Former chancellor Alistair Darling has ruled out the prospect of a Labour victory in the election by insisting the party’s best hope will be as an “opposition that makes a difference”.
The Labour heavyweight also stopped short of endorsing Jeremy Corbyn on the election campaign trail yesterday and indicated that his days as party leader may be numbered with a major defeat.
The man who led the Better Together campaign to keep Scotland in the UK during the 2014 referendum also hit out at the prospect of another “divisive” vote on Scotland leaving the UK.
But he ruled out the prospect of returning to lead another pro-union campaign if such a vote is held. As polls show Labour trailing the Tories by up to 15 points ahead of the 8 June vote, Mr Darling offered a withering assessment of the party’s chances of winning power.
He said: “It’s important we get the best possible result for the country – that means having a sensible sizeable opposition that can actually make a difference.”
Mr Darling’s concession comes after former Labour prime minister Tony Blair said at the weekend that Theresa May was on course to win the election and remain in Downing Street.
The former Chancellor spoke while campaigning in Edinburgh South – the seat held by Labour’s sole remaining Scottish MP Ian Murray.
Asked whether he endorsed Labour’s left wing leader, Mr Darling said: “He is the leader right up to the general election. My view is we need to get on, we’re fighting a general election campaign, you know leaders come and go.”
He added: “There’s no question he’s the leader, it’s for him to convince people in the next six weeks and voters will make of it what they will.”
Mr Darling, who stepped down as the MP for Edinburgh South West just before the 2015 election, said: “One of the problems we have in the UK is for a long time the middle, sensible voice, middle Britain if you like, was unrepresented and the entire political debate has been skewed to the right.
“In many cases it’s been hijacked by people who take a very extreme and narrow view of our relationship with the rest of Europe.
“And we need to have a balanced view. Jobs, prospects for the future, depend on us having a sensible view. That’s why it’s important you have a strong voice in the House of Commons making that point.”
He added: “I’ve always thought Theresa May’s main problem in the House of Commons is not actually the Remainers, they are the Brexiteers, who disposed of three other leaders of the Tory party within recent memory, and I’m sure she’s very conscious of the fact that left to their own devices they might do the same again.
“That’s why you need sensible people in the House of Commons who take a different view.”
While Labour’s fortunes have been on the wane, Mr Darling said when he was first elected as an MP 30 years ago he “would have hardly believed we would win with a thumping landslide majority ten years later”.
He said: “In politics things change, fortunes go up and down. What’s interesting when you look at politics today, it is increasingly divided, not just in Scotland or the UK but in other parts of the world along nationalistic lines.”
He welcomed Mr Blair’s return to the political front line, saying the former prime minister should do “what he’s been doing over the last few weeks, providing a sensible voice on where our relationship should be with the rest of Europe”.
Mr Darling said: “Because our relationship with Europe is the big issue that’s facing this country at the moment, what comes out of the Brexit negotiations will define the future for the next few generations, never mind the next few years.
“And what he is saying is, geographically as well as politically, we’re always going to be close to Europe, we always have been, and we need to have a sensible relationship.”
With the SNP having been in power for ten years now in Scotland “there’s a warning to all politicians – there comes a point where the voters actually notice you’ve been in power and, secondly, you haven’t done very much with it”.
But he stressed that the “big issue in this election is this party’s future post the Brexit referendum”.
The former chancellor said: “We now face a situation where we have a very, very uncertain future following the Brexit vote. It wasn’t the result I wanted but democracy means that that is where we are.
“I think there is a very real risk that the debate in this country is going to be hijacked by people who take a very extreme, bleak and narrow view of what this country can be. And that’s why I want to see as many Labour MPs as possible in the House of Commons.
“I think the majority of people in this country, in Scotland, they don’t want another referendum.”