Tony Blair says Ed Miliband has his full support as Labour leader

Tony Blair

Tony Blair offered some support for Ed Miliband on Tuesday when he said that the Labour leader was “robust enough” to deal with the criticism from MPs that he is failing to connect with voters.

According to one MP, the critics will now be throwing their weight behind Miliband after Alan Johnson definitively ruled himself out of contention. The former prime minister said that dealing with dissent is a normal part of political leadership.

In an interview with Sky News from Sierra Leone, where his Africa Governance Initiative is helping with the international response to Ebola, Blair initially declined to answer questions about Miliband.

But asked by presenter Kay Burley how much sympathy Miliband deserves, given that Blair faced similarly awkward headlines, the former prime minister said: “Exactly, that’s what leadership is about and I’m sure he is robust enough to take it ... I have had these things a thousand times and I’ve always said he has my full support.”

Blair appeared to be reluctant to talk about Miliband for three reasons. He had hoped to talk about his foundation’s work in tackling Ebola; he makes a point of being scrupulously loyal in public to his successors as Labour leaders; and he believes that his party does not like his interventions. Asked whether Labour would appreciate his thoughts on Miliband, he said: “I doubt it.”

But supporters of Blair have expressed deep unease about Miliband’s leadership of the Labour party. They had been pinning their hopes on Alan Johnson who has, in their eyes, the natural authority and ease of manner which Miliband has struggled to develop.

But the decision of the former home secretary to use a Guardian article to rule out standing for the Labour leadership in all circumstances killed hopes that Miliband could be replaced. One of Miliband’s critics told the Guardian: “There was a moment for questioning and there was a moment when we seriously thought Alan could be persuaded to stand. But it turns out that Alan was never going to do that. We will now be doing everything we can do to ensure Ed Miliband will be elected prime minister. Everyone will now unite behind Ed.”

Miliband will seek to reinvigorate his leadership on Thursday with a highly personal speech. He will explain why his determination to champion what he calls the “squeezed middle”, who have suffered as wages are outstripped by inflation, prompted him to challenge his brother for the Labour leadership in 2010.

But Miliband suffered a blow when two leading figures from the world of finance and industry questioned his credentials. This highlighted one of the main criticisms of Blair’s supporters – that Miliband has made Labour unelectable by failing to forge strong relations with business.

Roger Bootle, the founder of Capital Economics, told the Daily Telegraph’s Festival of Business: “Ed Miliband is unelectable. David Cameron may not be everyone’s cup of tea [but] he is prime ministerial.” Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of worldwide media and advertising company WPP, said he believed the Tories would be the largest party.

David Lammy, the former Labour minister who hopes to be the party’s candidate for London mayor, said the party faces a formidable challenge ahead of the election. Lammy, who said he believes that no party will win an overall majority, told the Huffington Post: “I don’t want to knock Ed personally. I actually think it’s a whole team issue. I think that, in the end, all of the major players that contribute to the Labour message ... have a lot to do between now and the general election. A lot to do.

“I think that the next general election is going to be phenomenally close. I am not moving off my assumption, when I collapsed onto my sofa after the last general election with my wife and watched Nick Clegg and David Cameron walk into number 10, and that is: we are in for a decade of either minority or coalition government. That was my general view [in 2010]. There’s very little that’s shifted [since then].”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, for The Guardian on Tuesday 11th November 2014 20.22 Europe/London

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