair strongly defended his record on immigration days after Mr Miliband said previous Labour governments did too little to control numbers of new arrivals from Eastern Europe. Insisting he was “emphatically not” criticising the current Labour leader, Mr Blair retorted: “You can have a debate about it but personally I think the Polish community contributes a lot to this country. In many ways immigrants do a lot for our country. They bring fresh energy, fresh initiative and I think it will be a sad day if we end up targeting them.”
The former Prime Minister also struck a different note from Mr Miliband by stressing the importance of the financial sector to the British economy. But he echoed Mr Miliband by saying he backed Lord Justice Leveson’s conclusion that future press regulation required statutory underpinning.
He sidestepped a question on whether he would campaign for Mr Miliband in 2015, but said he would be “happy to play a part” in efforts to keep Scotland in the UK.