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Should Tony Blair be advising Labour?

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Tony Blair was this week welcomed back into the Labour fold with open arms, as he was appointed as an adviser on the Olympic legacy.

Blair is one of politics’ most divisive figures: reaction to his appointment has varied from calling it a “masterstroke” on Ed Miliband’s part, to bemoaning an “appalling” decision.

The truth is, Miliband has made a shrewd political move in sharing a platform with Blair for the first time as leader.

Blair’s role may only be as an ‘Olympic Adviser’, but the political symbolism of this appointment is huge - and Labour know it. It allows Miliband to test the water: to see whether Blair’s name really can restore any of Labour’s support in Middle England without significantly alienating the traditional Left.

As one shadow cabinet source said: “Ed knows he needs Tony to act as midwife for his introduction to the British people.” Miliband generally scores well with the public on substance but poorly on style and charisma. Blair is precisely the opposite.

Blair remains popular within the Labour Party because of his unrivaled record as leader. He won three consecutive general elections by appealing to swathes of new voters with his ‘New Labour’ message.

Miliband’s denunciation of New Labour when he took over as leader was necessary to establish himself as a political identity. However, having done so his objectives must change in order to improve policies and gain further support before the next general election.

This U-turn on the Blair years may make Miliband’s earlier comments seem disingenuous, but as an experienced and competent statesman, having Blair back in the fold is undoubtedly a good managerial move. It remains to be seen, though, whether it makes good political sense.

Critics of Blair are neither few nor far between; as a recent YouGov poll suggests, an “overwhelming majority” of people would not like to see Tony Blair return to UK politics.

Reasons for this focused as much on personal criticism – Blair is seen as dishonest and selfish – as political, such as his reputation as a ‘Red Tory’ and his biggest blunder in office, the Iraq war.

The Iraq venture was undeniably a huge mistake and it marked a sharp decline in popularity for Blair that he never truly recovered from. His name will always be tainted by the decision to go into war.

Despite this, Blair’s achievements in office – particularly in his first term – were substantial. He oversaw the peace process in Northern Ireland, introduced the Human Rights Act and Freedom of Information Act, and invested heavily in education and health.

He also has unparalleled experience in knowing not only what it takes to get elected, but how to deal with the pressures of being Prime Minister. Miliband would gain little in simply disregarding this knowledge.

Blair’s Iraq legacy may disprove the old saying that time heals all wounds, but the time is right for Miliband to start thinking about the 2015 election. His policies need to appeal to a greater range of people for him to be a serious candidate. For this, there is no adviser more appropriate than the man of the centre-ground himself, Tony Blair.

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