Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair has raised the prospect of his party teaming up with the Liberal Democrats if they are to win power again.
The ex-premier delivered a damning verdict of Labour’s current fortunes following their disastrous general election defeat last year.
In a speech in London – ahead of the 120th anniversary of the party – Mr Blair described Labour’s current leadership contest as a “make-or-break moment” following their fourth general election defeat in a row.
He claimed any of the three contenders for the leadership – Lisa Nandy, Sir Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey – would be a “significant improvement” on current leader Jeremy Corbyn.Making the case for “fundamental reconstruction” within Labour, Mr Blair said part of this would be to “correct the defect from our birth”.
The 66-year-old explained this “separated the Liberal reforming conditions of [David] Lloyd-George, [William] Beveridge and [John Maynard] Keynes from the Labour ones of [Keir] Hardie, [Clement] Attlee, [Ernest] Bevin and [Nye] Bevan”.
“These traditions became separated by ideas around class, industrial organisation, the role of the state and individual liberty,” he said.
“How this is done, institutionally, that’s a matter for debate.
“But intellectually and philosophically it is absolutely essential these two traditions are reunited.”
Yet, Mr Blair – who is said to have flirted with a coalition with Paddy Ashdown’s Lib Dems in the 1990s – warned today’s Lib Dems would have “to show the same clarity of purpose” in aspiring to govern as their predecessors he namechecked.
Later, asked directly if he was proposing a formal alliance between Labour and the Lib Dems, Mr Blair replied: “I literally don’t know at this stage, it could go in a number of different directions.”
The three-times election winner admitted at the beginning of his speech that “it’s not as if my advice is particularly welcome” among today’s Labour membership.
But he stressed how he and the late Harold Wilson are the only two people born within Labour’s 120-year history to have won an election for the party.
Mr Blair described Labour’s achievements while in power as “huge”, but said the party has “too often been a failure” as a “political competitor”.
“Out of the 120 years, Labour has been in power for just over 30 of them. That is a stark statistic,” he said.
Mr Blair, a frequent critic of outgoing Labour leader Mr Corbyn, described the party’s general election defeat in December as “entirely predictable and predicted”.
He said: “We went into the election with a leader with a -40% net approval rating, on political terrain chosen by our opponents, with a manifesto promising the Earth but from a planet other than Earth, and a campaign which substituted a narcissistic belief in our own righteousness for professionalism.”
Mr Blair urged Labour to use their newest spell out of power to “think” about the future of the party, but warned – if it doesn’t find the right answers – it could “end up too strong to disappear, but too weak to win”.
Responding to Mr Blair’s comments, Mr Corbyn said: “
He added: “I simply say to all those who want to analyse our party: This country is one of the most unequal in Europe.
“We have more people sleeping rough than there were 10 years ago, we have more people living in serious poverty in this country.
“The idea that we return to some kind of market-led economy analysis as a Labour Party is not the way forward.
“The way forward, surely, is to recognise the need to rebalance our economy and our society.”