Jeremy Corbyn fans in parallel reality, warns Tony Blair

Former leader fears people are forgetting the struggles of Labour during the 1980s

 Jeremy Corbyn:  the left-wing candidate could “put us out of business altogether”, said Ian Austin. Photograph: EPA/Will Oliver

Jeremy Corbyn: the left-wing candidate could “put us out of business altogether”, said Ian Austin. Photograph: EPA/Will Oliver


Jeremy Corbyn has succeeded where countless others have failed in uniting the Brownites and Blairites after a decade of distrust – in mutual incomprehension and alarm.

Tony Blair yesterday stepped up his criticism of Mr Corbyn, warning Labour members that the left-wing leadership candidate represented Alice in Wonderland politics.

Mr Blair, who led the party to three general election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005, wrote in the Observer that supporters of Mr Corbyn were living in a “parallel reality”.

At the same time Ian Austin, an MP and former spokesman for Mr Brown, warned in the Sun that victory for the left-wing candidate could “put us out of business altogether”.

Mr Corbyn’s policies of higher taxes, an alliance with the SNP, “printing money” and “business as usual for the benefit system” would make the party unelectable, he said.

The 66-year old Islington North MP appears poised to become the next leader of the opposition.

His platform is a rejection of almost everything that defined New Labour: internationalism, spending restraint and – above all – a focus on the political centre ground.

A win for Mr Corbyn would put into perspective the explosive Blair-Brown splits, which were usually about personality rather than philosophy.

The final result will not be known until September 12th and may yet be decided by second-preference votes.

Stony ground

Lord Mandelson

Indeed they may have been counter-productive, emphasising the veteran MP’s anti-establishment credentials among younger people who barely remember New Labour. Mr Corbyn has also been able to define himself against his internal critics: his anti-austerity, pacifist outlook, anti-Nato stance, Euroscepticism – and personal frugality – are a contrast to the New Labour project.

Mr Blair is still controversial because of his decision to take the UK into the US-led war in Iraq. Many Labour activists – and MPs – also question his current lifestyle as a multimillionaire adviser to sometimes controversial states such as Kazakhstan.

The former prime minister appears increasingly anguished by what seems to be the imminent expiry of his modernising project.

Mr Blair fears that those institutional memories of Labour’s long journey back from psephological irrelevance in the 1980s are being forgotten.

“It is like a driver coming to a roadblock on a road they’ve never travelled before,” he wrote in the Observer.

“Three grizzled old veterans say, ‘Don’t go any further, we have been up and down this road many times and we’re warning you that there are falling rocks, mudslides, dangerous hairpin bends and then a sheer drop’; and the driver says, ‘Screw you, stop patronising me. I know what I’m doing.’”

Some MPs believe that none of the rival candidates have put together effective, energetic campaigns.

Liz Kendall, the most “Blairite” candidate, alienated many Labour activists early in the campaign with her right-wing stances on defence spending, benefits and the economy. Meanwhile the “centrist” vote has been split between Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, both of whom have sought to pitch themselves midway on the Kendall-Corbyn axis.

And all calculations have been thrown awry by the influx of new “registered supporters” and “affiliated members” who can vote in the contest for £3 or nothing, as many are “hard left” activists.

–(Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015)