Tony Blair used to joke: “This has been my worst week until the next one.” But after Ed Miliband’s worst week since he became Labour leader, Blair does Miliband few favours in his interview in today’s Sun.
The former prime minister offers his clearest endorsement yet of the coalition’s public service reforms and implies that Labour under Miliband is “pinned in its ideological past”. Blair says: “I think some of the technical aspects of reform – competition in the NHS, putting the patient first, breaking up the traditional state school system in favour of academies and trust schools – these were things we started.”
As Andy Burnham recently noted in the Times (£), Michael Gove’s successful attempt to portray himself as the “torchbearer for new Labour’s education reforms” is one of the reasons why his agenda has proceeded at breakneck pace. The endorsement of “The Master” himself (as several Tory cabinet ministers refer to Blair) will only further embolden the Education Secretary. When Blair declares, “I wanted to give to you full-on New Labour”, some in the coalition will reply: we have.
Unlike Miliband, who memorably declared that the “The era of New Labour has passed”, Blair insists, with messianic fervour, “the concept can’t possibly be over because the concept isn’t time related”. Like Kim Il-sung, one senses, Blair intends to govern from beyond the (political) grave.
As before, Blair gives Miliband his “full support” but adds the rider that Labour will only win “if it fights from the centre”, the implication being that Miliband has vacated that hallowed ground. All the same, it would be understandable if the former PM were frustrated at a man who declared that New Labour was dead but who conveniently borrows from the Blair playbook.
In a speech to business leaders in October, Miliband flooded his text with references to New Labour’s support for wealth creation. In his speech on responsibility this week, he even quoted the man himself:
Tony Blair once said he wanted a country “where your child in distress is my child, your parent ill and in pain is my parent, your friend unemployed or homeless is my friend; your neighbour my neighbour. That is the true patriotism of a nation.” This patriotism is all around us. We see it every day.
But if ever proof were needed that Blair sees Cameron, not Miliband, as his “heir”, today’s interview supplies it.