18 December 2019 14:39
Labour "pursued a path of almost comic indecision" over Brexit during the election and "alienated both sides of the debate", Tony Blair has said. In a speech in London, the ex-PM said he believed the party could have kept much of the vote in traditional Labour areas under a different leadership. In his speech, ex-Labour leader Mr Blair - a longstanding critic of the party's move to the left under Mr Corbyn - said: "I believe with different leadership we would have kept much of our vote in traditional Labour areas. His analysis is the scale of the defeat now threatens the very future and survival of the Labour Party - that under Mr Corbyn it has travelled so far from electability that if it carries on on that trajectory it will never be returned to government and it will be replaced by another force, another party. During this year's election campaign, Mr Corbyn said he wanted renegotiate a Brexit deal with the EU and then put it to a public vote, with the option of remaining in the EU.
Mr Corbyn personified "a brand of quasi-revolutionary socialism - mixing far-left economic policy with deep hostility to Western foreign policy" - and that this combination "never has and never will" appeal to traditional Labour voters, he argued. And the far-left "protest movement" which was born out of Mr Corbyn's leadership was supported by "cult trimmings" and was "utterly incapable" of being voted in as a "credible government". Turning to allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour, he said: "The failure to deal with it is a matter of disgust that left some of us who voted Labour feeling for the first time in our lives conflicted about doing it." Mr Blair, won three general elections in a row between 1997 and 2005, said Labour's challenge was to become a "modern progressive coalition" with the ability to win and hold power or admit it had "exhausted its original mission". Reflecting on Labour's election defeat, Sir Keir - who like Mr Blair was calling for another EU referendum - told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the party had failed to "knock back" the Conservatives' "get Brexit done" slogan. Speaking to Radio 4's Today programme, she said Labour had "a long road to travel", adding that the party needed to tackle anti-Semitism, restore "kindness to our politics" and be more "inclusive".
Hitting back moments later Mr Blair said: "This is a fundamental moment in the history of the Labour Party. Tony Blair has called on Labour members to abandon the policies and political leanings of Jeremy Corbyn, claiming that his leftwing brand of "quasi-revolutionary socialism" had failed the party. In a provocative intervention, the three-time election-winning former Labour leader and prime minister said Corbyn's "misguided ideology and terminal ineptitude" had insulted the party's core voters. "The takeover of the Labour party by the far left turned it into a glorified protest movement with cult trimmings, utterly incapable of being a credible government," said Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, in a speech in London on Wednesday morning. Blair said few would bet against a decade of Conservative rule given the state of Labour, and that unless the party changed course it faced the threat of never winning power again.
On the general election campaign itself, Mr Blair said it was not about Mr Corbyn as a person, but people saw him as 'fundamentally opposing what Britain and Western countries stand for'. It comes as the Shadow Brexit Secretary and leadership contender Sir Keir Starmer warned the party not to 'oversteer' away from the left wing politics of Jeremy Corbyn in the wake of the party's crushing general election defeat. Sir Keir, who confirmed he is 'seriously considering' a run for the leadership, said Mr Corbyn had been right to make Labour an 'anti-austerity' party. 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. But until the election settled the debate, as unfortunately it has, if Labour had gone for Leave it would simply have alienated the half of the nation that opposed Brexit; as well as the vast bulk of party members. He personified an idea, a brand of quasi-revolutionary socialism, mixing far-left economic policy with deep hostility to Western foreign policy, which never has appealed to traditional Labour voters, never will appeal and represented for them a combination of misguided ideology and terminal ineptitude that they found insulting. The takeover of the Labour Party by the far left turned it into a glorified protest movement, with cult trimmings, utterly incapable of being a credible government. This is a moment where either we use the lessons of defeat to build a progressive, modern political coalition capable of competing for, winning and retaining power; or we accept that the Labour Party has exhausted its original mission and is unable to fulfil the purpose for which it was created. The Liberal Party suffered the stresses of Home Rule for Ireland and the cleavage between the radical elements represented by Chamberlain and the more conservative remnants of Whiggery and then later still had to cope with Chamberlain's departure from the party and shift to a populism combining support for the working class and Imperialism; but it was the main instrument of social reform and could still win the election of 1906 and govern up to and through 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War. And for the country, there is a generation of smart, capable, politically conscious people who will never be Tories but have no place in Parliament because of the state of the Labour Party and whose talent is therefore shut out. First, there should be a parallel debate in and out of the Labour Party about the future of progressive politics, how it is reconstructed and reshaped into a winning coalition.