Election 2015: Tony Blair tells Ed Miliband not to veer left

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Tony Blair has urged Ed Miliband not to revert to a left-wing “comfort zone” based on top-down state solutions, saying that Labour should mend fences with business and occupy the political centre ground.

In a lecture to mark the 20th anniversary of his becoming Labour leader, the former Prime Minister professed his loyalty to Mr Miliband but made a series of barely-coded criticisms of his strategy.

Asked what advice he would give Labour on how to win the election, Mr Blair replied: “We have some good policy ideas. We should be building them into a narrative that is about the future the country, the opportunities available to people, the challenges… if we do that with confidence, we can win.”

This reflects the criticism from many Labour MPs – not only Blairites – that Mr Miliband has not yet knitted the party’s policies into a coherent message for voters. Miliband aides played down the criticism, pointing to areas of agreement between the two men – including Mr Miliband’s “big reforms, not big spending” mantra. They said Labour’s “story” would become much clearer at its September conference.

Mr Miliband said at the weekend that the party had now “moved on” from New Labour without reverting to Old Labour. In contrast, Mr Blair argued that New Labour’s values and his Third Way philosophy were just as relevant as ever, even though policies had to be updated for new times.

He was giving the inaugural Philip Gould lecture in memory of his former pollster, who died in 2011. He received an ecstatic reception from audience of soulmates at an event organised by Progress, a group of Labour modernisers.

Mr Blair drew very different lessons from the 2008 crash to Mr Miliband, who believes the flaws it exposed require government intervention. Mr Blair said the public were suspicious of state solutions. 

“It [the crisis] doesn’t mean that people have fallen back in love with the state,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that the individualising force of technology has retreated and it doesn’t mean that the whole private sector is somehow contaminated.” He added: “No political philosophy today will achieve support unless it focuses on individual empowerment, not collective control.”

At a time when Mr Miliband’s relations with business leaders are frosty because of his interventionist policies, Mr Blair said Labour needed to “build the coalition that encompasses business as well as unions”.

He appeared to criticise Mr Miliband for defining himself against New Labour. “When we look at the Britain of 2014, we should be the radicals, but radicals not playing to the gallery of our ideological ghosts but to the contemporary stadium of the progressive majority.” He went on: “We should always be uncomfortable in the ‘comfort zone’, because the only comfort found there is for the already privileged.”

The former Prime Minister said the Third Way’s analysis of the world was “shaped by reality not ideology, not by delusional thoughts based on how we want the world to be” . He argued that “fighting, winning and governing from the centre ground [which] can and should be radical. But it will cut across traditional right/left lines.”

Mentioning Iraq only once, he claimed his government had “led the world” on foreign policy “whatever you think of the controversies post 9/11 and particularly Iraq.” 

He said the Ukraine crisis showed the EU needed to a common defence as well as foreign policy, as it had become completely dependent on the  US to solve problems on its doorstep.

Mr Blair praised Mr Miliband for not matching David Cameron’s promise of a 2017 referendum on Europe and warned that the Conservatives were putting foreign investment at risk. "A lot of policy on Europe is being driven by internal Conservative Party considerations, not the national interest," he said. "If the Conservatives are re-elected, that's two years of uncertainty.”

He dismissed claims that he is worth up to £100m, saying the figure was less than a fifth of that. He spent two thirds of his time on unpaid work both in the Middle East and at his foundations. Other earnings were needed to fund his team of more than 200 staff.

“I haven’t changed. It is not actually about making money. It is about making a difference,” he said.