Follow my lead or Labour is finished, Blair tells Miliband
Labour will not win elections, Mr Blair says, by going back to the political equivalent of 'warm beer and old maids bicycling'
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Friday 10 June 2011
Tony Blair has warned Ed Miliband not to allow Labour to drift to the left under his leadership and declared that the party must continue to modernise in order to regain power.
The former Prime Minister insisted that Mr Miliband enjoyed his "100 per cent" support but said that reverting to a more traditional Labour approach might appear backward-looking to the voters the party needs to win over.
Mr Blair broke his recent silence on Labour's internal debates in the introduction to the new paperback edition of his memoirs, A Journey.
Blairites have been reluctant to rock the boat since Mr Miliband defeated their favoured candidate, his brother David, to win the Labour leadership last September. But privately, some in the faction are becoming restless about what they describe as Ed Miliband's failure to set out a clear vision of where he will take the party.
In his book, Mr Blair argues that traditional left-right boundaries are breaking down and that to be successful, today's politicians need to "rise above partisan politics". This reflects fears among Blairites that David Cameron, an admirer of Mr Blair's strategy, is more likely to appear above the traditional left-right fray than Ed Miliband, who is seen by voters as to the left of his party.
Mr Blair argues that New Labour, Bill Clinton's "new Democrats" and Barack Obama all reached out beyond their traditional support base and suggests the Coalition Government is trying to do the same. "Where political leaders deliberately go outside their own political base, they almost always win public approval," he says. "Face people with a choice between traditional left and traditional right and there is a traditional outcome: the left loses."
On policy, Mr Blair emphasises the need for tax rates to be competitive. He would not have introduced the 50p new top rate brought in by his successor, Gordon Brown, which Ed Miliband wants to keep for the forseeable future. "High taxes on income reduce the incentive to work," he writes.
His book describes voters as "radical, not ideological." He says: "People want government that works, that is above all effective in making change. To achieve this, governments have to liberate themselves from ideology based on left/right and embrace new ways of thinking that cross the traditional party lines."
He adds: "Of course there are voters who remain absolutely committed to traditional left/right politics – often they make most noise – but there is a swelling crowd of people who don't conform to such politics and who can determine elections."
In a hint of his views about Labour's decision to opt for Ed rather than David Miliband, Mr Blair says that party activists who choose leaders are more wedded to ideologically-driven politics than the voters are. He believes the public will vote for big change but "won't buy it from someone who they regard as ideologically motivated".
In a round of media interviews yesterday, Mr Blair appeared sceptical about the "Blue Labour" traditional values being pushed on Mr Miliband by some advisers. "It [Labour] won't win by a Labour equivalent of warm beer and old maids bicycling," he said.
Admitting there was "a risk" of Labour turning back to left-wing policies, he said: "There is a pattern that the Labour Party and indeed other progressive parties follow – they lose an election then they go off to the left, but I meet a lot of the younger Labour people now and that gives you great cause for optimism about the future.
"I think he [Ed Miliband] has perfectly sensibly created some space for himself now to put forward policy and my only statement on this is that progressive parties win when they're at the cutting edge of the future, when they're modernisers."
Denying that he had become a "pariah" in his home country, Mr Blair said: "I think it's a little harsh to say that. One of the things you learn in politics is the fact that you get a hundred people or a thousand people, or even 10,000 people out on the street doesn't mean to say the whole of the population thinks that way. You know, I did win three elections in Britain."
Leaked files put Ed Balls at heart of plot to oust Blair
The shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, was at the centre of an attempt to broker a deal between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair to allow the Chancellor to become prime minister, leaked documents reveal.
Files, held by Mr Balls and leaked to The Daily Telegraph, reveal that in February 2006, Mr Blair sent Mr Brown an unsigned letter setting out terms of a proposed deal for him to assume the leadership.
"You (understandably) want me to go now," he wrote.
"You need to be the candidate of continuity and change. The second will be relatively easy to do.
"The first, however, rests on a smooth transition. Critical to that is not merely the absence of disunity in the handover; it is also the visible, clear demonstration that the person who most embodies NL [New Labour], ie me, is working hand in hand with the successor."
He suggests a five-point deal that includes Mr Brown leading on party reform, democratic renewal and work to tackle Islamic extremism.
Mr Blair concludes that "in return" he would need "full help and co-operation in getting through his own reform agenda: NHS, schools, respect, welfare and energy".
On a copy of the letter he passed to Mr Balls, Mr Brown scribbled "shallow", "inconsistent" and "muddled".
In a draft of a deal document sent to Mr Blair, Mr Brown set out the need for written six-month, 12-month and two-year plans, and a written agreement for strategy to deal with David Cameron. He also demanded a role in cabinet reshuffles and that he attend international meetings.
Mr Blair, who is understood to have been incensed by the rudeness of Mr Balls, rejected the proposals.
The talks were the culmination of more than six months of plotting by the Brownites known as Project Volvo. The files show that the plot began on 19 July 2005, less than a fortnight after the terror attacks on London. Mr Balls had become an MP only at the election in May.
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