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Miliband aides dismiss Blair claim

Allies of Ed Miliband have rallied around him after former prime minister Tony Blair appeared to cast doubt on Labour's chances of success at the general election.

The former prime minister 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.

The intervention by Mr Blair has overshadowed the Labour leader's attempts to woo voters on the eve of a general election year with a message promising an economic recovery they would feel and the chance of a "new beginning" for the country.

Lucy Powell, the vice chair of Labour's election campaign, said Mr Blair's time in office was "not the era that we now live in" and insisted Mr Miliband had policies for the "completely different" challenges facing the country today.

Mr Blair used a Twitter message to clarify his position and publicly back Mr Miliband after an interview with The Economist in which he stressed the importance of Labour fighting the election from the centre ground and keeping business on side.

The former premier said the election could be one "in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result".

Asked if he meant a Tory win, Mr Blair replied: "Yes, that is what happens."

Underlining the different approaches between himself and Mr Miliband, Mr Blair told the magazine: "I am still very much New Labour and Ed would not describe himself in that way, so there is obviously a difference there.

"I am convinced the Labour Party succeeds best when it is in the centre ground."

Mr Blair also warned that Mr Miliband's belief that the country had moved to the left in response to the financial crisis was misguided.

The former PM said: "I see no evidence for that. You could argue that it has moved to the right, not left."

Mr Miliband has committed his party to what many commentators see as left-wing policies, including the freezing of energy prices and the reinstatement of the 50p top rate of income tax.

But Mr Blair stressed the importance of "not alienating large parts of business" as an essential part of the strategy for electoral success.

In response to the row caused by his comments, Mr Blair said on Twitter: "My remarks have been misinterpreted, I fully support Ed and my party and expect a Labour victory in the election."

The significance of Mr Blair's intervention was played down by Ms Powell, the senior Labour MP in charge of the day-to-day operation of the party's election campaign, who said there was a "new era" of politics since the former premier was in No 10.

Shadow cabinet office minister Ms Powell said: "Tony Blair, he has his experience and his knowledge from his era as leader of the Labour Party and that is not the era that we now live in.

"Ed Miliband has been the first, and the leading politician of his generation, to say that the challenges that the country faces now are completely different and you have to come up with new solutions for those. They are not left/right issues."

She told BBC Radio 4's World At One that in the years of the New Labour government "the view was that the economy could run itself and should run itself" with the proceeds being used to improve public services.

Since the crash, things had changed, leading to policies such as the intervention over energy prices, she said.

"We now live in a different era where we have a view, the Labour Party has a very strong view that Ed has set out clearly over the last few years that actually we have to fundamentally change the way in which the economy works and we have to make sure that wages are growing and not stagnating or going backwards as they have been over the last few years, and that we address big issues that affect everyday people's lives like energy prices, we have to say that sometimes markets don't always have the solution."

Mr Blair's comments were strongly criticised from other parts of the Labour movement.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: " Having lost touch with ordinary people it is hardly surprising that he labels promising a decent living wage, homes for rent, decent rights at work and making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes to be vote-losing policies."

Veteran Labour MP David Winnick said Mr Blair should "reflect on" Clement Attlee's message to Harold Laski that "a period of silence on your part would be welcome".

But former minister David Lammy, who hopes to be Labour's candidate for London mayor in 2016, said Mr Blair's concerns should not be ignored and the party must build "the broadest coalition going into this general election".

He told the World At One: " I don't think that anyone should underestimate a leader of the Labour Party that won three consecutive elections and fought hard to make Labour electable again after 18 years in opposition.

"So of course we should take what Tony Blair is saying very seriously indeed."

He added that since the economic crash " it may well be that the British public's mood and temperament might appear more left-wing than was the case in the past" but Labour must also be the party of aspiration and " should not cede this ground to the Conservatives".

He said: " We do have to be clear that we understand that it is actually industry that is the engine of our economy and not give the impression that we are solely focused on the public sector."

Mr Miliband had hoped the focus would be because of his New Year message, in which he promised voters a recovery which "reaches your kitchen table".

"This is the season for new beginnings and hopes for the future," he said.

"And Britain is ready for a new beginning. Because I don't have to tell you that, all over our country today, there are people working harder and harder, but standing still: families struggling with bills that are growing faster than their wages; young people, taking on mountains of debt to get a proper education, only to find themselves with no job at the other end; and an NHS where people are waiting longer and longer to get the care they need.

"It doesn't have to be this way. As this new year dawns, we have the chance to change direction."

Labour MP Ian Lavery lashed out at the ruling "elite" in Westminster and claimed it believes people with northern accents do not "really know too much".

The former National Union of Mineworkers president made the comments during a fringe event at a conference organised by trade union funded think tank Class, according to The Telegraph.

During a discussion on Labour's welfare policy he said the Labour Party is "in the wrong place" on the issue.

"I've got to say there are some superb MPs, Labour party MPs," he said. "Sadly there's not enough MPs who've actually worked on the coalface, on the factory floor.

"We haven't got enough ethnic minorities, we haven't got enough disabled people in, who have actually been there. We've got an elite in, we've got an elite in Westminster which quite frankly frightens me. They haven't been anywhere or done anything, and when you've got an accent like mine they think well that man doesn't really know too much."

In a statement to the newspaper he insisted the comments were not a criticism of the Labour leader.

He said: "My comments were about the need for more working-class MPs and in no way a criticism of Ed or his office.

"For the record, I believe Ed Miliband is absolutely the right man to bring in policies that will be of great benefit to people in the North and across the country."


From Belfast Telegraph