Tony Blair refuses to back Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister
Former Labour PM declines to say that the party’s current leader would be the best choice to lead the country
Tony Blair has refused once again to say he thinks Jeremy Corbyn would be the best prime minister, arguing that people should vote Labour to make sure Theresa May has a strong opposition.
The former prime minister, who has been a vocal critic of Corbyn from the start, said the real issue in the campaign was not who was going to be prime minister, but making sure the government was held to account over Brexit.
Asked if he was saying hand on heart that Corbyn would be the best prime minister, Blair told Sky News: “If the polls are right, we know who’s going to be prime minister on 9 June. That’s not the issue. It’ll be Theresa May if the polls are right.”
He added: “I think the real issue is blank cheque. It’s what mandate does she claim, on Brexit and on the health service and all the other things.
“I think the most powerful argument for Labour in this election because of the way the polls are, and the way the opinion polls are and the leadership issue, the most powerful argument for Labour is to say it’s important for our democracy that the government is held to account and needs a strong opposition.”
Blair has previously insisted he is not advocating tactical voting but sailed close to the wind in arguing that people should vote for candidates keeping an open mind on stopping a hard Brexit.
“What I’m advocating may mean that. It may mean voting Labour. It may mean, by the way, that they vote Tory, for candidates who are prepared to give this commitment,” he said on Sunday.
There have been calls for Labour to discipline Blair for suggesting people should think about voting for other parties’ candidates.
Blair’s argument about voting Labour for a strong opposition to May has been adopted by an increasing number of Labour MPs trying to save their seats in the face of worrying polling.
Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, made the case to Devon voters in his local newspaper that they should vote for him knowing it would not affect who runs the government.
“When you vote on June 8 you are electing the person you want to be your local MP for the next five years. You are not electing a party leader or a government. Exeter is not a seat the Conservatives need to win to stay in power or even to have a significantly increased majority. So supporting me in Exeter will not affect who governs nationally,” he said.
Wes Streeting, a Labour MP who has one of the smallest majorities in the country in Ilford North, has stressed he will be an “independent-minded MP” in contrast to his Tory opponent who will be a “government loyalist who will just parrot Theresa May”.
In Barrow in Cumbria, John Woodcock, a Labour MP, has gone even further, saying: “I will not countenance ever voting to make Jeremy Corbyn Britain’s prime minister.
“I realise that Jeremy has been elected and then re-elected as the leader of my party, but my first duty is to you, my constituents.
“Jeremy’s opposition to the Trident renewal programme is lifelong and is well known but more than that, I cannot countenance endorsing him for a role which I think even he, although he may say different in front of the cameras, does not think he is fit to carry out.”