Steerpike

Is Tony Blair on the verge of a comeback?

Is Tony Blair on the verge of a comeback?
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The last few years have been tough for Jeremy Corbyn. One minute you're being heralded by the trustafarians of Glastonbury; the next you're leading Labour to its worst result since 1935. Rejected by the electorate, suspended by his party, the world’s unluckiest anti-racist has found himself embroiled in a series of minor self-inflicted scandals, whether that be speaking next to a dubious ten foot inflatable sheikh or telling the intellectual adolescents of Cambridge that ‘Luciana Berger was not hounded out of Labour.’ 

Having lost the election, the whip and at times even the plot, the onetime leader of the opposition can add to that list his once iron-clad grip of the Labour faithful. A new poll by YouGov, published at the beginning of this month, reveals the magic Grandpa is even less popular among card-carrying socialists than his old foe Tony Blair, under whom Corbyn rebelled quite literally hundreds of times. The survey of Labour members found more than half – 55 per cent – have a favourable opinion of the former prime minister with 43 per cent ranking him in 'unfavourable' terms. This compares to 53 per cent who view Corbyn in a favourable light and 45 per cent who view him as 'unfavourable.' 

It's natural to assume that some of the more diehard Corbynistas will have quit the party in protest – as so many regularly and vociferously threaten to do online – at Keir Starmer's more moderate leadership. Still it makes quite a change given that just 16 months ago a previous poll for YouGov showed that among Labour members Jeremy Corbyn was the most popular Labour leader of the past century, with 71 per cent having a favourable opinion of him – five points ahead of even Clement Attlee. Starmer will be hoping this change in mood is more to do with his members deciding after 11 years in the wilderness that governing might be preferable to impotent Twitter storms and internecine NEC conflict.

The other key takeaway from this poll of course is Blair's relative popularity in his own party, compared to the contempt in which some held him during the Corbyn era. A positive rating will add fuel to the fire that the New Labour premier is plotting a comeback, with the Times recently reporting his private view that he would do a better job as PM now than when he first occupied the post – a belief that has only grown throughout the coronavirus pandemic, according to one well-placed source. Is it time for another ‘rare intervention’ from Tone, announcing his intention to return to the Commons? His former safe seat of Sedgefield went blue at the last election which rules that one out.

Luckily Mr S is aware of one longtime Labour stronghold that will be in need of a suitable party candidate next election. Liberal, metropolitan and festooned with luvvies, London-based Blair seems ideally suited to the seat, with which he has strong local ties. And where is this dream constituency? Step forward, Islington North, currently occupied by one whipless independent backbencher who goes by the name of... Jeremy Corbyn.

What better way to settle the fight for Labour's future than a straight Tony-Jezza face off in 2023.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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