Tony Blair casts doubt on Labour election win

Mr Blair called on his party to revive the spirit of 'New Labour'. Picture: Greg Macvean

Mr Blair called on his party to revive the spirit of 'New Labour'. Picture: Greg Macvean

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TONY BLAIR has cast doubt on whether Labour can win the general election fighting on Ed Miliband’s “traditional left-wing” platform.

The former prime minister’s comments, in which he acknowledged there was “obviously a difference” between his politics and those of the current leader, came as Mr Miliband appealed to voters ahead of May’s poll by offering an economic recovery which “reaches your kitchen table”.

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The Labour leader used his New Year message to urge the country to choose a “new beginning” in 2015.

But in an interview with the Economist, Mr Blair called on his party to revive the spirit of “New Labour” and position itself in the centre ground to win in May.

Setting out his message to the electorate, Mr Miliband said the election battle was a “moment of possibility” and the “chance to change direction” for the country.

The festive message, apparently recorded at his home, shows Mr Miliband flanked by a Christmas tree and casually dressed in shirt and navy jumper.

“This is the season for new beginnings and hopes for the future,” he said.

“And Britain is ready for a new beginning. Because I don’t have to tell you that all over our country today, there are people working harder and harder, but standing still: families struggling with bills that are growing faster than their wages; young people, taking on mountains of debt to get a proper education, only to find themselves with no job at the other end; and an NHS where people are waiting longer and longer to get the care they need.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. As this New Year dawns, we have the chance to change direction.”

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Mr Miliband said he stood for a “new plan that cuts our deficit responsibly, without threatening our NHS or short-changing our children and their future”.

“This year, we have the power to bring about the change working families all over Britain need. This isn’t about idle dreams or empty promises. It’s about a real, concrete plan: a plan for a recovery which reaches your kitchen table.”

Mr Miliband said in the run-up to the election he would be setting out ideas to raise wages, give young people more opportunities, “set fair rules for immigration” and “rescue our NHS”.

“We have it within our grasp not just to see out the old year but to see out the old ways of running the country,” he said.

“Can we do it? Of course we can.”

But Mr Blair warned that Mr Miliband’s belief that the country had moved to the left in response to the financial crisis was misguided.

The former PM said: “I see no evidence for that. You could argue that it has moved to the right, not left.”

The triple election-winner predicted Tory success in the event of a traditional left-right battle in 2015 and stressed the importance of “not alienating large parts of business, for one thing”.

Mr Miliband has committed his party to what many commentators see as left-wing policies, including the freezing of energy prices and the reinstatement of the 50p top rate of income tax.

Mr Blair told the Economist the election could be one “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”.

Asked if he meant a Tory win, Mr Blair replied: “Yes, that is what happens.”

Underlining the pair’s different approaches, Mr Blair said: “I am still very much New Labour and Ed would not describe himself in that way, so there is obviously a difference there.

“I am convinced the Labour Party succeeds best when it is in the centre ground.”

Mr Miliband’s festive message, apparently recorded at his home, shows the Labour leader flanked by a Christmas tree and casually dressed in a shirt and navy blue jumper.

“This is the season for new beginnings and hopes for the future,” he said.

“And Britain is ready for a new beginning. Because I don’t have to tell you that, all over our country today, there are people working harder and harder, but standing still: families struggling with bills that are growing faster than their wages; young people, taking on mountains of debt to get a proper education, only to find themselves with no job at the other end; and an NHS where people are waiting longer and longer to get the care they need.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. As this new year dawns, we have the chance to change direction.”

Mr Miliband said he stood for a “new plan that cuts our deficit responsibly, without threatening our NHS or short-changing our children and their future”.

“This year, we have the power to bring about the change working families all over Britain need. This isn’t about idle dreams or empty promises. It’s about a real, concrete plan: a plan for a recovery which reaches your kitchen table.”

Mr Miliband said in the run-up to the election he would be setting out ideas to raise wages, give young people more opportunities, “set fair rules for immigration” and “rescue our NHS”.

“We have it within our grasp not just to see out the old year but to see out the old ways of running the country,” he said.

“Can we do it? Of course we can.”

Mr Blair’s comments in the Economist came in for criticism from within the Labour movement.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: “Tony Blair is now a very wealthy person sitting on top of the pile and is disconnected from the lives of ordinary people.

“Having lost touch with ordinary people it is hardly surprising that he labels promising a decent living wage, homes for rent, decent rights at work and making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes to be vote-losing policies.

“It is sad and disappointing that a very wealthy man like Tony Blair, given his background in the Labour movement, opposes measures to close the widening and now unacceptable inequality gap between those at the top and the rest in our society.”

Veteran Labour MP David Winnick said Mr Blair should remember Clement Attlee’s message to Harold Laski that “a period of silence on your part would be welcome”.

Mr Winnick said: “Perhaps the former Labour leader, for whom I have considerable respect for the way he won three elections with a huge majority, he may wish to reflect on the words of Attlee.”

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