Blair backs Miliband agenda in leadership anniversary lecture

21st July, 2014 3:13 pm

Tony Blair

Tony Blair today gave what could be viewed as his biggest endorsement yet of Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party. In a lecture to mark the twentieth anniversary of his election as Labour leader, the former Prime Minister spelled out his ideas on matters such as devolution, Europe and “the centre ground” – and all seemed to echo what Miliband has planned for Government.

Speaking at the Philip Gould Memorial Lecture, organised by Progress, Blair suggested that Miliband was correct to move on from New Labour (as the current leader said this weekend) because the centre ground has shifted over the past two decades – indeed, that it had shifted considerably during his time in office:

“When I compare my first conference speech of 1994 with my final conference speech of 2006, the policies, programme and direction are absolutely different. The agenda for 2014 would be different again. But the method of thinking would be absolutely the same. So what does this way of thinking consist of?

“First, its values are the classic progressive values. But it distinguishes between the values and the way they’re applied. Policies for each time; values for all time.”

Where has this agenda shifted? Well, in many ways this appeared to be Blair’s most ‘left wing’ speech in some time: there were plenty of references to how he was driven by “social justice”, that he was “motivated by injustice, poverty” and that Labour’s search for power should always be based on “advancing the interests of the people, to give opportunity, hope and a decent chance in life to those denied it”. He also took the opportunity to hit out at the privileged:

“We should always be uncomfortable in the ‘comfort zone’, because the only comfort found there is for the already privileged.”

His remarks on giving power to people bear similarities to Miliband’s devolution agenda, which is set to be a centrepiece of Labour’s offer next year:

“No political philosophy today will achieve support unless it focuses on individual empowerment, not collective control. The role of society or the state becomes about helping the individual help themselves, and to gain control over their own lives and choices.”

On party reform, an issue on which Miliband has impressed Blair so much it is rumoured he is considering a substantial donation, he again seemed to set out his support:

“A changing world means changing policies and a changed party. It did then and it does now.”

During the question and answer session, the topic of Europe came up, and Blair used the moment to explicitly back Miliband’s approach, saying that he is “absolutely right on this”, and that he understand the the UK needs to be at the heart of the EU:

“I would love to see Britain leading in Europe, not having a debate about whether we exit from Europe.”

But the best way to tell that Tony Blair backs Ed Miliband? He said it himself.

“Today I set out why this philosophy of progressive politics remains as relevant, powerful and necessary now as it was when first articulated 20 years ago. And I want it working hard for the next Labour Government, in 2015, with Ed as PM. Philip [Gould] only ever wanted Labour to win; I only ever want Labour to win.”

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  • Theo Blackwell

    Also marbled through the speech and questions afterwards were specific references to the impact of new digital technologies, which he sees as producing “unthinkable” change, redefining the relationship between the individual and collective and providing the potential for user-driven and designed reform of public services. Apart from Jon Cruddas’s speech to the RSA a few weeks back, there has been little thinking on the left about technological change and how it relates to what we say about jobs, growth and public services. I think years hence we’ll look back to this period and think that a bit odd.

  • Andy Harvey

    Blair backs Miliband – oh dearie me. Some false choices here about individual empowerment and collective control – what’s wrong with collective empowerment? The idea he has given a speech in his own honour to mark 20 years since he was lucky enough to become leader only adds fuel to the notion he is a narcissist of the highest order. While it might be right to say that we must always look to the future (not exactly a penetrating insight), that should not mean that we don’t understand or help when some people find the pace of change to be frightening and anxiety ridden. Simply dismissing them as people who are stuck in the past is not good enough.

  • Dan

    Atleast this should hopefully kill off any delusions that Miliband is pursuing some radical, leftwing agenda. His agenda is Blairite, plain and simple. If Labour lose next year, it will have been on a Blairite, “centre-ground”, “credible” policy agenda.

  • PoundInYourPocket

    ” individual empowerment, not collective control. The role of society or the state becomes about helping the individual help themselves”. Pure Thatcherism. It’s not about the collective or about society but individual striving; it’s the politics of the american-dream in which anyone can be president and if you fail it’s your fault. I wonder how much he’ll donate to the Labour Party now it’s back in line ?

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