Tony Blair has a problem, partly of his own making. No matter what he says many people will close their ears just because he’s Tony Blair.
Large swathes of voters probably wish never to hear from him again and that’s understandable. But for people in his own party, who care as deeply as he does about Labour winning again, not to listen is irrationality bordering on insanity.
Politics has moved on, say those close to Ed Miliband. And that is exactly what Blair is saying too in his article for the New Statesman. It is a dangerous – potentially fatal – assumption to assume that in moving on it has moved to the left. It may have done, but it is not self-evidently true. And to cite Labour’s consistently strong opinion poll leads as proof that it has is tautologous nonsense.
Let us assume for a moment, however, that it has and that the crisis in capitalism, combined with illusory growth and social deprivation has convinced middle ground voters that the country needs a decisive change in direction. In that case a bold new analysis is required. But while a lot of radical and creative thinking is going on in Labour’s ranks, that roadmap to a new future for Britain has yet to emerge.
With the death of Margaret Thatcher there has been much talk of conviction politicians, those capable of changing the weather. Ed Miliband aspires to be one. But he can’t afford to follow Thatcher’s example by becoming a radical only once in office. Labour will sleepwalk to defeat if it doesn’t set out its new vision now.
That vision will need to withstand the cauldron of democratic and media debate. It will need to become embedded and understood in the national consciousness. It is fanciful to believe that can happen in less than two years.
Blair’s most damning criticism, as he no doubt knew full well when he wrote it, is that “in these times, above all, people want leadership.” Whether or not the centre ground has shifted to the left, Labour cannot allow itself to be reduced to what Blair calls “fellow travellers in sympathy”. If Labour stands for anything in most voters’ minds now it is fewer cuts, less pain, a bit more spending. There is nothing radical or even progressive in that.
If Labour’s high command won’t absorb Blair’s warnings just because he’s Blair, they should ask themselves a simple question, one that all political leaders ought to ask themselves daily. “Where would my opponents most want me to be right now?” If it is close to where you find yourself then you are almost certainly in trouble.
George Osborne and the Tory election strategists will read Blair’s analysis, nod their heads and smile. For Labour’s to shake their heads and scowl would be a profound error.
Lance Price is a former Labour Party Director of Communications and author of ‘Where Power Lies’ (Simon and Schuster).