Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Tony Blair back in Sedgefield

I went down to Sedgefield to hear Tony Blair speak today. I went with an open mind but I did worry about the intervention of someone who divides opinion among Labour Party members. Before this speech, I could say with confidence on the doorstep, that the next Labour Government will be very different than the one elected in 1997. I can still make that pledge, this was a speech by a former Prime Minister on a very specific subject which did not blur any lines. I'm glad that I can also still say that Labour is more united now than it was during Tony's time as leader.

The journalists had all made the trip up from London to try and get the story they wanted, and maybe longing for the days when they could have filled bulletins and column inches with talk of splits. They asked Tony about Ed taking on businesses: Tony said that he fully agreed with Ed that it was right to challenge inequality. They asked why he wasn't on the platform with Ed: Tony quipped that we are a Party that can do more than one thing at the same time.

The speech itself was well received in the room and was very positive throughout. Tony turned the Tory mantra of competence vs chaos on its head, and making the case for a confident, outward looking Britain and describing the UKIP and the Tory Right as mean spirited. He asked if we would rather be seen as adventurous or timid. If we should have global ambitions or be a parochial bystander and if our nation which has built its history on confidence towards others should choose to define itself by resentment to others.

My own position on an EU referendum is very straightforward. We don't live in a country that holds referendum after referendum. Instead we elect a government which we hope share our values and then we let them get on with the job. We know where the parties stand on the EU and other issues, we make our choice at the ballot box.

 I know we didn't get everything right in government and I know that the former Prime Minister will be (quite rightly) followed around for the rest of his life by the shadow of the Iraq war. But during the speech I wasn't thinking about the mistakes we made in the past. What I was reminded of, was that for a large part of our time in office he wasn't such divisive figure and that he led a competent and capable Labour government.

Tony acknowledged that there are disagreements in our Party but firmly stated that what unites us is greater than that which divides us. He said;

"What we share in common is a deep and profound belief in social justice, in the belief that it is the purpose of a Labour government to bring opportunity to those people that don’t have it, and a belief also that it is right that our society, our country and its economy, are run in the interests of the many and not the few. And those are values that unite the Labour party, they are what keep us strong and what should see us on course for a general election victory on May 7."

I'm backing Ed Miliband, and so is Tony Blair.

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