Blair success ‘should be embraced’

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Published: Saturday 9th May 2015 by The News Editor

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Labour’s next leader should embrace Tony Blair’s success to make the party appeal to aspirational voters who no longer relate to it, former home secretary Alan Johnson has said.

Mr Johnson, often touted as a potential Labour leader, again ruled out taking the top job and urged the party to have a “proper rethink” to resolve “deep problems” in what he described as a ten-year task.

He spoke after former cabinet minister Lord Hutton urged Labour to skip a generation of MPs in its search for a leader, and to pick a younger challenger who can make the opposition an electoral threat to the Tories.

In his resignation speech, Ed Miliband said he took absolute and total responsibility for a disastrous general election which saw Labour nearly wiped out in Scotland by the SNP surge and fail to advance in the rest of the UK, handing David Cameron a majority Government.

Mr Johnson said a major problem was that southern voters in marginal areas like Thanet and Hastings no longer saw Labour as the party of aspiration, a reputation that former prime minister Mr Blair managed to gain for the party.

Mr Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is a kind of ten-year task as well, this is a job for the future.

“And whilst I didn’t hear all of John Hutton’s interview, where he was absolutely right is we need to have a proper rethink about where we’re going as a party, not just imagine that it was because Ed Miliband was leader or because the way he ate a bacon sandwich or whatever was the problem.

“It’s a much deeper problem I think we have to resolve.”

He added: “The issue of aspiration in people’s lives, we can no longer relate to them as a party of aspiration. And that was one of the big successes that won us three elections.”

Mr Johnson criticised Labour’s strategy of talking down its 13 years in government under Mr Blair and then Gordon Brown, and suggested the party must now embrace those years.

Asked whether Labour still had a problem with so-called Blairites and Brownites arguing over the direction of the party, he said: “You might well be right.

“I mean it’s an incredible thing now that I was part of a successful government that did really good things, but you’d think that Tony Blair had lost us three elections, not won us three elections, it’s almost de rigeur now not to mention his name.

“That is a fundamental flaw as well because David Cameron had to prove that we would fail in government, if we’re helping him by suggesting that we failed in our 13 years in government it’s not going to do us much good.”

Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) will meet early next week to set a timetable for a contest to replace both Mr Miliband and deputy leader Harriet Harman who will quit that post after steering the party through the interim.

Some in the party have urged a swift process to deny the Tories a chance to define the agenda, but others – including shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, a potential candidate – have urged a longer period of reflection.

Among those tipped to throw their hats in the ring also include Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall and ex-soldier Dan Jarvis – all of whom have been in the Commons for five years or less.

Published: Saturday 9th May 2015 by The News Editor

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