Mehdi Hasan: Is Blair the best man to give advice to Labour in 2011?

Tony's back in town - but should he be speaking to Labour?

Tony Blair is back in Britain to promote the paperback edition of his 2010 memoir, A Journey. The permatanned ex-premier has been doing the rounds of the television and radio studios, offering his views on the Arab Spring as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury's guest-edit of the New Statesman.

He also offered this piece of advice to Ed Miliband, the current Labour leader. From the Times (£):

What he will say is that a progressive party will never win unless it shows that is "in favour of the business community, in favour of entrepreneurs, of enterprise".

Wise words, I guess, from a man who is making millions from his various corporate gigs. But why should Miliband or any other Labour politician heed his advice? The media, and the Cameroons, are still in awe of the former premier. But here are three points worth briefly considering before taking any political advice from Tony Blair in 2011:

1) On Blair's watch, Labour lost four million votes between 1997 and 2005. Lest we forget, in the 2005 general election, Blair was re-elected with a vote share of 35 per cent -- that's less than the majority-less Cameron achieved in 2010. Blair won in 2005 because his opponent was Michael Howard.

2) When Blair left office in the summer of 2007, his personal poll ratings were falling -- and so, too, were the Labour Party's. As the authors of the new book, Explaining Cameron's Coalition, argue, "Blair's ratings were falling from 1997 and that, even if Labour had not changed leader, it is likely that Blair's would have been as low as Brown's were by 2010."

3) Blair invaded Iraq. Regardless of whether you think it was right or wrong to topple Saddam Hussein, politically, the war was a massive misjudgement on Blair's part. It split his party and the country, cost him his political capital, wrecked his reputation and undermined any legacy he might have hoped to leave behind as a three-time election winner. As the former Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell once put it, "Mary Tudor had Calais engraved on her heart. Blair will have Iraq engraved on his heart and there is no escaping it."

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How long will general election campaigning be suspended after the Manchester attack?

Parties have suspended political activities in a mark of respect. 

In the middle of the night, as news broke that an explosion in Manchester had killed scores of concertgoers, political parties reacted almost instantly. Campaigning was cancelled. For at least 24 hours.

Then the details of what happened emerged. That the explosion was deliberately created by a suicide bomber. That little girls died in the blast. Campaigning was suspended indefinitely.

But what does this mean for 8 June 2017? When will campaigning resume, and how? While most see the suspension of the political battle as a matter of respect, some, such as the blogger Guido Fawkes, argue that doing so only gives “the enemies of democracy some satisfaction”.

Here is what we know so far:

The parties have suspended national campaigning

All the mainstream parties have agreed to suspend national campaigning, and are likely to agree together before resuming campaigning again. 

However, Labour has advised candidates that local campaigning is at their discretion. If it does happen, it will be leaflets through doors, rather than public stalls.

Broadcast interviews have also been cancelled

The BBC's Andrew Neil interviewed Theresa May on Monday night, in what was supposed to be the first of a series of interviews with the leaders of different political parties. However, the second, with Ukip’s Paul Nuttall, was scrapped. 

A BBC spokeswoman said: "Following tragic events in Manchester, The Andrew Neil Interviews will not go ahead as planned whilst election campaigning is suspended." The decision to resume interviews is likely to reflect when campaigning resumes. 

The suspension is a gesture of respect

The UK terrorist threat level has risen to “critical”. Since the Westminster Parliament was the target of a terrorist attack only two months ago, you might think one of the primary reasons for stopping campaigning would be the security of the public figures involved.

However, party sources say the main motivation for suspending the campaign is out of respect, and a realisation that the public does not want to see parties squabbling at this point in time. 

Indeed, so far, politicians have not exactly been hiding. The Prime Minister Theresa May went to Manchester on Tuesday morning, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and home secretary Amber Rudd attended the vigil in the evening. 

No one really knows when campaigning will resume

Because the parties want to begin campaigning at the same time, there is no fixed time for when candidates hit the streets again. However, the awkward fact remains that we are halfway through a general election campaign. The Scottish National Party cancelled its manifesto launch after the terror attack. So while “indefinite means indefinite”, as one party source told me, it can’t really mean 8 June. 

When the Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered during the EU referendum, campaigning was suspended for three days before resuming again. If the same rule is applied, campaigning may start as early as Friday. However, the parties may prefer to wait until the weekend, and make a fresh start on Monday.

The Scottish Greens certainly seem to be planning for this. A planned manifesto launch on Friday has been postponed, but may happen on Monday. 

Campaigning may look a bit different when it starts

When campaigning does resume, it is likely to be a gradual process, rather than epic photo ops and rosettes. In the meantime, expect more scrutiny of parties’ policies on terrorism, security and civil liberties. 
 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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