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13 February 2012

What Tony Blair and David Miliband have to say to the Labour Party

Blair tells the party to focus on the centre-ground and links with the City, echoing Miliband's

By Samira Shackle

Tony Blair is back. After a long break from domestic politics, the former prime minister has met with Labour MPs to offer his advice on how to win the next election.

One can guess Blair’s views on the subject, and indeed, the Financial Times reports this morning that he told the seven MPs that Labour should stay firmly in the centre ground and build closer relationships with business.

The former prime minister stayed away from domestic politics during Gordon Brown’s premiership, focusing instead on his international roles in the Middle East and Africa. Now, he has decided it is time to re-engage behind the scenes.

Ed Miliband’s office said that the Labour leader was “fully supportive” of the meeting, which is the second to take place in the space of a few months. However, Blair’s advice could be seen as a veiled criticism of Miliband’s attacks on “predatory” capitalism and the excesses of the City.

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There is also the possibility that it will be seen as an attempt to promote David Miliband as an alternative to his brother. Certainly, Blair’s advice closely mirrors that offered by the elder Miliband in a New Statesman essay earlier this month.

The Financial Times quotes one of the MPs who attended the meeting as saying:

Blair said we have to be credible with business. We can’t go into the next election without the support of a single CEO from a big company, as we did at the last election.

He also believes that if you want to win, you have to be convincingly in the centre ground. This is someone who has won three elections: you can’t do that if you don’t have a strategic brain.

Writing in the NS two weeks ago, David Miliband said:

It was a tough job to win back economic trust after 1992. The bequest from 2010 is even tougher. At the last election, not a single major business endorsed Labour, and we cannot afford that again.

After 1994, we did not say that it was a great pity we had to compromise our principles to meet the electorate halfway; we said that it was vital to reform the statement of our principles to reflect what we believed.

The two are certainly singing from the same hymn-sheet.