Since he retired as Prime Minister in 2007, Tony Blair has led a relatively quiet life. Because of the inquiry over the Iraq War, security worries prevented him from attending the launch of his own memoirs. He also appears to have lost every battle he cared about or was involved in – from Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader to Britain leaving the EU.
According to a recent report by The Economist, though, the coronavirus crisis is giving him a new lease of political life.
He is reportedly dedicating his personal energy and the collective resources of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report says: “By British standards, it has a lot of resources, 250-300 people working all around the world, including some who were on the front line of the Ebola outbreak in 2014.
“It is focused on the important question of making government more effective and combines specialists in fields that are central to the fight against the virus: public policy, technology and medicine.”
For many, it might seem ironic that Mr Blair’s objective is now “effectiveness of government”, as while he was Prime Minister, his continuous infighting with his Chancellor, Gordon Brown, heavily damaged N.10.
Lord John Prescott, who served as deputy for Mr Blair, said after the 2010 general election: “We lost the election when we started attacking each other internally about Brown and Blair.”
The levels of distrust and infighting between the two men came into the open that year, after Mr Blair published his memoirs ‘A Journey’.
The former Prime Minister used his book to expose Mr Brown as a manipulative and “maddening” figure, who pushed him to his limits over the cash-for-honours scandal.
Mr Blair claimed that his former chancellor put “relentless personal pressure” on him during his time in Downing Street.
He admitted that he repeatedly considered sacking Mr Brown but failed to identify anyone who could replace him and eventually concluded that he was better “inside and constrained” than “outside and let loose”.
He described Mr Brown as a “maddening figure” who was not capable of being a “normal bloke” sort of politician, but conceded that he possessed an acute “analytical intelligence” which stood him in good stead as Chancellor.
He wrote: “My failure to [remove him] was not a lack of courage…It was because I believed, despite it all, despite my own feelings at times, that he was the best chancellor for the country.”
The former Prime Minister also accused Mr Brown of politicising the cash for honours scandal when it erupted in 2006, in a bid to make him ditch radical reforms to pensions drawn up by Lord Turner.
The then Chancellor threatened to ensure that there was an official Labour investigation into the scandal, in which Mr Blair was accused of doling out seats in the House of Lords in exchange for sizable donations to the party, unless the Prime Minister shelved the plans.
Mr Blair refused and within two days the then Labour Party treasurer gave a TV interview, which led to the threatened investigation.
The former Prime Minister, who stood down in 2007 to be replaced by Mr Brown, said the damage to the Labour Party and to his own reputation as a result of the ensuing outcry had been immense.
He also pinned the blame for Labour’s 2010 election defeat squarely on Mr Brown, arguing that had the Government stuck by the centrist policies of New Labour it could have clung on to power.
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In the postscript, Mr Blair asked himself why Labour lost, and replied: “The response, I fear, is obvious.
“It won as New Labour. It lost by ceasing to be that.”
He observed that, had Mr Brown continued New Labour politics, victory would have been possible.
He claimed that his successor failed to make political capital out of the economic crisis.
He described the initial bank bail-out plan as “excellent” but he noted that later decisions to increase taxes and abandon Labour reforms proved fatal at the ballot box.
He said that “competitive” taxes on income should have been maintained and other levies, such as VAT, raised instead.
Mr Blair finished the book by urging Labour members not to “slide” or “veer” to the Left.
He warned: “If we take this path, the next defeat will be even more stinging.”
Under Mr Corbyn in December, Labour suffered its worst general election defeat since 1935.
Published at Fri, 01 May 2020 08:17:00 +0000