Rejecting the Blair money is just expensive grandstanding

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Last week’s donation of £106,000 from Tony Blair to the Labour Party was designed to show the high level of party unity that currently exists. It showed that, despite all the headlines that claim otherwise, Blair is behind Miliband’s leadership and is willing to make a hefty financial contribution to prove it.

The allocation of the money, equally distributed between 106 target seats, suggested that Blair’s primary concern is getting Labour into power, and did not leave him open to the accusation that he is only supporting candidates who can sneeringly be dismissed as “Blairite”. As has been noted, the target list now seems a little outdated – it was drawn up and released in January 2013, before the bulk of UKIP’s rise in the polls. But here, it served a useful purpose as a ‘non-political’ list of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) most in need of money.

It could have been the story of a united party taking the fight to the Tories, with the New Labour PM falling in line behind a leader who has distanced himself from the former’s record in power. However, the affliction that causes some to be unable to think more than a single press release ahead has struck, and two candidates (here and here) have taken the step of publicly rejecting the cash. More are apparently contemplating following suit.

Just what message do they think they’re sending out? Do they really, honestly think that Labour should have nothing to do with its most successful leader? That trying to force such a complete conscious uncoupling means effectively accepting that the last Labour Government did more harm than good? Because it seems like that sort of argument is best left to opponents.

It gives the impression that the party is still fighting the same fights that were so damaging in Government. If there’s one thing about the unprecedented 13 year unbroken period of Labour in office that should be left behind, it’s the petty factional power struggles.

One candidate reportedly told the Morning Star that the donation of a thousand pounds to their campaign to become an MP was “like being force-fed putrid goats’ brains.” This person cannot suffer from a deficiency of putrid goats’ brains already if they thought this was a wise quote to give the press, even anonymously.

 

You can change the party’s policies, and Ed Miliband has done that. You can’t change the party though, and the history books will say Tony Blair was a Labour Prime Minister whether you take a grand off him or not. That’s how people remember him, and if you think his brand is really so toxic that the party can’t win with his endorsement, then it’s difficult to see quite what you expected from standing on a Labour ticket.

It’s unclear whether candidates are even able to reject the money; the Dundee Courier has reported that the cash will go through and be distributed by the national party, rather than as 106 separate donations to candidates. Labour have refused to confirm or deny this to me, saying only that the Blair donation is “very welcome”.

Perhaps the candidates who have so far taken part in this pointless move don’t need an extra £1,000. There are some candidates who have managed to raise enough that they will already have reached the amount that can be spent in an election run-up. Many more will not be so lucky, and be running against incumbent MPs who are afforded the full backing of the Tories’ megabucks machine.

The story would have been quickly forgotten. The idea that a former leader of a political party might give money to that party does not make particularly good copy. Rejecting the money? There’s a story.

At any rate, Blair is less popular with sections of the Labour Party than he is with the public as a whole. But those who have made a public point of saying no have made the issue a legitimate topic, and candidates who really need a cash injection could come under pressure to do the same, when in all likelihood very few voters would have otherwise realised where the money was going.

Honestly, I can understand why this empty grandstanding might have been attractive. But rejecting that money is an expensive mistake.

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