Blair doles out sympathy for Cameron, warnings for Miliband

Tony Blair says Labour faces a "big challenge" this year
Tony Blair says Labour faces a "big challenge" this year
Alex Stevenson By

Tony Blair has offered strong support to David Cameron on his approach to terrorism - and used the same TV interview to warn Ed Miliband of a "big challenge" facing the Labour party.

The former prime minister backed Cameron after the prime minister warned the struggle against terrorism in north Africa will take a "generation" to resolve itself.

"It's going to be long and difficult and messy. If you don't intervene, it's also going to be long and difficult and messy and possibly a lot worse," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

Blair, who intervened in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, said he found these decisions "immensely difficult" while he was in Downing Street.

"I don't envy David Cameron having to take the decision now, but I think he's right in saying you've got to take a long-term view and be prepared to engage over a long-term... I think we're certainly talking about a generation," he added.

Blair's sympathy with Cameron was highlighted by the Independent on Sunday, which noted that the former New Labour leader's friendship with Cameron is progressing apace.

Cameron once famously told Blair over the despatch box "you were the future once". Blair's future now includes dinners at No 10 with Cameron and their wives, alongside official discussions about the Middle East and informal chats.

Cherie Blair and Samantha Cameron have also been in contact, the newspaper reported.

It quoted a source as saying: "Cherie has been extremely helpful to Sam explaining the dos and don'ts of being PM's wife, including how to avoid the pitfalls, such as not saying anything in public, and generally Sam hasn't, being careful about not being everywhere.

"She has been very helpful in guiding her through the pitfalls of dealing with the civil service and dealing with the wily Sir Humphreys, who don't always welcome your legitimate demands on their time."

Blair admitted he speaks to both Cameron and Miliband "from time to time", explaining this morning: "When you've sat in the seat, both as leader of the opposition and as prime minister, you know how damned difficult both jobs are."

He said he approached the issue with a "sense of humility" that prevented him from shouting advice from the "back seat".

Blair added: "For Ed and for David Cameron if they ever want help or advice I would try and give it in what is in the best interests of the country."

He made an exception by continuing his attack on Cameron for promising to hold an in-or-out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, however.

Blair served in No 10 for a decade after winning two landslide elections and a historic third term for Labour.

Now out of power, the party faces a huge challenge in winning an outright majority at the next general election - and many pollsters fear Miliband is part of the problem.

Research from the New Fabian Society reported in the Observer newspaper has found Miliband is failing to win over Conservative voters to Labour in the way Blair achieved before the 1997 general election.

Only 400,000 voters have switched from blue to red since 2010, signifying limited progress for the opposition.

The Fabians suggested Miliband is winning over people who had given up on voting and former Liberal Democrats.

But Blair made clear he believes the current Labour leader faces huge challenges in taking on the Conservatives ahead of the next general election.

"I don't think there's a problem with the vision. I think there's a big challenge with how you translate that vision into practical policy," Blair warned this morning.

"This is a situation where the economy's very tough and where whoever's in government they're going to be very constrained.

"That's what it's important for the Labour party to sure they are reformers as well as simply protect the vulnerable."


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