Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Labour’s most successful election winner, on Wednesday urged moderates in the party to grab back control from leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose brand of “quasi-revolutionary socialism” had failed.
Outgoing Labour leader Corbyn has called for a period of reflection on Thursday’s election defeat, Labour’s worst result since 1935, though a battle is now underway for control of the party with Corbyn’s hard-left loyalists unwilling to let go.
“The takeover of the Labour Party by the far left turned it into a glorified protest movement with cult trimmings, utterly incapable of being a credible government,” said Blair, who won three elections and was prime minister from 1997 to 2007.
“The result has brought shame on us.”
Labour won just 203 seats in the election, down 59, and saw its vote share fall by 7.8 percentage points to 32.2% while Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won 365 seats, up 47, on 43.6% of the vote.
Blair said that few would now bet against a decade of Conservative rule given the state of Labour, and that unless the party changed course it faced the threat of never winning power again.
“The choice for Labour is to renew itself as the serious, progressive, non Conservative competitor for power in British politics, or retreat from such an ambition, in which case over time it will be replaced,” Blair said.
He chided Corbyn for leading Labour to defeat with a set of ideas that voters had no interest in.
“He personified politically an idea, a brand, of quasi-revolutionary socialism, mixing far left economic policy with deep hostility to Western foreign policy,” he said.
“(This) never has appealed to traditional Labour voters, never will appeal to them, and represented for them a combination of misguided ideology and terminal ineptitude that they found insulting,” Blair said.
“It’s essentially a cry of rage against the system. It’s not a programme for government. To win power we need self discipline, not self indulgence.”
Corbyn, beside a promise of another EU referendum in which he said he would be neutral, offered voters the most radical socialist government in British history with higher public spending, sweeping nationalisation and taxes on the wealthy.
Supporters of Corbyn say Blair betrayed the working classes by shifting the party to the right and undermined faith in politicians by supporting the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Blair said Corbyn’s complicated and equivocal stance on Brexit had displeased both opponents and advocates of Britain’s departure from the European Union.
“We pursued a path of almost comic indecision, alienated both sides of the debate leaving our voters without guidance or leadership,” Blair said.
“The absence of leadership on what was obviously the biggest question facing the country then reinforced all the other doubts about Jeremy Corbyn.”