Britain's Tony Blair publicly faults Labour party successor

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 11, 2013 12:33 PM
Britain's Tony Blair publicly faults Labour party successor

By Andrew Osborn

LONDON (Reuters) - Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Thursday the Labour party he led to three election victories was in danger of becoming a protest movement without electable policies - his boldest foray into British politics since resigning.

In an article that prompted Labour leader Ed Miliband to defend his own leadership, Blair suggested the left-leaning party looked like it was offering austerity-hit voters sympathy but few specific remedies before a 2015 general election.

"The scenario is more menacing than it seems," Blair wrote in the New Statesman magazine. "The guiding principle should be that we are the seekers after answers, not the repository for people's anger."

The Labour party had to remain on the center ground of politics if it was to succeed again, said Blair, arguing it was wrong to tack right on some issues and left on others. He did not mention Miliband by name.

As the conservative-led coalition government pushes through real terms spending cuts to welfare to try to cut a large public deficit, the opposition Labour party has condemned it for imposing hardship on those worse off in society.

But its critics say Labour would have to make similar cuts if it were in government and have accused it of failing to suggest alternative policies of its own, a sentiment Blair said he shared.

"There is no need to provide every bit of detail. People don't expect it," Blair wrote. "But they want to know where we're coming from because that is a clue as to where we would go, if elected."

Famous for pioneering what came to be known as "third way politics", Blair said Britain risked slipping back into stale left-right politics with Labour merely defending the existing welfare system rather than showing leadership on tough issues.

His comments ruffled feathers in Labour ranks because they echoed criticism that has haunted Miliband for the last two and a half years, during which he has had to work hard to try to establish his own credibility and rehabilitate that of Labour.

One recent poll put Labour 14 percent ahead of the ruling Conservatives, but some in the party think its lead should be much wider because of public discontent over austerity measures.

Miliband brushed aside Blair's advice, making it clear he thought he was wrong.

"I'm leading in my own way and I think that's what is most important," Miliband told BBC TV. "Tony Blair has always got important things to say and he's also the first to recognize this: That political parties need to move forwards not backwards."

Blair, 59, was in office from 1997-2007 and involved Britain in the deeply unpopular invasion of Iraq, something which ultimately helped end his political career.

Based in London, he now presides over a successful network of global consultancy businesses and charities and has assumed a higher public profile in recent months.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)