Blair lashes out in unprecedented public attack on Miliband

Tony Blair offered a stinging critique of Ed Miliband's leadership today, in his most outspoken public attack on his successor-but-one's leadership since he took control of the Labour party.

Writing in the New Statesman, the former prime minister said Miliband was risking losing public support by shifting to the left on tax and welfare.

"The paradox of the financial crisis is that, despite being widely held to have been caused by under-regulated markets, it has not brought a decisive shift to the left," he wrote.

"But what might happen is that the left believes such a shift has occurred and behaves accordingly.

"The risk, which is highly visible here in Britain, is that the country returns to a familiar left/right battle.

"This is at present crystallising around debates over austerity, welfare, immigration and Europe."

Blair, who followed an electorally successful 'third way' strategy in opposition, advised Miliband to refuse to tack right on immigration and Europe, but also resist any drift to the left on tax and spending.

"The Conservative party is back clothing itself in the mantle of fiscal responsibility, buttressed by moves against 'benefit scroungers', immigrants squeezing out British workers and – of course – Labour profligacy," he wrote.

"The Labour party is back as the party opposing 'Tory cuts', highlighting the cruel consequences of the Conservative policies on welfare and representing the disadvantaged and vulnerable."

The scenario was "less menacing than it seems" for the Tories, Blair added.

"They are now going to inspire loathing on the left. But they're used to that," he said.

"They're back on the old territory of harsh reality, tough decisions, piercing the supposed veil of idealistic fantasy that prevents the left from governing sensibly.

"For Labour, the opposite is true. This scenario is more menacing than it seems.

"The ease with which it can settle back into its old territory of defending the status quo, allying itself, even anchoring itself, to the interests that will passionately and often justly oppose what the government is doing, is so apparently rewarding, that the exercise of political will lies not in going there, but in resisting the temptation to go there."

In a particularly damaging passage, Blair appears to validate the long-running criticism of Miliband that he has no policies.

The public wanted to "know where we're coming from because that is a clue as to where we would go, if elected", the former prime minister said.

"In these times, above all, people want leadership," he added.

Miliband hit back at Blair with a coded criticism of the level of immigration under his leadership and his regular attempts to embed competition in public services.

"I am leading in my own way," he told the BBC.

"I always take Tony Blair very, very seriously, but I think what the Labour party is doing under my leadership is moving on and moving forward.

"I'm proud of the last Labour government, but I think we got some things wrong. I think the most important thing a political party needs to do is assess where it got things wrong, listen to the electorate and sketch out a different vision for the future."

The Tories seized on the comments as proof of persistent uncertainty around Miliband's leadership.

"Tony Blair is right to warn that Labour aren't a credible party of government under Ed Miliband," Tory chairman Grant Schapps said.

"Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have opposed every single difficult decision this government has taken to fix the problems that Labour left behind – on welfare, on immigration and on the deficit.

"The only plan Labour have is more of what got us into this mess in the first place – more spending, more borrowing and more debt."

Blair's comments will be music to the ears of the Blairite wing in the Labour party who are increasingly uncomfortable with how George Osborne is forcing Miliband into unpopular positions on hot topic controversies like welfare.

But polling does not appear to substantiate that assessment. Miliband continues to enjoy a double-digit advantage in most polls and the Tories dropped to their lowest ever poll rating of just 28% in last night's YouGov survey.