Tony Blair: All leadership hopefuls would be ‘significant improvement’ on Corbyn
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Tony Blair: All leadership hopefuls would be ‘significant improvement’ on Corbyn

Former UK Prime Minister said party needs a 'head to toe renewal' but refused to be drawn on which candidate he is backing

Former prime minister Tony Blair during a speech to mark the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Labour party, in the Great Hall at King's College, London. (Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
Former prime minister Tony Blair during a speech to mark the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Labour party, in the Great Hall at King's College, London. (Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

Any of the three remaining Labour leadership hopefuls would be a “significant improvement” on Jeremy Corbyn, according to former prime minister Tony Blair.

But he has vowed to keep his own preferred candidate close to his chest out of fear of doing them “damage”, he told a central London audience on Thursday.

In his strongest intervention yet in the race to succeed Mr Corbyn, the former leader said the party would need a “head to toe renewal” to win power again.

“We can be clear and radical and still in the centre,” argued Mr Blair, who led New Labour for 13 years.

During an event at King’s College London, with his wife Cherie Blair and youngest son Leo watching on, he said the party had “too often been a failure” as a competitor at elections, following its streak of four election losses in a row.

Asked about the leadership contest, Mr Blair said that whoever wins the race out of shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir, Lisa Nandy and shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey would be a “significant improvement” on the outgoing Mr Corbyn.

The Islington North MP announced he was stepping down after leading the party to its worst election defeat since 1935 at the December poll.

His tenure was dogged by allegations he failed to properly deal with antisemitism in the party. He was also criticised for associations during his political career. Corbyn insisted he was a life-long anti-racist and rejected claims he had not properly tackled the scourge.

During last week’s Jewish community hustings, the candidates, including Emily Thornberry who has since been eliminated from the race, committed to tackling antisemitism in they get the top job.  All but Sir Keir Starmer said they would call themselves a Zionist, though in an interview with Jewish News, the frontrunner clarified that he did support Zionism.

After the hustings, the Jewish Labour Movement announced that its members had nominated Lisa Nandy for leader.

Blair said: “I don’t want to damage anyone by supporting them so I have made up my mind that I am not going to give an opinion on which candidate.

“I think whatever happens there is going to be a significant improvement.”

During his 14-minute speech, Mr Blair said Labour had shifted away from offering voters a plan for government, calling the 2019 manifesto “wrong” for “promising the earth”.

The 66-year-old argued that, with technological developments happening at pace, “everything must change” for Labour if it was to convince voters it could be trusted to wield power.

“Labour’s aim is not to trend on Twitter or to have celebrities – temporarily, by the way – fawn over it,” he said.

“Our task is to win power. To get our hands stuck into the muddy wrangle of governing, where out of it can be pulled the prize of progress.”

He argued that holding on to left-wing principles without power rendered them “pretty meaningless”.

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