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Tony Blair, a hostile media and a distrusting public: Is Blair's backing a help or a hindrance to Labour's election campaign?

By Chris Boffey |

April 8, 2015 | 4 min read

When I worked for Tony Blair, indirectly as a special adviser at the education department, he was the most trusted man in Britain, having just won a second term, and was being lauded for his domestic policy.

It was just after 9/11, but before his disastrous decisions to follow George W Bush into the long running wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and he had not yet acquired the hubris that dogged the later years of his premiership. He was impressive and had a strong team behind him in Downing Street.

Tony Blair

Blair lost that trust by sending troops into wars we could not win and his legacy will be forever tainted by those decisions, but on the country's position in Europe he was invariably right and even though he supported the UK joining the Euro he listened to wiser voices at the cabinet table and to his policy advisers.

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His problem, when he entered the election fray with his speech attacking David Cameron's decision to offer the public a vote on whether or not to stay in the EU, was that while the content was logical, considered and probably backed by most of the powerful businessmen in the country, it came from a man who has lost the trust of many of the public.

British newspapers mainly fall into two camps, Tory or Labour, for Europe or against, and some of those Tory-backing newspapers, most of them wanting a vote on Europe, attacked Blair's speech by accusing him of not trusting the British people with the vote. Putting the words trust and Blair together is a toxic combination, and was aimed at undermining his argument by surreptitiously attacking the man.

The leader in the Times called his intervention mistaken because the majority of Labour's heartland supported a vote on Europe. In this it is mistaken because it is not Europe voters worry about but the perceived problem of immigration. But the Times was right in pointing out that at some point in the election campaign Blair had to come out and support Ed Miliband. And the Labour leader's stance on the European vote is one of the few substantial issues that they both agree on as Miliband attempts to move his party away from the positions adopted by Blair's New Labour.

It is doubtful whether Blair will make any more major interventions in this election campaign and candidates will shy away from him visiting their constituencies. Note that he made his speech in his old constituency of Sedgefield where the Labour majority is huge and he still has respect.

The Guardian recognised the problem with Blair by saying voters should take more significance of the message than the messenger.

It is also notable that Blair's speech and backing for Miliband came early in the campaign and that it has been followed by a blockbuster of an announcement calling for the end of tax breaks for non-domiciled residents of the UK which will dominate the news agenda and overshadow Blair's intervention.

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government


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