Blair's loyal friends

Irwin Stelzer joins Berlusconi and backs Blair as EU president

For the sake of his (admittedly tenuous) relationship with the left, Tony Blair must hope that a man is not judged by his friends. After Silvio Berlusconi backed Blair to become the first president of Europe, Rupert Murdoch's intellectual guru, Irwin Stelzer, today adds his support to the campaign.

Stelzer's endorsement of Blair in the Guardian is likely to prompt cries of "Betrayal!" from Bill Cash et al. He writes:

I yield to no one in my dislike of the unaccountable, kleptocratic bureaucracy and its appropriation to itself of the prerogatives of parliament. But you lost that fight when your prime minister reneged on his promise of a referendum and signed the constitution -- er, treaty. The EU's interest, which is what the role is all about now, is clearly in appointing (elections are not the thing in the EU) a famous, dynamic leader who can give it instant credibility on the world stage.

Stelzer does not touch on the Eurosceptics' nightmare: that David Cameron will be left in office but not in power as Blair's EU acquires ever more authority. But he does offer his own take on Labour's internal strife.

In something of an overture to James Purnell and David Miliband, Stelzer remarks of Blair:

He did make voters realise that they should be in charge, achieve at least some reforms, and create a dialogue that will make others possible once the Brown regime passes into opposition and Blairites regain control of the Labour Party.

Yet there's no chance of that happening while the trade unions retain a third of the votes in Labour's electoral college. In a typical display of eloquence, Derek Simpson, the joint head of Unite, recently branded Purnell, Miliband and Peter Mandelson "thick" and "Tories".

Far more likely is that the centre-left "dream ticket" of Harriet Harman and Jon Cruddas will be elected, backed by the Compass wing of the party.

The Blairites had better hope that their man makes it to Brussels.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.