Tony Blair thinks the British Labour Party is destroying itself

Dark days ahead?
Dark days ahead?
Image: AP Photo/Matt Rourke
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In the UK, a messy, dramatic process to elect the new leader of the opposition Labour party just entered its final stage.

After the Conservatives won a clear majority and were elected for five years in May, the Labour leadership campaign pushed to the fore a candidate no one expected: Jeremy Corbyn. He’s 66, and has been an Member of Parliament since his 30s, always holding the same London seat and campaigning vociferously on topics including nuclear disarmament and Palestinian rights. He was vocally opposed to the war in Iraq, which then-prime minster Tony Blair signed Britain up for in 2003.

And Blair thinks the party might be on course for unprecendented disaster. Blair has already spoken out against voting with the heart—for Corbyn—rather than the head. Today he made an even more impassioned appeal in a piece for the Guardian, saying that the party was in “mortal” danger, facing a fight for its very existence.

“If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election,” he wrote. “It will mean rout, possibly annihilation.”

He preemptively defended himself against any suggestion that his comments were divisive for the party: “The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below. This is not a moment to refrain from disturbing the serenity of the walk on the basis it causes ‘disunity’. It is a moment for a rugby tackle if that were possible.”

The other three contenders to lead the party—Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall—are widely seen as competent politicians with solid plans, which would take the Labour Party forward along similar lines to those that helped Blair win elections and hold onto power between 1997 and 2007. The ground they stand on is left of center (as is the whole party), but not radical.

Corbyn’s radically different rhetoric has created a groundswell of support. He has been speaking to packed, delighted meeting halls across the country about his plans to reverse austerity measures brought in by the Conservatives. A poll this week gave him over 50% of votes, with the other three candidates sharing the rest.

Three changes have made such a situation possible, Blair said.

The election structure of Labour party leaders has changed, to allow all party members as well as “affiliate” members a vote. (Becoming one of the latter costs just £3 and could be done online in a few minutes, up until yesterday). The trade unions, once “a force for stability and sense,” have become fractured, and fractious, he said. And the debate as a whole had slipped off course: essentially, looking idealistically backward rather than towards a real future.

But idealism is a strong force. Corbyn’s supporters say he speaks to them “like a human being,” and they are refreshed by this move away from what one MP called “the technocratic management-speak of the last 20 years.”

Those who have signed up to drive the Labour Party’s future in one direction or another have until Sept. 10 to vote.