At one of his early Labour conference speeches as leader, Ed Miliband announced to the gathered: “I’m not Tony Blair.” He then was clearly stunned by the rapturous applause which followed. His obvious statement of fact that he was not, indeed, the last leader of the party but one was meant simply to be the start of a list of people he was not, Gordon Brown being amongst them. But the faithful heard an anti-Blair message and ate it up immediately. In spite of his plan to distance himself from New Labour as much as possible, you could see that Miliband was stunned by the Blair hatred amongst Labour party activists he encountered that day. I’ve experienced it first hand myself: if you’re ever on a panel at Labour conference and are bereft of something to say, just slag off Tony Blair. You’ll have them eating out of your hand.
The Daily Telegraph has run a story this week about Blair’s activities since leaving office. It’s not particularly pleasant reading. Conflict of interest; corpulent levels of wealth; third world despots seeking advice. If you want to know all of the gruesome details, there’s plenty of it on the Telegraph politics page (although I was disappointed they didn’t do what they did during the “Lib Dem expenses scandal” pre-election and have a rolling updates page dedicated solely to the topic, one entirely populated by their own journalists commenting and nothing but). What I’m here to discuss is how this latest round of allegations and discoveries will possibly affect Labour’s future, in particular the leadership contest.
I’m not saying that this fresh raking up what Blair’s been up lately to is going to seriously affect how Labour members vote in September. But it is another set back for those in the Labour Party wishing to pursue a more centrist, electable path. The Telegraph has printed today that “Blairism’s worst enemy is the man himself” but I think the problem for Labour is deeper than that. Because Blair’s legacy has now become even more tainted, it makes it that much harder to extract the good things about that period of Labour history from the bad. It all becomes labelled as a failure (despite the three election wins), and the baby definitely gets expelled with the H2O.
I don’t think Liz Kendall was going to win this particular contest anyhow. But I would say that all this stuff about Blair coming out makes it even more unlikely. And that’s really a shame. If Labour want to go in an even more leftist direction this time out, that’s their business. But given they’re the official opposition, for the country’s sake it would be great if that was a decision reached collectively by the membership based on practical and immediate considerations – not on what Tony Blair has got up to post-2007.