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Tony Blair: "I would have given Cameron a run for his money”

Former prime minister says that the 2010 election "would have been tighter" if he had remained Labour leader.

Tony Blair suggested that the 2010 election "would have been tighter" if he had remained Labour leader. Photograph: Getty Images.

Tony Blair has been notably guarded in his comments on British politics since leaving office, so in a long Bloomberg profile of the former prime minister this quote stands out: 

Frankly, if I’d had a fourth election, I would have given Cameron a run for his money. I’m not saying I would have won, but it would have been tighter than it was.

One might ask, how much tighter? It is worth remembering that while Labour's share of the vote (29 per cent) was its second lowest since 1918, the party ended up winning 258 seats - more than the Tories did in 1997 (165), 2001 (166) and 2005 (198), more than Labour did in 1983 (209) and 1987 (229) and only 42 fewer than Labour did in 1992 (271). After 13 years in office, I am doubtful that Blair could have improved on this performance. 

But what is significant is his decision to speak out now. Blair's comments will serve to encourage the belief that the best way to beat the Conservatives is by closing down space to Labour's right on the economy, public services and welfare. As he argued in A Journey: "We should have taken a New Labour way out of the economic crisis: kept direct taxes competitive, had a gradual rise in VAT and other indirect taxes to close the deficit, and used the crisis to push further and faster on reform." The party's remaining Blairites, who believe that Ed Miliband has taken Labour too far to the left, will be encouraged by their master's words.