General Election 2015: What does Tony Blair really think of Ed Miliband?

 
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Is Tony Blair an asset or liability to the Labour Party? (Source: Getty)

Labour's most electorally successful leader has re-entered the fray of British politics, warning voters that another Tory government will jeopardise the UK's relationship with the EU.

In a speech at the Excel Centre in his former constituency of Sedgefield today, Tony Blair will also praise Labour leader Ed Miliband for showing "real leadership" for ruling out a referendum on Britain's EU membership. However, the former PM, who won three general elections, has not always been so keen to praise Labour's leader or the direction he has chosen to take the party.

So what does Tony Blair really think about Miliband?

While always expressing loyalty in public and never going so far as to criticise Miliband directly, Blair's interventions since Miliband became leader have not always been helpful.

In late 2013, when Parliament was asked whether the UK should opt for a policy of intervention in Syria, Ed Miliband led his party through the lobby to defeat the government and prevent further UK military involvement. Blair was quick to voice his displeasure at the more dovish stance Miliband had decided to take on foreign policy.

“I wrote before the vote that I thought we had to support action in Syria, and I said after the vote that I was disappointed by it. You know, this is something where I just have to disagree with the leadership of the party,” Blair said.

The New Labour leader has also made clear his distaste for anything resembling a left of centre political strategy. In an interview with The Economist last year, Blair mused that the General Election could be one "in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result".

Blair added: "I am still very much New-Labour, and Ed would not describe himself in that way... I am convinced the Labour Party succeeds best when it is in the centre ground."

In October, it was reported Blair had told friends Miliband "cannot" beat David Cameron. Miliband has been subjected to not-so-subtle criticism from other New Labour big beasts such as Peter Mandelson and Alan Milburn.

With the rise of Ukip and Labour toughening its stance on immigration, Blair popped up again. In the left-leaning Progress magazine, he warned his party:

[Don't] end up chasing after the policies of a party like Ukip, who you don't agree with, whose policies would take this country back economically in every conceivable way, and who, ultimately, at the heart of what they do, have a rather nasty core of prejudice that none of us believe in, which you’ve actually got to take on and fight. So the way to deal with this is to deal with it by what you believe.

Blair and Miliband have fundamentally different visions of where the Labour Party needs to go to become an election-winning party of government. Miliband believes, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the centre-ground of British politics has moved to the left, with pubic attitude more receptive to state intervention in markets.

Blair sees Britain as remaining a fundamentally centrist country and is more content to live in peace with the Thatcherite settlement of open markets and privatisation, but adding greater to social spending to ensure social justice.

Despite being the most successful leader in the Labour Party's history, Blair's offer of £1,000 donations toward campaigns was rejected by two Labour candidates. If Miliband fails to capture the keys to Number 10, Blair may be vindicated - but if he triumphs, many aspects much of conventional wisdom of how the British economy should function could be challenged.

Later today, Blair will attack David Cameron for bowing to pressure from Ukip and Eurosceptic media, offering an EU referendum should he win a second term.

The controversial former Prime Minister will say the possibility of Brexit would leave "unpredictability hanging over the British economy".

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