Former leaders are always a source of trouble for political parties, like the elephant in the drawing room they are indisputably there; but everyone tries their best to ignore them.
That is certainly the case when it comes to the Labour Party and Tony Blair their most successful, and most controversial leader.
Before the new year break he said in an interview given to the Economist that Labour risk losing the next election if they are perceived as being too left wing.
There was a risk, he said, of May’s general election being one where ‘a traditional left wing party competes with a traditional left wing one, with the traditional result’, meaning defeat for Labour.
The Labour Party, he went on to say ‘succeeds best when it is in the centre ground’, adding that he was ‘still very much New Labour’ and that ‘Ed would not describe himself that way, so there is a difference there.’
All very neatly put with the inference, for those who wish to find it, that Red Ed is too red and will lead the party to defeat.
Lucy Powell, a close ally of Ed Milliband told the BBC that she had ‘a great deal of respect’ for Tony Blair, but said he was a politician from ‘a different time’ and that the challenges faced by the current leadership are different.
Paul Kenny of the GMB union, also speaking to the BBC, was more robust saying that Mr Blair was ‘disconnected’ from the lives of the people Labour represents, adding that it was ‘sad and disappointing’ that the former party leader appeared to oppose Labour’s policies aimed at closing the ‘unacceptable inequality gap between those at the top and the rest in our society.’
At one level this is, of course, a story about one of the largest egos in politics grabbing a few precious minutes in the spotlight. Mr Blair later said that his comments had been ‘misinterpreted’ and that he expected Labour to win in May. The damage though may already have been done.
Lucy Powell is right when she says that Tony Blair is a man out of his time with a take on political realities to match, the centre ground is a much less attractive place to be than it was in the 1990’s.
The trouble with Ed Milliband is that since becoming leader in 2010 he has tried with ever increasing levels of desperation to please everyone, the unions, the New Labour faction, the press and an increasingly restive grassroots membership; with the predictable result that he has ended up satisfying nobody.
There is a real risk that given his past form he will respond to this fairly coded criticism by making yet another policy lurch with the associated pratfall; that would be a potentially fatal mistake.
The parties that are growing, Ukip, the Greens, and the SNP et al make no pretence of being on the middle ground; they are all very clear about where they stand. In the case of Ukip that may often be in a rather worrying place, but it is a distinct one for all that.
Labour can’t be the nostalgia party wedded to a past rooted in heavy industries that have gone for good, they could and should though be more vocal about adhering to their core values. Having a leader who is determined to be the first version of himself rather than the next Tony Blair would be a good start.