Tony Blair has appealed to Labour members to make the right choice when they elect their new leader, and criticised Ed Miliband for adopting backward-looking policies which did not address the problems of today’s world.
In an interview with Evgeny Lebedev, owner of The Independent, the former Prime Minister urged his party to return to the modernising approach of his 13 years as leader. Although he is unlikely to endorse any contender in Labour’s leadership election, allies said Mr Blair has recently met Liz Kendall, who is seen as the Blairite candidate, and was impressed by her.
“The important thing about this moment in time is that the decision in the next months will decide the next five years,” said Mr Blair. He said his party’s task at the 2020 election would be made harder by boundary changes, which could give the Tories an extra 20 seats. “People should really factor this in; those boundary changes will take away a significant number of seats from us,” he said.
Mr Blair also commented on the present international situation. He said that Russia faces a “very clear” choice. “Russia has the history, attributes and resources of a great nation,” he said. “Either it makes the reforms to strengthen its economy and its society in the ways essential for a country to succeed in the modern world, or it defines itself by a nationalism that, unrestrained, ends in aggression.”
He also highlighted the need to combat the rise of groups such as Isis. “You have to attack the ideology of extremism and not just the violence,” he said. “We should pull the governments of the world together and say: ‘Look, there should be a global responsibility on any nation to promote religious tolerance and root out religious prejudice in your education systems, formal or informal.’ We will defeat this when we have the right combination of hard and soft power.”
However, his comments on the recent election will prove most controversial. Mr Blair drew a “parallel” between Mr Miliband’s leadership and Labour’s election defeats in the 1980s during 18 years in the political wilderness. “The Labour Party’s in opposition – it doesn’t really take the decisions, the hard-headed decisions it needs to take, to revive itself. The polls move in our favour because polls always do; the opposition party moves up. We end up fooling ourselves into thinking we’re going to win and then, come election day, we get a nasty surprise,” he said.
In comments that will upset some Labour activists, Mr Blair praised Nick Clegg for fighting a “good campaign” rooted in the centre ground. “I think he [Mr Clegg] in many ways demonstrated really an admirable set of qualities,” he said. “They’ve got some smart thinkers within the Lib Dems who we should be prepared to reach out to and work with.”
Mr Blair warned Labour: “You won’t win the argument on inequality unless your methods of tackling it are seen to be relevant and future-orientated. People don’t want the state sitting on top of them or telling them what to do.
“We’re the party of compassion, and of course this is really important and it’s important that those are our values – that’s what defines us, and you’ve got to have a modern answer to the problems of the modern world. Progressive parties win when it’s clear they understand and get the future.”
The comments came as Mr Lebedev visited Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea with the former prime minister to observe the work of Mr Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative.
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