Blair: Infighting ‘old-fashioned’

Labour’s introverted attacks over the party’s future leadership are a “turn off” to the public, Tony Blair has warned.

Delivering a speech to the left-wing think tank Progress this morning, the prime minister called on his party to move on from the infighting of the last week, which has seen senior government ministers lining up to support either him or his expected successor, Gordon Brown.

He sought to deal with the simmering resentment among his backbenchers and cabinet colleagues by attempting to rise above it, dismissing the political manoeuvring as “irredeemably old-fashioned”.

“You know, the attacks on the leader, the leader responds, the briefings, the counter-briefings, the statutory trade union leader out at the end of the week saying the leader’s got to go. the only thing we didn’t have was the smoke-filled room and that’s because we banned those,” he said amid laughter.

In his first speech since confirming that he would step down within the next 12 months, Mr Blair chose to concentrate on the future and Labour’s opportunity to “remake ourselves”.

“We can only do it not by behaving like we did last week, but by behaving like we did when we were hungry for power before 1997 when we understood that what mattered in the end was the people and the country, not ourselves,” he said.

“We’re not going to win if we have personal attacks by anybody on anyone because it turns the public off. but we can win if we focus on ideas and policy.”

The body of Mr Blair’s speech constituted a lengthy rehearsal of New Labour’s political economy, explaining how both he and the chancellor were key to the party’s reaffirmation.

He described New Labour as “a new philosophical paradigm” whose success was founded on its ability to show the electorate “how we could marry together economic efficiency and social justice”.

“New Labour was the product of myself and Gordon sitting down over a long period of time and working out not just the ideas and the policy but the philosophical structure in which a modern Labour party could govern,” he said.

He concluded that the party’s forthcoming “internal debate” would have to be held with the public as well as within the party.

“We’ve got to be unashamed and unafraid of going out and making sure that when we have this internal debate we’re involving. the people, and doing it and making it in a different way.”

The Progress audience met his speech with a standing ovation.