Tony Blair has been careful not to intervene in Labour’s internal party affairs since he resigned as Prime Minister nearly six years ago, but the pressure that forced him to step down clearly still rankles.
He surprised many in Westminster by appearing to chide the party over his removal – claiming he would have given David Cameron more of “a run for his money” than Gordon Brown managed at the last general election.
Years of infighting between Blairites and Brownites eventually led to his departure in June 2007. After a brief honeymoon as Prime Minister, Mr Brown endured a torrid spell in office before leading Labour in 2010 to its second-worst election defeat since 1918.
Things could have been rather better if the party had stuck with him, Mr Blair said in an interview with Bloomberg Markets magazine. “Frankly, if I’d had a fourth election, I would have given Cameron a run for his money. I’m not saying I would have won, but it would have been tighter than it was,” he said.
Mr Blair’s comments raise the intriguing prospect that under his leadership Labour could have held on to many of the 91 seats that it lost in 2010. That could have been enough for it to emerge as the biggest party in a hung parliament – and in pole position to negotiate a coalition with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. It could also have meant his still being in Downing Street today, having notched up 16 years as Prime Minister.
Mr Blair’s remarks come amid signs that he is tentatively returning to the domestic arena after spending the years since his departure focusing on international issues and building up his business interests.
In the interview, he made clear his disappointment over not being offered the post as first President of the European Council when it was created in 2009. His candidacy never properly got off the ground because of his stance on the Iraq War and his reluctance to campaign openly for the position which was eventually filled by Belgium’s Herman van Rompuy.
“If the European job had been offered to me, I would have taken it,” Mr Blair said. “But it wasn’t.”
Despite the large turnover of his commercial interests, Mr Blair insisted he was not driven by money and said he had given more than £5m to his charities since 2008.
“The motivation is not the accumulation of personal wealth. If I’d wanted to do that, I could do it a lot simpler,” he said. “There’s a myth that just because you used to be British Prime Minister, people give you lots of money to play with. No, they don’t.”
Mr Blair, who left the Commons immediately after resigning as Prime Minister, said: “I wanted to create a different type of post-prime ministerial career. From the outset I had a very clear view of what I wanted to do. I wanted to create my own set of institutions.”
He defended his decision to advise President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, whose government has been accused of human rights abuses. “I don’t dismiss the human rights stuff,” Mr Blair said. “These are points we make. There’s a new generation of administrators there who are reformers, and we’re working with them.”