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Blair plea for strong leadership

It will be for British voters to decide whether Ed Miliband has the necessary leadership qualities to be prime minister, Tony Blair has said.

In what was seen as only a lukewarm endorsement of the man who hopes to follow in his footsteps and return Labour to power, the ex-premier said he was "not sure" Mr Miliband had a problem persuading the public to back him.

Interviewed by BBC political editor Nick Robinson as part of a new Radio 4 series - titled Can Democracy Work? - Mr Blair repeatedly suggested that firm leadership was the key to success.

"People who come along and say 'I've got the answer', whether it is an answer or not, have a certain amount of appeal," he said.

He went on: "There is a whole swathe of the public that thinks 'I like my government, you guys go and govern, don't keep troubling me every three seconds with what I should think or what I shouldn't think'.

"They want to see their leaders leading."

With Labour failing to pull out a clear lead in opinion polls, Mr Blair was asked what Mr Miliband's "problem" was.

"I'm not sure he has got a problem. That'll be for the people to choose.

"I'm Labour Party and I'll be backing him."

The interview was recorded before Mr Blair was forced to clarify comments in another issue which had appeared to show he had doubts about Labour's chances of success at the general election in May.

He insisted comments in which he suggested a party fighting on a "traditional left-wing" platform would lose to the Tories had been "misinterpreted" and that he supported Mr Miliband and expected a Labour victory in May.

That intervention overshadowed the Labour leader's attempts to woo voters with a New Year's message promising change.

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