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Tony Blair's guide to saving Labour

Tony Blair's guide to saving Labour

There was, famously, “something of the night”, about Michael Howard. Nowadays an observer might get the same feeling about Tony Blair – though for many critics, it is not so much something of the night as something of the eternal darkness.

The former Labour leader is a man who divides opinion – though not necessarily evenly – and so it is hard to say how helpful his last intervention over the current leadership contest really was. In fact at times, it feels like Tony Blair is taunting Labour.

He started by boasting, “I could make a speech to you about how to win.”

Well please do Tony! Don’t hold back. At this pause, you could almost hear the party strategists internally cheering.


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After all, given the general election result, if Tony has some secret plan for winning you would hope he might share it. Actually, maybe he could have shared it before the election.

But no. He was just teasing. He continued: “But, given the state of the debate in the party right now, I don’t want to.”

This seemed a bit petulant. Or maybe he was using the traditional primary school teacher technique of staring at the class quietly until everyone stopped shouting.

Except he didn’t stay quiet, and the intervention certainly didn’t stop the leadership candidates from shouting.

But Blair looked pretty good. Ancient, admittedly, but at the same time full of life. Like some re-animated gargoyle, that, after centuries of watching events from afar, has climbed down from a cathedral to question how the church is being run.

The whole thing was fairly surreal. Given how rarely Tony makes these interventions, why would he make a speech on the future of the Labour party, and yet refuse to give any advice?

It was baffling. He said: “We should forever stand for social justice, for power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few, as our constitution puts it.

“But that”, he said, “is not the challenge. That challenge is: how to do it in the modern world.”

Where else would you do it? Standing up for social justice in the modern world might be difficult, but it is surely far easier than making a time machine and doing it in the past.

The thing is, written down it all sounds very confusing, but when he actually says these sorts of things out loud they seem as though they make a lot of sense.

In fact reading one of Blair’s speeches later feels like seeing photos of yourself after a drunken night out – you know it happened, and it made sense at the time, but you have no idea why.

Next, in a speech that did increasingly seem like advice on how to win, he moved onto the details, telling the party it had to “get thinking… about policy, real policy, not one-liners which make a point.”

Good, no catchy soundbites. Though it was perhaps unfortunate this came before his warning over voting for Jeremy Corbyn. In what sounded suspiciously like a one-liner, he said: “People say, ‘my heart says I should be with that politics’ – well get a transplant.”

Next, having vanquished Corbyn, he moved onto nationalism.

Highlighting the danger of the SNP, he said: “It's the politics of the first caveman council, when the caveman came out from a council where there were difficult decisions and pointed with his club across the forest and said: 'They're the problem, over there; that's the problem.'”

Blair would of course never succumb to the allure of nationalism.

Well, apart from in foreign affairs rhetoric. Or if another country had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Or even if it didn’t.

Or in his resignation speech, when he said: “This country is a blessed nation. The British are special. The world knows it. In our innermost thoughts, we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth.”

Cavemen were probably too primitive to care about WMDs.

So it was confusing. He spent a long time giving advice, but it was not obvious what he was actually saying. Fortunately he moved to clear things up at the end.

“We won not because we did what we thought was wrong as a matter of principle but right as a matter of politics; but when we realised that what is right as a matter of policy is right as a matter of principle.”

He said: “Labour shouldn’t despair. We can win again. We can win again next time. But only if our comfort zone is the future and our values are our guide and not our distraction.”

He was right, he wasn’t planning on telling Labour how to win.

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