Blair does Miliband no favours

Former prime minister backs the coalition's NHS and education reforms.

Tony Blair used to joke: "This has been my worst week until the next one." But after Ed Miliband's worst week since he became Labour leader, Blair does Miliband few favours in his interview in today's Sun.

The former prime minister offers his clearest endorsement yet of the coalition's public service reforms and implies that Labour under Miliband is "pinned in its ideological past". Blair says: "I think some of the technical aspects of reform - competition in the NHS, putting the patient first, breaking up the traditional state school system in favour of academies and trust schools - these were things we started."

As Andy Burnham recently noted in the Times (£), Michael Gove's successful attempt to portray himself as the "torchbearer for new Labour's education reforms" is one of the reasons why his agenda has proceeded at breakneck pace. The endorsement of "The Master" himself (as several Tory cabinet ministers refer to Blair) will only further embolden the Education Secretary. When Blair declares, "I wanted to give to you full-on New Labour", some in the coalition will reply: we have.

Unlike Miliband, who memorably declared that the "The era of New Labour has passed", Blair insists, with messianic fervour, "the concept can't possibly be over because the concept isn't time related". Like Kim Il-sung, one senses, Blair intends to govern from beyond the (political) grave.

As before, Blair gives Miliband his "full support" but adds the rider that Labour will only win "if it fights from the centre", the implication being that Miliband has vacated that hallowed ground. All the same, it would be understandable if the former PM were frustrated at a man who declared that New Labour was dead but who conveniently borrows from the Blair playbook.

In a speech to business leaders in October, Miliband flooded his text with references to New Labour's support for wealth creation. In his speech on responsibility this week, he even quoted the man himself:

Tony Blair once said he wanted a country "where your child in distress is my child, your parent ill and in pain is my parent, your friend unemployed or homeless is my friend; your neighbour my neighbour. That is the true patriotism of a nation." This patriotism is all around us. We see it every day.

But if ever proof were needed that Blair sees Cameron, not Miliband, as his "heir", today's interview supplies it.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

0800 7318496