Labour anger as Clive Lewis claims Tony Blair is partly to blame for election defeat and left his own constituency ‘in a state’

Backlash as leadership contender attacks 'state of Sedgefield' after Blair decade and insists of poll debacle: 'This has been 40 years in the making'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 09 January 2020 19:50
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Clive Lewis claims Tony Blair left country 'in a state'

Leadership contender Clive Lewis is facing a Labour backlash after saying Tony Blair is partly to blame for the party’s plight and left his own northern constituency “in a state”.

Mr Lewis, a left-winger, claimed the general election disaster had been “40 years in the making”, because the last Labour government had failed to change people’s lives significantly for the better.

And he pointed to the by-election that followed Mr Blair’s resignation from his County Durham seat, in 2007, as evidence of the departing leader’s failure.

“I know of MPs who went there and who were shocked by the fact that Sedgefield was in the state it was in after 10 years of having a Labour prime minister as the MP for that constituency,” Mr Lewis claimed.

A furious Phil Wilson, who succeeded Mr Blair as Sedgefield’s MP, hit back, telling The Independent: “If Labour politicians don’t stand up for the last Labour government, no-one else will.”

He pointed to “great strides” made in his constituency over the previous decade, including rebuilt schools, a new community hospital, a network of Sure Start centres, higher educational standards, more police and higher living standards because of the minimum wage and tax credits.

“We should learn lessons from our defeats and not from when we win – and we have now lost two elections under the same leader [Jeremy Corbyn],” said Mr Wilson, who lost to the Conservatives last month.

“Clive has to think long and hard if he wants to learn lessons from our defeat, or he will be learning the wrong ones.”

A current northeast MP also laid into Mr Lewis, saying: “I have told him his comments are outrageous and that this is not the way for the Labour party to win again.”

The row blew up after Mr Lewis – who, with just four nominations from fellow MPs, is struggling to achieve the necessary 22 by next Monday – gave a hard-hitting interview to the BBC’s Andrew Neil.

He said Mr Blair “did many good things in power”, but argued: “Ultimately the deindustrialisation that took place in the 1980s, the insecurity of work, investment, empowering people – giving people real agency and control in their lives – we never did that in the way we needed.

“This has been a long time in coming. It wasn’t just because of Jeremy Corbyn or our position on Brexit that this happened – this has been 40 years in the making.

“Until we understand that, how can you tell those communities ‘hold on a second, we know what you are going through, we know your pain’?”

Asked if he was saying that Mr Blair’s legacy was among the reasons for the election hammering, Mr Lewis replied: “Of course.”

The Treasury spokesman is currently last for MPs’ nominations, behind Keir Starmer (62), Rebecca Long-Bailey (27), Lisa Nandy (22) Jess Phillips (22) and Emily Thornberry (8).

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