Blair says all Labour leadership contenders ‘significant improvement’ on Corbyn

Any of the three remaining Labour leadership hopefuls would be a "significant improvement" on Jeremy Corbyn, according to former prime minister Tony Blair.

But he has vowed to keep his own preferred candidate close to his chest out of fear of doing them "damage", he told a central London audience on Thursday.

In his strongest intervention yet in the race to succeed Mr Corbyn, the former leader said the party would need a "head to toe renewal" to win power again.

"We can be clear and radical and still in the centre," argued Mr Blair, who led New Labour for 13 years.

During an event at King's College London, with his wife Cherie Blair and youngest son Leo watching on, he said the party had "too often been a failure" as a competitor at elections, following its streak of four election losses in a row.

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Former prime minister Tony Blair during a speech to mark the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Labour party, in the Great Hall at King's College, London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair, arrives for the funeral of Frank Dobson at St Pancras Church in London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair on stage during the Final Say rally at the Mermaid Theatre, London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street arriving for the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London.
File photo dated 02/09/19 of former prime minister Tony Blair, who has said Tory and Labour MPs would both face a "big risk" by fighting a general election on the issue of Brexit.
Former prime minister Tony Blair, during a Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of Lord Ashdown at Westminster Abbey in London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair gives a speech at the Institute for Government in central London where he will call for Labour to oppose any move by Boris Johnson to hold an emergency general election until Brexit has been resolved.
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks alongside former prime ministers David Cameron, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown and former leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg during a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of former Cabinet Secretary Lord Heywood at Westminster Abbey in London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair with Prime Minister Theresa May as they leave following a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of former Cabinet Secretary Lord Heywood at Westminster Abbey in London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair makes a speech on Brexit at the British Academy in London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair during the remembrance service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London, on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice which marked the end of the First World War.
Lisbon, 07/11/2018 - Web Summit 2018 was held at the Altice Arena in Lisbon from 5 to 8 November. Tony Blair (Filipe Amorim / Global Imagens)
Former prime minister Tony Blair speaking at the launch of the Resolution Foundation's annual Living Standards Audit in central London.
Former prime minister Tony Blair arrives to give a speech on poverty and inequality at the launch of the Resolution Foundation's annual Living Standards Audit in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair talking about the Good Friday Agreement in London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair in conversation with Professor Anand Menon during the Changing Europe conference on Brexit in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking during the Changing Europe conference on Brexit in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie walk through Downing Street on their way to the annual Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London.
Tony Blair addresses a conference on Brexit in the Druids Glen Hotel, Wicklow, Ireland.
Tony Blair at a Brexit meeting in Wicklow, Ireland.
Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair addressing the 2017 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 2017. (Photo by Michael Brochstein) *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair during his speech on Brexit at an Open Britain event in central London.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair holds a press conference at Admiralty House, London, where responding to the Chilcot report he said: "I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe."
Former prime minister Tony Blair and wife Cherie arrive at St Paul's Cathedral in London for a national service of thanksgiving to celebrate the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II.
Former prime ministers Sir John Major (left) and Tony Blair walk across the Peace Bridge in Londonderry following a Remain campaign event at the University of Ulster in Londonderry.
Former prime minister Tony Blair during a Remain campaign event at the University of Ulster in Londonderry.
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Touching on a host of topics during a session to mark Labour's 120th anniversary, he:

– Dismissed talk of Labour campaigning to rejoin the European Union.
– Said the party should focus on winning power rather than coming up with ways to "trend on Twitter".
– Called for a "progressive coalition" with liberal parties.
– Stayed silent on a push by leadership candidate Sir Keir Starmer to introduce a law to make military intervention more difficult.
– Argued Labour should not sign up to pledges on transgender rights.

Asked about the leadership contest, Mr Blair said that whoever wins the race out of shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir, Lisa Nandy and shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey would be a "significant improvement" on the outgoing Mr Corbyn.

The Islington North MP announced he was stepping down after leading the party to its worst election defeat since 1935 at the December poll.

Leo and Cherie Blair
The audience for Tony Blair's speech included son Leo and wife Cherie (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Blair said: "I don't want to damage anyone by supporting them so I have made up my mind that I am not going to give an opinion on which candidate.

"I think whatever happens there is going to be a significant improvement."

The Remain-backer said the next leader should not campaign to rejoin the EU and predicted Boris Johnson was facing "very tough" trade talks with Brussels.

"No, you just can't, I'm afraid," he said, when asked about a bid to reconcile with the bloc.

"In the long term, who knows? The Tories will own Brexit whatever happens and I think you've got to give it a chance to be done.

"If the Government really wants to diverge significantly from European regulation, then I think they will have a very tough negotiation."

When quizzed on on Sir Keir's plans for a Prevention of Military Intervention Act, the PM responsible for sending British troops into Iraq in 2003 said he was "not getting into that".

Tony Blair
Tony Blair during his speech (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He also called on Labour to avoid getting into what he dubbed a "culture war" on trans rights, urging the next leader not to sign up to the 12-point pledge card issued by the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights (LCTR).

The pledge card – already backed by Wigan MP Ms Nandy and Ms Long-Bailey – has caused controversy due to it describing some organisations, including Woman's Place UK, which calls for biological sex to be acknowledged, as "trans-exclusionist hate groups".

He said Labour should instead be engaging with the formal Government consultation on whether those living as trangender should be able to self-identify.

Mr Blair said: "If you're going to start trying to advocate things in a finger-jabbing sectarian way, saying 'If you don't sign up to what I'm saying then I'm going to disrupt your meetings and shout at you', you're not going to win that battle.

"You're just going to put a whole load of people off."

During his 14-minute speech, Mr Blair said Labour had shifted away from offering voters a plan for government, calling the 2019 manifesto "wrong" for "promising the earth".

The 66-year-old argued that, with technological developments happening at pace, "everything must change" for Labour if it was to convince voters it could be trusted to wield power.

"Labour's aim is not to trend on Twitter or to have celebrities – temporarily, by the way – fawn over it," he said.

"Our task is to win power. To get our hands stuck into the muddy wrangle of governing, where out of it can be pulled the prize of progress."

He argued that holding on to left-wing principles without power rendered them "pretty meaningless".

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