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by John Johnston
18 December 2019
Tony Blair: Labour faces being replaced as main opposition if it tries to ‘whitewash’ causes of election defeat

Tony Blair - Image credit: Alister Thorpe/Holyrood

Tony Blair: Labour faces being replaced as main opposition if it tries to ‘whitewash’ causes of election defeat

Labour faces being replaced as the main opposition to the Conservatives if it tries to “whitewash” the causes of its general election defeat, Tony Blair has warned.

The former prime minister hit out as new polling shows Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, and not Brexit, was the main reason for voters rejecting the party.

Senior Labour figures, including Corbyn, have claimed their disastrous election defeat, which saw them lose 59 MPs, came after their domestic policy message was “drowned out” by Brexit.

But a new poll commissioned by the Tony Blair Institute found voters in former Labour heartlands in the north of England were more likely to be put off by Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the party, including his commitment to stay “neutral” on Brexit.

Corbyn has already vowed to remain in post during a “period of reflection” to look at Labour's campaign failings.

But speaking in London on Wednesday, Blair, who led the party to three election victories, will say the party must change course or face irrelevance.

He said: “This election was no ordinary defeat for Labour. It marks a moment in history.

“The choice for Labour is to renew itself as the serious, progressive, non-Conservative competitor for power in British politics; or retreat from such an ambition, in which case over time it will be replaced.”

He added: “So, at one level, sure let's have a period of ‘reflection’; but any attempt to whitewash this defeat, pretend it is something other than it is, or the consequence of something other than the obvious, will cause irreparable damage to our relationship with the electorate.”

The report, which includes focus group and polling from former Labour seats which were all won by the Conservatives in the election, found concerns over Corbyn's record on defence issues, his economic credibility and failure to tackle anti-Semitism had created a “lethal mix” for voters.

Meanwhile, the figures showed only 42 per cent of voters who had supported the party in 2017 liked Jeremy Corbyn, compared to 46 per cent who did not like him, while even 34 per cent of Labour supporters reported not liking the party leader.

One told the group: “I've always voted Labour all my life, always voted Labour. I will not vote Labour this time.

“I will only vote Conservative and that's because of the party leadership. I could never vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I just couldn't do it.”

Meanwhile, another said: “I won't vote Labour this time because Jeremy Corbyn is an out and out communist.

“I looked at this history, I look at the history of where he's been, and what he's said in the past, and who his friends have been, and, I despise the man, passionately. I think he's destroying the Labour Party.”

The report added it was “truly shocking” that only 61 per cent of Labour supporters viewed Corbyn as being patriotic, falling to 43 per cent among former voters.

Meanwhile, several mentioned concerns over Corbyn’s response to the London Bridge attack which saw two people killed by an Islamist terrorist who had been released from prison early.

One voter told the group: “He shot himself in the foot this week. ‘All terrorists don't need to stop in jail.’ We'll just free them all and blow you up...Don't keep them in jail, let them out early.”

The report's authors, Peter Kellner and Patrick Loughran, added: “To eject Boris Johnson from Downing Street, Jeremy Corbyn had to reverse Labour's decline in its heartlands.

“Instead, his leadership and his political strategy achieved precisely the opposite. They drove even more traditional Labour supporters away from the party.

“Our research shows that the breach need not be permanent, but simply changing the leader will not be enough.

“The problems go far deeper; and so must the solutions. Labour needs not just a different driver, but a different bus. 

“The first take is to discard the sectarian ultra-left politics that has taken the party over and condemned it to the wilderness of opposition.

“Only then can Labour begin the journey back to government.”

Read the most recent article written by John Johnston - David Cameron denies Greensill lobbying was motivated by financial self-interest

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