Ed Miliband and Tony Blair at Westminster Hall in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Blair's surprising agreement with Miliband on inequality

The former PM, who once said he didn't mind how much David Beckham earned, says he agrees "completely" with the Labour leader on the subject. 

The most striking moment of the Q&A that followed Tony Blair's speech on the EU came when he remarked that he agreed "completely" with what Ed Miliband was saying "about the central challenge of inequality". Striking, because the two men have often at odds on this issue. When Miliband was a visiting lecturer at Harvard University in 2003 he played his class a video of the former PM being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman during the 2001 election in which he was asked six times whether the gap between the rich and the poor mattered - and six times refused to say that it did. It was this encounter that produced Blair's memorable declaration that "It’s not a burning ambition for me to make sure that David Beckham earns less money". Miliband has often cited this quote as evidence of New Labour was too "relaxed" about inequality (although child poverty and pensioner poverty were significantly reduced between 1997 and 2010, the gap between the rich and poor slightly increased having widened dramatically under the Conservatives). 

Similarly notable was Blair's response today that the party has "excellent policies" to address this issue. Since Miliband became leader Blair has made little attempt to disguise his disagreement with measures such as the reintroduction of the 50p tax rate. It's worth noting that Blair's comments were made in response to a question on Miliband's stance on business. By simply replying that he agreed with him on inequality he avoided a potentially troublesome answer. But it's also possible that Blair, like many others, now feels that the gap between the rich and poor, a side-issue during the long boom, can no longer be ignored. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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