Blair's criticism is political gold for Miliband

The former PM's open disagreement over Syria shores up support for Miliband among anti-war Lib Dems.

Since Ed Miliband's election as Labour leader in his 2010, Tony Blair has sought to avoid explicitly referring to his obvious political differences with the man who sounded the death knell for New Labour.

But interviewed on the Today programme this morning on last week's Syria vote, he remarked frankly: "I wrote before the vote that I thought we had to support action in Syria and I said after the vote that I was disappointed by it. So this is something where I just have to disagree with the leadership of the party". What is significant is that he chose to blame Miliband, rather than Tory backbenchers or David Cameron, for the defeat, the first time he has openly taken issue with one of the Labour leader's stances. 

Blair made it clear that he believed Miliband behaved irresponsibly by not supporting the government's motion last week. "Not to act, I think, is dangerous because you're sending a signal that such a use of chemical weapons can take place without the international community having a robust and proper response," he said. He warned that while military action could be "long and bloody and difficult and expensive", inaction would be "long and bloody and difficult and expensive and worse". 

But while Cameron is also trying to frame Miliband as the guilty party, declaring at PMQs this week: "I don't think it was necessary to divide the House on a vote that could have led to a vote but he took the decision that it was", it's hard to think of a less helpful ally for him than Blair. 

Every time that Blair champions intervention, it inclines many Tories to do the reverse. For Miliband, conversely, the former PM's criticism is political gold. It validates his claim to have "turned the page" on New Labour and helps to shore up the support of the key group of 2010 Lib Dem voters (who will determine the outcome in 2015), who abandoned Labour in protest at Iraq. As one tweeter wrote shortly after the interview, "I don't feel very inspired by Miliband at best of times, but the moment Blair starts criticising him, I go all protective and sympathetic."

Since last week's defeat, to the frustration of many Lib Dems, Miliband has framed himself as the man who prevented a "rush to war", as the antithesis of 2003-era Blair. In that task, nothing could be more helpful than the damning judgement of the man himself. 

Update: Blair's once impeccably loyal deputy has rowed in behind Miliband.

Tony Blair talks with Ed Miliband during a Loyal Address service to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee at Westminster Hall. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images/Christopher Furlong
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A dozen defeated parliamentary candidates back Caroline Flint for deputy

Supporters of all the leadership candidates have rallied around Caroline Flint's bid to be deputy leader.

Twelve former parliamentary candidates have backed Caroline Flint's bid to become deputy leader in an open letter to the New Statesman. Dubbing the Don Valley MP a "fantastic campaigner", they explain that why despite backing different candidates for the leadership, they "are united in supporting Caroline Flint to be Labour's next deputy leader", who they describe as a "brilliant communicator and creative policy maker". 

Flint welcomed the endorsement, saying: "our candidates know better than most what it takes to win the sort of seats Labour must gain in order to win a general election, so I'm delighted to have their support.". She urged Labour to rebuild "not by lookin to the past, but by learning from the past", saying that "we must rediscover Labour's voice, especially in communities wher we do not have a Labour MP:".

The Flint campaign will hope that the endorsement provides a boost as the campaign enters its final days.

The full letter is below:

There is no route to Downing Street that does not run through the seats we fought for Labour at the General Election.

"We need a new leadership team that can win back Labour's lost voters.

Although we are backing different candidates to be Leader, we are united in supporting Caroline Flint to be Labour's next deputy leader.

Not only is Caroline a fantastic campaigner, who toured the country supporting Labour's candidates, she's also a brilliant communicator and creative policy maker, which is exactly what we need in our next deputy leader.

If Labour is to win the next election, it is vital that we pick a leadership team that doesn't just appeal to Labour Party members, but is capable of winning the General Election. Caroline Flint is our best hope of beating the Tories.

We urge Labour Party members and supporters to unite behind Caroline Flint and begin the process of rebuilding to win in 2020.

Jessica Asato (Norwich North), Will Straw (Rossendale and Darween), Nick Bent (Warrington South), Mike Le Surf (South Basildon and East Thurrock), Tris Osborne (Chatham and Aylesford), Victoria Groulef (Reading West), Jamie Hanley (Pudsey), Kevin McKeever (Northampton South), Joy Squires (Worcester), Paul Clark (Gillingham and Rainham), Patrick Hall (Bedford) and Mary Wimbury (Aberconwy)

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.