Why Blair's targeted endorsement is good news for Miliband
08 April 2015 -
Divisive the former prime minister may be – but he did win three elections, and still has clout in key voter segments, says our political columnist
So, Nigel Farage is reem. Or at least, so thinks Joey Essex. The reality star of TOWIE met the reality star of the UK Independence Party in Grimsby. You can check the Urban Dictionary yourself for the definition of reem, but suffice to say it’s a word to be applied to good things. Could this endorsement for Farage revive his flagging fortunes?
News of Farage’s celebrity support comes hot on the heels of backing for Ed Miliband from someone else once lauded for his understanding of “Essex Man”: Tony Blair. The controversial former PM has dipped his toe in the election campaign waters to support the Labour leader, and warn of chaos in Europe if the Conservatives should win.
Blair's intervention has raised a few eyebrows. Does Miliband really need the support of such a divisive figure, who is widely criticised for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and for his personal business activities since leaving the Commons?
Miliband’s team must have thought twice about Blair’s support for two important reasons. Labour can scrape home on about 35% of the vote, which means motivating the core support and winning over disaffected Lib Dems. It’s these target voters who are still angry over Iraq. If they are teetering on the brink of coming back to the fold, this reminder of the past could just keep them away from the polling stations. In contrast, for those who are not so enamoured with Miliband and hark back to the days of Blair’s three terms in power, the current leader may look pale by comparison. The same has been said of Obama in Bill Clinton’s shadow.
But the nature of the intervention has been carefully balanced. By focusing on the question of Europe, Blair is speaking to the business leaders frightened by Ed Miliband’s Labour, many of whom were won over by Blair and the New Labour project more than a decade ago. Labour has struggled to demonstrate business support, and Blair could be exactly the right person for that particular constituency.
Perhaps more importantly, Blair is a winner. He never lost an election, stood down after winning three and has an instantly recognisable leadership style on the world stage. It’s no surprise that less has been heard from Gordon Brown, who was privately supportive of Ed Miliband’s ascension to the party throne.
A good endorser should be widely recognised and widely liked. But, like a good leader, he or she must primarily be widely respected. Though some of the respect he has garnered is grudging, Tony Blair outperforms Joey Essex on this important measure. That has to be called a high scoring win for Miliband over Farage.
Jon Bennett is managing director of corporate communications consultancy Linstock Communications.
Image of Tony Blair courtesy of Marc Müller, via the Wikimedia Commons.
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