It feels like no one can divide the Labour Party quite like Tony Blair. The former Prime Minister has donated £106,000 to the candidates in his party’s top target seats ahead of the general election. Good news, or so you would have thought, except that since then three of these lucky Labour beneficiaries have rejected Blair’s generous offer.
In turn, those declining the cash have themselves been on the receiving end of criticism from the right of the party. Meanwhile, those who previously condemned Blair yet are now quietly taking his money are facing accusations of hypocrisy. Poor old Tony was only trying to help. Look at all the trouble he has caused.
So, who is right? The Blairites who are defending the donation – and attacking those turning it down – are usually by some distance the most sensible people in the party. They have several very good points.
First, the anti-Blair hatred among the left-wing faction of the Labour Party is almost entirely irrational, drearily dogmatic and above all else counter-productive. Blair was a man who won them three elections. He was their most popular leader in recent memory, without contest. If the Blair of his days in office were still leader of the Labour Party, they would walk the election this May.
Second, publicly rejecting a donation from your party’s former leader is a great news story for your political opponents on a national level. The Tories will be loving this long-running division in the Labour Party being exposed once again by those turning the money down. Taking such a stance – even if genuine on a personal level – is greatly unhelpful for the party more widely.
Thirdly, the Blair donation story was a minor news story at best before people started taking a bold stance. Now it is making front pages. No one would really have noticed that some candidates were receiving money from Blair if it were not for the few selfish ideologues who vociferously declined the money.
These are all good points, yet you can’t help but think the Blairites have got this one wrong. Candidates are not there to serve the central party down in London. They are not there to please senior politicians at the top of the party. They are there for their constituents. In places like Dundee East, where Labour’s candidate Lesley Brennan has said thanks but no thanks, Blair is not exactly revered. Is it Brennan’s duty to prevent awkwardness for Ed Miliband in Westminster or to win her seat north of the border?
In any case, she is more useful to Miliband achieving the latter. This being the case, I would not be surprised if some of those other Labour candidates, who have in the past been strident opponents of Blair, suddenly remembered their principles.
And what about principle. If you went on marches against the Iraq War in 2003, if you described Blair’s actions as war crimes – right or wrong – can you really accept his money? No. Whatever the merits and demerits of the case for war, such hypocrisy is plainly wrong. Even more clear is the question of from where Blair earns his money. This is a man who just this weekend was revealed to have sought a £30 million contract to advise the UAE while carrying out the role of Middle East peace envoy.
This is a man who, since leaving office, has worked for Kazakhstan. Blair’s income comes from dictators. Labour candidates accepting his donations are receiving blood money which has ultimately come from some of the most awful people on the planet. Whatever the politics, whatever the internal squabbling within the Labour Party, they are right to tell him they don’t want his money.