Blair’s back -- they must be desperate

Labour’s “secret weapon” is likely to backfire.

This general election has been notable for many things, but one of them has been the absence of the Cheshire-cat grin of our former prime minister, Tony Blair. We last saw him, and heard his now strangely mid-Atlantic tones, just before the campaign actually started in his former parliamentary seat.

Now comes news that he is to be unleashed as Labour's "secret weapon". He is expected to sprinkle his stardust on some marginals in the south-east before voters in the north-west enjoy the good fortune of having his presence bestowed upon them.

Labour must be desperate. And that's not just my opinion. In the Guardian (article linked above), Patrick Wintour wrote that Blair "has not been seen since he gave a speech in his old Sedgefield constituency almost a month ago".

Actually, that's not quite true. The Daily Mail's David Jones tracked him down to a convention centre just outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where Blair headed the bill at the National Achievers' Congress. The paper says that for appearing at what it called a "glitzy, get-rich-quick rally" and its associated speaking tour, the man who is supposed to be bringing peace to the Middle East was being paid £350,000.

Pretending to be an ordinary delegate, Jones managed to speak to Blair. Here is his report of what Tony said about the UK election. "He might do 'something' before the campaign finished, he went on unenthusiastically, adding: 'But I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't.' If he appeared on the stump people would accuse him of meddling, he explained, but if he didn't they'd say he didn't care."

Not exactly fighting talk from Labour's "secret weapon", is it?

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Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Jeremy Corbyn fans are getting extremely angry at the wrong Michael Foster

He didn't try to block the Labour leader off a ballot. He's just against hunting with dogs. 

Michael Foster was a Labour MP for Worcester from 1997 to 2010, where he was best known for trying to ban hunting with dogs. After losing his seat to Tory Robin Walker, he settled back into private life.

He quietly worked for a charity, and then a trade association. That is, until his doppelganger tried to get Jeremy Corbyn struck off the ballot paper. 

The Labour donor Michael Foster challenged Labour's National Executive Committee's decision to let Corbyn automatically run for leadership in court. He lost his bid, and Corbyn supporters celebrated.

And some of the most jubilant decided to tell Foster where to go. 

Foster told The Staggers he had received aggressive tweets: "I have had my photograph in the online edition of The Sun with the story. I had to ring them up and suggest they take it down. It is quite a common name."

Indeed, Michael Foster is such a common name that there were two Labour MPs with that name between 1997 and 2010. The other was Michael Jabez Foster, MP for Hastings and Rye. 

One senior Labour MP rang the Worcester Michael Foster up this week, believing he was the donor. 

Foster explained: "When I said I wasn't him, then he began to talk about the time he spent in Hastings with me which was the other Michael Foster."

Having two Michael Fosters in Parliament at the same time (the donor Michael Foster was never an MP) could sometimes prove useful. 

Foster said: "When I took the bill forward to ban hunting, he used to get quite a few of my death threats.

"Once I paid his pension - it came out of my salary."

Foster has never met the donor Michael Foster. An Owen Smith supporter, he admits "part of me" would have been pleased if he had managed to block Corbyn from the ballot paper, but believes it could have caused problems down the line.

He does however have a warning for Corbyn supporters: "If Jeremy wins, a place like Worcester will never have a Labour MP.

"I say that having years of working in the constituency. And Worcester has to be won by Labour as part of that tranche of seats to enable it to form a government."