Tony Blair, fresh from joining the praise for Margaret Thatcher and saying that as prime minister he sought to “build on” what she had done rather than reverse it, has again blasted Ed Miliband’s Labour leadership as being too left-wing.
In the New Statesman (11 April), Blair urged Labour to “resist the temptation” to come back “as the party opposing ‘Tory cuts’.” Labour must “search for answers”, he said, instead of just expressing anger.
Blair offered no “answers” himself, but hinted what he might support by insisting that, “paradoxically”, the crisis has brought no “decisive shift to the left”. Labour must remain on the “centre ground” (presumed to be pro-cuts).
Ed Miliband has replied to similar previous blasts from Blair by claiming that there is a “new centre ground” in British politics, “a new centre ground, for example, that says that responsibility in the banking system — which we didn’t talk about enough when we were in government — is relevant”.
But, according to the opinion polls, most people see Nick Clegg as more or less exactly in the “centre” of politics, and they despise him: the Lib Dems have crashed in the opinion polls.
The Tories are seen as about as right-wing as they were back in the days of Michael Howard and Ian Duncan-Smith, when one Tory MP commented that the Tory leader had “something of the night” about him, and another that people saw the Tories as “the nasty party”.
Ed Miliband is seen as pretty much as left wing as David Cameron is right wing. Gordon Brown used to be reckoned as only slightly left wing, and Tony Blair (oddly for a Labour leader, but perceptively) as to the right of the “centre-ground” of politics.
The figures show that it is futile for Labour to chase after shifts in the “centre ground”. Labour has plenty of political space to develop a left-wing alternative; the problem is that, despite the signals he gives of being in some vague way “left-wing”, Miliband doesn’t do that.
Left-wing political answers would start with, not be counterposed to, expressing anger at what the Tories are doing. The current Labour quarter-semi-demi campaign against the bedroom tax is the first campaign that the Labour Party has run against incumbent government policy since 1996 (except perhaps the tiny flicker of official Labour agitation on the NHS about a year ago).
The first in 17 years! And so feeble! Even now union and Labour banners are rare on protests against the bedroom tax.
Activists should fight for Labour to do exactly the opposite of what Blair proposes: to start by being a vehicle for people’s anger against the Tories, and go on to make policies which do not track a nebulous “centre ground” of politics, but rather shift the spectrum.