Don’t elect Jeremy Corbyn, Tony Blair tells Labour

Former prime minister and Labour leader Tony Blair. Picture: PA
Former prime minister and Labour leader Tony Blair. Picture: PA
Share this article
Have your say

TONY Blair has made a desperate plea to Labour activists not to elect hard-left leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn.

In a major speech on the future of the party, the former Prime Minister, who won three election victories, also called on the party to take on nationalism in Scotland “head-on”, accusing the SNP of “caveman politics.”

Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: PA

Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: PA

His intervention came as research by YouGov found Mr Corbyn was the first preference for 43 per cent of party supporters - way ahead of bookies’ favourite Andy Burnham on 26 per cent - and appears set to win the conference.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper was on 20 per cent and Liz Kendall 11 per cent.

The study also forecast that after Ms Kendall and Mrs Cooper had been eliminated and second preferences redistributed under the alternative vote system, Mr Corbyn would beat Mr Burnham by 53 per cent to 47 per cent in the final round.

The 66-year-old Islington North MP only got on the ballot paper because some Blairite MPs on the right lent him their names for nomination to widen the debate but his old left message of high taxation and government spending and pro-immigration has defined the contest.

If your heart is with Jeremy Corbyn, get a transplant

Tony Blair

In a speech at the Progress thinktank in London, Mr Blair warned: “If your heart is with Jeremy Corbyn, get a transplant.”

In a scathing criticism of the politics of Mr Corbyn who came into parliament at the same time as the former Prime Minister in 1983, Mr Blair compared the position facing Labour to the 1980s when the party swung to the left under Michael Foot, paving the way for 18 years of Conservative rule.

“After the 1979 election the Labour Party persuaded itself of something absolutely extraordinary,” Mr Blair said.

“Jim Callaghan had been prime minister and the Labour Party was put out of power by Margaret Thatcher and the Labour Party persuaded itself that the reason why the country had voted for Margaret Thatcher was because they wanted a really left-wing Labour Party.

“This is what I call the theory that the electorate is stupid, that somehow they haven’t noticed that Margaret Thatcher was somewhat to the right of Jim Callaghan.”

Mr Blair said the radical leftism represented by Mr Corbyn was often “quite reactionary” and said Labour had won in the past when it had been true to the principles of social democracy.

“I wouldn’t want to win on an old-fashioned leftist platform. Even if I thought it was the route to victory, I wouldn’t take it,” he said.

“We won elections when we had an agenda that was driven by values, but informed by modernity,” he said.

“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.”

Despite the party’s hammering in the general election in May, Mr Blair - who insisted he was “Labour through and through” - said it could regain power in 2020.

“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 said.

Mr Blair derided the veteran backbencher as the “Tory preference” and said the party could not regain power if it was simply a “platform for protest” against cuts.

He also turned his fire on the SNP who appear to have outflanked Labour on the left.

He said: “We have to take the ideology of nationalism head-on.

“Nationalism is not a new phenomenon. When they talk about it being new politics, it is the oldest politics in the world.

“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’. It’s blaming someone else.

“However you dress it up, it’s a reactionary political force.”

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt warned that a Corbyn-led Labour could be reduced to a “pressure group” that would not have “broad reach into all parts of the United Kingdom”.

Shadow cabinet member Mary Creagh, who staged a failed bid to become leader, warned the party is in danger of becoming “the political equivalent of Millwall FC”, whose fans boast that “no-one likes us, we don’t care” as she urged members not to heed the “siren calls of the left.”

Mr Blair’s former adviser in Downing Street John McTernan, who was also a leading figure in Jim Murphy’s ill-fated election campaign in Scotland, described MPs who nominated Mr Corbyn to widen the debate as “morons.”

He said that the party now had to work out which of the other three candidates was the best-placed to be “an anybody but Corbyn” contender and prevent a “catastrophe” for the party.

Former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett accepted she was “a moron” for nominating Mr Corbyn and has appealed to party members to back Mr Burnham instead.

Meanwhile Labour MPs have warned that if Mr Corbyn is unveiled as leader on 12 September he will face an immediate coup with enough MPs prepared to trigger a new contest.

One senior Labour MP said: “Corbyn won’t even make it to conference [starting 27 September]. Another contest will be triggered immediately.”

Others pointed out that Mr Corbyn had rebelled against the Labour whip more than 500 times.

One MP said: “The whips operation would collapse.”