Lib Dems leader Tim Farron praises Tony Blair successes

In apparent bid to woo Labour voters, Farron says former PM achieved important rights

 Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, at the party conference in Brighton. “There is more to Tony Blair’s legacy than that,” he said. “I kind of see Tony Blair the way I see the Stone Roses: I preferred the early work.” Photograph:  Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, at the party conference in Brighton. “There is more to Tony Blair’s legacy than that,” he said. “I kind of see Tony Blair the way I see the Stone Roses: I preferred the early work.” Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

 

Tony Blair should be admired for his government’s achievements on workers’ rights and the health service, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has said in a conference speech pitched squarely at moderate Labour voters.

He told the party’s conference in Brighton he was amazed Labour Party members were “throwing around the word Blairite as if it’s the world’s most offensive insult”.

Mr Farron said he was not a Blairite, citing his opposition to the Iraq War, compulsory ID cards, 90-day detention, and deregulation of the banks.

“There is more to Tony Blair’s legacy than that,” he said. “I kind of see Tony Blair the way I see the Stone Roses: I preferred the early work.”

Mr Farron said Mr Blair’s legacy was also the minimum wage, working tax credits, NHS investment and school building. “I disagree with him a lot, but . . . I admire him for those things,” he said.

“I respect him for believing that the point of being in politics is to get stuff done, and you can only get stuff done if you win. Otherwise you’re letting your opponent get stuff done instead.”

Mr Farron has previously expressed admiration for Mr Blair, telling the Guardian last week he believed “a person who thinks winning elections so you can do good is honourable”.

Little change

There is little evidence thus far that those voters have been convinced the Lib Dems are the answer, however, polling released on Tuesday shows their ratings have barely changed from a year ago, despite heightened attention post-Brexit vote.

When asked to compare Mr Farron with the Liberal Democrat Party, just 23 per cent stated that they liked Mr Farron but slightly more – 28 per cent – said they liked the Lib Dems, with no change from last year’s conference. Almost half of those surveyed said “don’t know”.

It also remains to be seen how Mr Farron’s praise of Mr Blair will be received by his own party.

On Monday at the Lib Dems’ unofficial glee club, members sang: “Tony Blair can f*** off and die” to the tune of American Pie.

In the hall, the response was muted, but Lib Dem sources say they were not the target audience. They say Farron will push on with his appeal to New Labour’s early voters, ramping up praise of some achievements of the Blair government.

Mr Farron said he wanted to convince voters his party was the only one who could deny a pro-Brexit Conservative government a majority. He said: “I’m prepared to work with people of all parties and none if it will make people’s lives better. But I couldn’t work withJeremy Corbyn, because Jeremy Corbyn would never work with me.”

He had kinder words for Owen Smith, Mr Corbyn’s leadership rival. “He is certainly on our side of the European debate. So, if Owen Smith wins, I want to make clear I am open to working together.”

Mr Farron said the Conservative Party “no longer supports business . . . but instead pursues the nationalist protectionist fantasies of the Brexit fundamentalists.” – (Guardian service)