Labour fires back at Blair over New Statesman piece

The party says it is right to challenge "old ways of doing things" after Blair warns against a shift to the left.

Labour has just issued a response to Tony Blair's sharply critical piece in the centenary issue of the New Statesman (180 pages, out today). A party spokesman said: 

It is always important to listen to Tony Blair because he has important points to make, including in this article where he emphasises our top priority must be growth and jobs.

As he was the first to recognise, politics always has to move on to cope with new challenges and different circumstances.

For example, on immigration, Labour is learning lessons about the mistakes in office and crafting an immigration policy that will make Britain's diversity work for all not just a few.

It is by challenging old ways of doing things, showing we have understood what we did right and wrong during our time in office that One Nation Labour will win back people's trust.

In other words, Ed Miliband's position remains as before: Blair's "third way" does not represent an appropriate response to Britain's current economic and social problems. 

It is notable that rather than rejecting his warning not to "tack left on tax and spending", the party chose to highlight the example of immigration (he urged the party not to "tack right on immigration"). Blair is known to disagree with Miliband's recent decision to apologise for not imposing transitional controls on migration from eastern Europe, which he regarded as essential to fill gaps in the labour market at a time of growth. For Miliband, this is a useful example of how he is moving on not just from New Labour's excessive economic liberalism but also what an increasing number in the party view as its excessive social liberalism. 

Ed Miliband speaks at the CBI's annual conference on November 19, 2012 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.