Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Demonstrators disrupt Tony Blair's comeback plan

Former PM forced to cancel address to Labour activists in London

Former prime minister Tony Blair
Alastair Campbell
Labour leader Ed Milliband

After more than five years of focusing on foreign affairs and his business interests, Tony Blair makes his return to domestic politics today – 48 hours later than expected.

The former Prime Minister had been due to address Labour activists on Monday night in Lambeth, south London, in an event organised by his long-standing ally Dame Tessa Jowell. But his appearance had to be cancelled at the last moment when anti-war protesters found out about the event and threatened to mount a large demonstration against his presence.

Instead, Mr Blair will speak todayat a sport-themed Labour fundraising dinner at Arsenal's Emirates stadium. He will be alongside Ed Miliband, making it the first time that the former Prime Minister and the current Labour leader have appeared together at a public event since the general election.

At his side will be his former director of communications Alastair Campbell and the Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

It will mark a further tentative step by Mr Blair back into the domestic arena since his unwilling departure from Downing Street in 2007. In the intervening period he has built up a business portfolio, spoken frequently on the US lecture circuit, written his memoirs and pursued his unpaid role as the Quartet representative to the Middle East.

But allies say he feels the time has come to switch his attention back to Britain. One said: "He wants to be loved. He has spent a lot of time abroad and he wants to come home to domestic politics. He wants to be regarded as someone who won three elections – some people talk about him as if he lost three."

Behind the scenes, he is increasing his contact with Mr Miliband, with relations between them described as warm despite Mr Blair's preference for the elder Miliband, David, to inherit the Labour crown. Mr Blair recently paid tribute to Mr Miliband's leadership skills.

A source close to the Labour leader said: "This guy won three elections, so any contribution he makes is positive." However, for all his enthusiasm to re-engage in British politics, there was one invitation Mr Blair was happy to turn down.

MPs on the Commons Justice Select Committee asked him to give evidence on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act. He was an obvious witness to summon as he described the Act as one of the biggest mistakes of his time in office.

The MPs asked him to appear in person. When he turned down the invitation, they asked him to submit written evidence, but he failed to do so.

One member, the Tory MP Elizabeth Truss, said: "He ought to have turned up. Given he was able to give an interview on the Rolling Stones over the same period, you would have thought he would have been able to give evidence on his role in government."

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