A year ago I broke the news that Tony Blair was planning to make a “large donation” to Labour. Tonight the party has announced that he has done just that. The former PM has given £1,000 to each of Labour’s 106 target seat candidates. In a letter to PPCs, he wrote:
I know how hard it can be to raise money to fund a local campaign, but for you, in one of our 106 battleground seats, it is even more vital. This is where the election will be won for Labour and that is why I am making a donation to all 106 campaigns.
As one of our key seat candidates you know better than most the scale of the challenge we face, but I have every confidence that with your drive, determination and organisational skills, you will deliver a successful local campaign that will also see our party returned to government.
Blair’s donation is a politically shrewd one. By dividing his largesse between 106 candidates, rather than offering it to the central party, he has ensured wider appreciation for his contribution. It is also notable that Blair, who has done little to disguise his displeasure at Ed Miliband’s decision to break with New Labour, makes no reference to Miliband or to his policy programme in his letter. In a memorably candid interview with the Economist last year, he warned that the election could be one in which “a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”. Asked whether he meant a Conservative victory, he replied: “Yes, that is what happens.”
But the donation should at least silence those who question whether the former PM wants his former party to return to office at all. Such has been the slide in his post-premiership reputation, though, that some will contend any association does Labour more harm than good.
A party spokeperson said in response: “We’re delighted that Tony Blair has given so generously to the local campaigns in the battleground seats our party is targeting at this general election.
“Our campaign is not based on big posters, talking over the heads of voters, or the sound and fury of Westminster politics. It is based on millions of conversations with people on their doorsteps and in their communities”