Tucked away in the Mirror’s interview today with Peter Mandelson is confirmation that Tony Blair will return to British politics to campaign for Labour in the general election.
The First Secretary of State (what a wonderfully Soviet-style title that is) revealed:
We want all the party’s leadership — past and present — to be contributing. They know as well as anyone what is at stake for the country. Everyone will get stuck in. Everyone will campaign: Tony Blair, John Prescott, David Blunkett.
I doubt that Blair’s return will do Labour any good. There is a genuine risk that the Iraq inquiry will dissuade voters who deserted the party over the war from returning to the fold. In seats such as Bethnal Green and Bow, which George Galloway’s Respect took from Labour in 2005, the war is likely to return as an election issue. Blair’s presence on the campaign trail will only exacerbate the damage to the party.
As the psephologist John Curtice has pointed out, voters — regardless of their precise position on the war — will generally be reminded of an episode of government incompetence.
To his credit, Blair, unlike Margaret Thatcher, who haunted her party as a “backseat driver”, has so far refused to interfere in Labour affairs. He should not abandon this stance. The only winners from his return would be the Liberal Democrats.