Tony Blair has warned the Labour Party against a move to the left after its shattering general election defeat, declaring the party will lose again if it doesn’t occupy the center ground. The former prime minister said there was no evidence of a shift to the left in British political attitudes, despite the Labour Party losing its strongholds in Scotland to the left-leaning Scottish National Party (SNP). Blair, who led Labour to three general election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005, called on the party to position itself in a “radical center.” He described Labour’s 2015 general election results, in which the party lost 26 seats, a “severe defeat on top of another severe defeat.” Blair’s stark warning comes as the Labour Party’s leadership contest gets underway, with former Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham the current favorite for the post.
Burnham faces the challenge of balancing Labour’s commitments to the trade unions – which finance the party and want it to the move to the left – and the strategists who want Labour to occupy the center ground. While Blair didn’t back a particular candidate in the contest, he made it clear where he stands on the future of the party. Speaking to the Times on Thursday, he said: “The public always looks for a leader who is going to lead the country and can rise above their party. If you retreat into your comfort zone, you lose — that’s the lesson of 100 years of our history.
“I don’t see any evidence that [the country] has shifted to the left … the Labour Party has to have an alignment of strategy and tactics and that strategy has to be based on the center ground – not splitting the difference between progressive and conservative positions, but a radical center in which you are able to take decisions for the future of the country.” Blair said former Labour leader Ed Miliband’s election campaign had a “feel too much of an old fashioned position.”The party’s hostility to business made its economic policies lose credibility. “If you can’t get at least a significant degree of business support, it’s very hard to win an argument on the economy,” Blair added.
The former PM warned against shifting to the left in a bid to woo SNP voters in Scotland, many of whom were once Labour supporters. “Some people say, ‘we lost votes to the Tories but we also lost votes to UKIP and the SNP’ and that leads them to say, ‘maybe we don’t really need a strategy from the center because UKIP’s off to the right and the SNP positioned themselves to the left.’“We have got to be really careful of this. The truth is, a strong Labour Party occupying the center ground operates a gravitational pull from both left and right,” he said. Senior figures from the Blair years have lined up to criticize Ed Miliband’s election failure this week.
Blair’s former communications chief Alistair Campbell echoed his warning on Thursday, saying Ed Miliband “never got the right economic or electoral strategy in place.”“A good campaign cannot be called a good campaign without a good strategy,” the former Downing Street spin doctor said. Lord Mandelson, another architect of Blair’s New Labour, urged the party not to retreat into its comfort zone of moribund left-wing policies. “False unity — rooted in complacency and make-believe — is not the way to win the next election,” Mandelson said. Labour’s soul searching comes at a time when the Liberal Democrats, formerly Britain’s third largest party, are still coming to terms with falling to just eight seats in the election.
One novel idea being floated is for the two parties to merge together in a union of progressive policies. The late former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy reportedly contemplated the idea in his final days.While Labour in its current form is dead set on winning a majority in the next election, a third defeat at the polls in 2020 will mean anything is possible.