Labour Party taps Blair for boost as race in Britain tightens

Divisive politician pitches for Brown

By Jill Lawless
Associated Press / March 31, 2010

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LONDON — Tony Blair, the former prime minister, made a dramatic preelection return to domestic British politics yesterday with an attack on the policies of David Cameron, the smooth young Conservative leader sometimes nicknamed “Tory Blair.’’

Blair’s return, weeks before a national election, came in a speech urging voters to give his Labour Party a fourth term in office.

“In uncertain times, there’s a lot to be said for certain leadership,’’ Blair said, dismissing the Conservative campaign slogan “vote for change’’ as “the most vacuous slogan in politics.’’

He said it begged the question: “Change to what, exactly?’’

Blair has made few appearances in Britain since he quit as prime minister in 2007, though his January testimony defending his actions in Iraq to the country’s inquiry into the war marked a return to the limelight.

In more comfortable mode in a room full of Labour supporters in his former constituency, it was as though he’d never been gone. Here was the easy smile, the friendly crowd at Trimdon village’s Labour Club in northeast England, and the gaggle of protesters outside as a reminder of Blair’s unpopular decision to go to war in Iraq.

Blair remains a divisive figure, but Labour leaders are calculating that despite lingering anger over the war, his record of having won three consecutive elections makes him an asset in the tight race.

An election must be held by June 3, and is widely expected to be on May 6.

Blair praised the record of his successor, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and attacked Cameron’s Tories as a party without principles.

He praised Brown’s stewardship of the economy, saying that 18 months after the near-collapse of the global banking system, “we are not out of the woods yet, but we are on the path out.’’

Blair has had a famously tense relationship with Brown, who succeeded him as prime minister in June 2007. For most of the time since then, the Conservatives have held a double-digit lead over Labour in opinion polls.

But in recent months the race has tightened, raising Labour’s hopes of clinging on for a fourth term.