Gordon Brown has become the latest senior Labour figure to warn against choosing Jeremy Corbyn as the party’s next leader, arguing he could damage international relations by allying with Hezbollah, Hamas, Hugo Chavez’s successor in Venezuela and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
The former prime minister did not refer to any of the candidates by name, but his 50-minute speech was heavy with implicit warnings that Corbyn would make Labour a party or protest and not a party of government.
Without endorsing any other candidate, he said Labour must be “credible, radical, sustainable, electable” to help people out of poverty as “anger is not enough”.
In a clear reference to Corbyn, he said there was one camp whose own supporters even did not believe their candidate would win the next election.
Brown said he was heartbroken and the party was grieving after the general election defeat in May, but it would be “even worse if we leave ourselves powerless to do anything about it”.
Analysing some of the reasons people may have turned to Corbyn’s leftwing politics and idealism, he said people were feeling secure about globalisation, which had left people “uncertain and unmoored” and turned people to nationalism in countries from Greece to Scotland.
But he said Labour must not turn its back on internationalism and should build progressive alliances, especially within Europe against “illiberalism, totalitariansim, anti-Semitism, racism and the extremisms of prejudice.
In the most explicit warning so far about Corbyn’s foreign policy, he said: “Don’t tell me that we can do much for the poor of the world if the alliances we favour most are with Hezbollah, Hamas, Chavez’s successor in Venezuela and Putin’s totalitarian Russia.”
Corbyn has been criticised for describing representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”, which he has said was a collective term, rather than a sign he agrees with their views. He has also hinted at being open to a closer relationship with Russia and wants to withdraw from Nato.
Brown also said it was “not an abandonment of principles to seek power” and Labour members should see their vote not as a protest but a “public duty and sacred trust”.
“The best way of realising our high ideals is to show that we have an alternative in government that is credible, that is radical, and is electable – is neither a pale imitation of what the Tories offer nor is it the route to being a party of permanent protest, rather than a party of government,” he said.
People must vote not for the candidate they “like” as they would on Facebook, but for the candidate who can make a difference, he added.
In the lengthy speech, delivered from memory, Brown paced the room as he quoted a series of Labour politicians from history - including Aneurin Bevan, Keir Hardie, John Smith, Neil Kinnock and even his old rival Tony Blair - to cement his argument that power is necessary to change lives.
He even invoked Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi, asking “is what I am about to do going to help”, and former South African president Nelson Mandela, saying the yardstick by which he would be measured was the ability to better the lives of all people.
Brown’s intervention comes after warnings that Corbyn would be electorally disastrous from senior figures including Tony Blair, Alan Johnson, Jack Straw, and Alastair Campbell, but all have failed to dent the leftwinger’s status as the favourite to win.
His decision to break his silence on the contest drew a divided reaction from his party. Clive Lewis, a new Labour MP and Corbyn supporter, tweeted suggesting Brown was not qualified to lecture on economic credibility.
This in turn drew criticism from other Labour MPs, with shadow minister Alison McGovern replying: “I’m a ‘play the ball, not the person’ sort. But this is a joke. [Gordon Brown] helped millions to better life. And this guy? Not.”
The other three leadership candidates initially held back from criticising Corbyn over fears it would look like they were ganging up on the outsider, but they have now all suggested he risks creating turmoil in party.
In an interview with the Sunday People, Burnham claimed electing Corbyn would drag Labour back to the infighting of the 1980s.
“I’m the only person in this race who can beat Jeremy,” he said. “In the 80s, we started fighting each other and left the way clear for Margaret Thatcher to bulldoze her way through Labour communities. I’m not going to let that happen this time.”
Burnham’s claim that he is the “Stop Corbyn” candidate was challenged by shadow minister and Cooper supporter Liam Byrne on Sunday.
He wrote a blog saying Cooper’s internal phonebanking data shows around 66pc of Burnham and Kendall’s second preference votes going to Cooper, which he argued would be enough to push her into first place.
As Burnham and Cooper battle to be seen as the main challenger to Corbyn, ComRes study of 2,035 adults in Britain, for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror, found 31% of those polled thought the leftwinger would worsen Labour’s prospects of electoral success.
However, 21% of voters thought Corbyn would improve the party’s election prospects – putting him ahead of Burnham on 19%, Yvette Cooper on 15% and Liz Kendall on 11%.
A Survation poll on Friday found that Corbyn ranked the highest of all the candidates on a range of questions about his personality and politics. Burnham had a narrow lead on who would be best as prime minister by 25% to 24% for Corbyn, but the two men tied at 26% on who would be most likely to win the 2020 election.
After a week of intense attacks from senior Labour figures about his credibility as a leader, Corbyn sought on Sunday to calm fears that he would have an anti-business agenda by setting out plans to support entrepreneurs and small traders.
He told the Observer: “The current government seems to think ‘pro-business’ means giving a green light to corporate tax avoiders and private monopolies. I will stand up for small businesses, independent entrepreneurs, and the growing number of enterprises that want to cooperate and innovate for the public good.”
Corbyn has dismissed all the criticism of his suitability as a leader by saying he does not do personal attacks or respond to abuse.
This article was written by Josh Halliday and Rowena Mason, for theguardian.com on Sunday 16th August 2015 15.52 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010