Tony Blair talks with Ed Miliband during a Loyal Address service to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee at Westminster Hall on 20 March 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why the Blair-Brooks revelations are useful for Miliband

The contrast between Blair's bid to save Brooks and Miliband's call for her resignation is a reminder of how Labour has changed for the better since 2010.

There were some Tories who reacted with glee when the news broke that Tony Blair advised Rebekah Brooks at the height of the phone-hacking scandal (a week after the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone was revealed). For them, anything that reminds voters of New Labour's infatuation with the Murdoch empire is politically valuable. It makes it easier to spin the narrative that all politicians were too close to the media and that there was nothing exceptional about David Cameron's ties. Labour, they hope, will also be damaged by the phone-hacking trial. 

But this analysis ignores the fact that Labour is now led by a man who has unambiguously repudiated the Murdoch clan. When Ed Miliband called for Rebekah Brooks to resign and for the BSkyB deal to be abandoned, it was viewed as a huge political gamble. But it has turned out to be one of the shrewdest decisions of his leadership. By distancing himself from News International at a time when it was still politically risky to do, he ensured that he would be able to speak with moral authority on the subject of phone-hacking. 

The Blair revelations are a reminder of how much the party has changed under his leadership. While Blair was telling Brooks to "tough up", Miliband was calling for her resignation (the coincidence of these events is rightly being seen as an act of disloyalty to Labour). It is unthinkable that Miliband, who treats his party with far greater respect and courtesy than Blair, would ever devote such attention to forces so hostile to Labour (note that Blair's pro bono advice followed the Sun's "Labour's lost it" front page). 

The latest events are also a reminder, contrary to what many commentators claim, of why Labour was right to elect Miliband, rather than his brother, in 2010. David Miliband, who served in Blair's cabinet and who was long regarded as his heir apparent (Blair memorably dubbed him the "Wayne Rooney" of his government) would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to distance himself from his party's past. But Ed, who stood on a platform of radical change, was able to offer the clean break with New Labour that was so desperately needed. By doing so, and winning back many of those voters who were so alienated by Blair, he has ensured that Labour has a far greater chance of victory in 2015 than it would have had under a continuity candidate. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.