Alan Milburn has told Labour something it does not want to hear: Tony Blair was as great for the party as Margaret Thatcher was for the Tories. At a breakfast with the Centre for Social Justice this morning, the former health secretary argued that Labour ‘could not have got it more wrong’ at the last election and urged the party to snap out of its ‘self-delusion’ that New Labour and Blair were all bad:
‘Great leaders always have a big purpose. For Churchill it was victory in war, for Thatcher victory against a stifling state. For Blair it was victory against old-fashioned attitudes and institutions that held our country back. Today, to be blunt, voters are no longer sure what Labour is for. They do not see a compelling core purpose.’
Milburn is not a shy critic but even by his standards, he was not holding back — particularly with his criticism of Ed Miliband. He told the CSJ ‘we had the wrong leader and we had the wrong approach’:
‘Too many in Labour’s ranks have deliberately and destructively turned their backs on the formula that turned Labour into the dominant political force in British politics for a decade and a half. That foolish revisionism has not saved the Labour Party. It has sunk it.’
If Milburn sounds at all bitter, he definitely has reason to be. He is is part of what James described recently as the lost generation of Labour talent that the Brownites successfully destroyed. If David Miliband had replaced Gordon Brown in the failed 2008 coup, Milburn would have become the chancellor.
Were it not for the Brownites, Milburn could still be in the front line of politics and even a candidate in this leadership election. But he has stepped out of the limelight and has unsurprisingly backed Liz Kendall for leader— her ‘New with a touch of blue’ stance is close to his prescription for the 2020 election.
Milburn’s endorsement follows a new poll from the Independent which shows Liz Kendall is seen as the second most likely to improve Labour's chances of winning the next election. Although Andy Burnham beats her to first place by eleven points, it’s a significant boost for Kendall, who was barely known to the public a few weeks ago.
Kendall has yet to deliver a killer blow in the public hustings, but her campaign's below-the-radar approach appears to be working. Expect to see plenty more Blairites pop up in the coming weeks to endorse her candidacy.