Tony Blair heaps praise on 'courageous' Labour splitters and insists more will join them

Posted On: 
3rd March 2019

Tony Blair today said it was “absolutely inevitable” that more Labour figures will join the Independent Group as he revealed he has sympathy for the “courageous” MPs who defected.

Tony Blair appeared on the Andrew Marr show this morning`
Credit: 
BBC

The former Prime Minister said there was a “vast, empty” and “fertile territory” in the political centre ground in Britain that was ready to “cultivate”.

And he backed his former critic Tom Watson, who he said was showing "great leadership" in his efforts to reform the party. 

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He made the comments after eight Labour MPs quit the party in protest at its direction under Jeremy Corbyn and were joined by three Conservative MPs to form a new Commons grouping. 

Labour MPs Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie said they were quitting primarily over the party position on Brexit, while like colleagues Luciana Berger and Mike Gapes said the anti-semitism crisis was their driver.

Tories Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry meanwhile argued their former party had been taken over by the pro-Brexit hard right.

Asked on the BBC Andrew Marr show today whether he backed the Independent Group, Mr Blair would only say he was staying in the Labour party to fight against the takeover of the left.

But he added: “I've got a great deal of sympathy with what they are doing and what they are saying… I think they are courageous in having done it.”

He argued there was a “vast empty territory” in UK political debate and “they have come on to it and they will be joined by others who will migrate over time - I think it is absolutely inevitable”.

And he went on: “[If] you have that amount of fertile territory open - someone is going to come in and cultivate it.”

TOM WATSON 'SHOWING LEADERSHIP'

Elsewhere, Mr Blair heaped praise on deputy Labour leader Watson who has been locked in a battle urging senior Labour figures to shape up or risk further defections.

Mr Watson has pledged to set up a shadow complaints process to deal with allegations of anti-semitism among party activists and is forming a new social democrat grouping of MPs.

The former party leader said: “I think Tom has actually shown really great leadership for the Labour party over these past weeks.

“As a result of what he is doing he’s actually encouraging people who do share a perspective of the Labour party as a governing, modern, progressive party… to stay because he’s providing a space within which people can debate and argue.”

In 2006 Mr Watson famously resigned from the Labour frontbench and demanded then-Prime Minister Mr Blair set a date for his resignation.

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The appearance by the three-time election winner won a plaudit from Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner.

But pro-Brexit backbencher Caroline Flint was less impressed, after Mr Blair argued she should support another referendum on EU membership.