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29 March 2010

Enter, stage left, Tony Blair

Time for the former prime minister to set the record straight about David Cameron.

By James Macintyre

In Westminster, much of the talk is of the debate later tonight on Channel 4 between Alistair Darling, George Osborne and Vince Cable. How the public rates Osborne will be of particular interest.

However, tomorrow there will be a public performance of a different kind, one that may have at least as much impact on the general election campaign. Tony Blair, the former prime minister who now serves as the Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East, will deliver a speech in his old constituency of Sedgefield about Gordon Brown, David Cameron and the domestic scene. It will be his first major contribution on British politics since he left No 10 in 2007.

Now, readers will doubtless question whether Blair is an asset to Labour at this time, particularly given the fallout from Iraq. However, like or loathe Blair, there is at least one domestic matter on which his opinion is badly needed.

Cameron, who has called himself the “heir to Blair”, has long claimed that he has taken his party on a “journey” akin to Blair’s modernisation of the Labour Party. I, for one, have always questioned this, arguing that the Tory leader has instigated only the most superficial of changes, and not fundamentally reformed policy as Neil Kinnock and Blair did.

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Some, meanwhile, have speculated that Blair secretly hopes that Cameron will win the election, either to continue his project, or because it is flattering for his successor to have failed, where Blair succeeded thrice, to beat the Tories.

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Tomorrow, Blair will have the perfect opportunity to clear this up once and for all. It will be a fascinating speech.