Tony Blair has once again fuelled the squabbling between mainstream Labour and Corbyn-supporting activists by calling on his former shadow cabinet colleague to “reject leftist politics of identity”.
In an article published in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, the former prime minister said: “We have to stop centrist forces that are more interested in identifying a broad variety of problems to whip up class and racial tension than they are in solving problems in society.”
His remarks came after the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was accused of talking down British identity when he was campaigning to become party leader in 2015, and some Labour MPs have said their own names could become a symbol of nationalism, after a video emerged of Corbyn saying he sometimes feels British while talking to African and South American delegates at a conference in Brazil.
Corbyn is condemned by some of his own MPs as representing a divide-and-rule style of politics that threatens to send politics into a national crisis. But there are currently just two Labour MPs who openly back the rightwing Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, with the former Chuka Umunna branded a traitor for giving up the role of shadow business secretary to back Labour’s candidate for mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
Blair, who is now a global fellow at the George Soros foundation, warned his old foe that “woke” politics was fast turning into an affliction in British politics.
He wrote: “It is perfectly acceptable to discuss identity issues – they are a key part of our culture. But it is not OK to identify with a wide variety of problems, to whip up hatred, intolerance, division, even to be a threat to the state itself.”
Blair, who has campaigned against a post-war backlash against Blairism since he left government in 2007, said talk of people being “white working class” or “immigrant low income” should be called out as bigotry. “Prejudice is wrong – true and self-evident,” he said.
His latest salvo comes after bitter infighting between the hardline Momentum rightwing group and Corbyn’s official supporters last week over comments made by the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, in the wake of the hardline bill securing Britain’s departure from the EU.
Starmer, who led the government’s defeat in the House of Lords on the bill, said Labour would try to secure a deal that allowed Britain to remain in a customs union with the EU, but refused to rule out party and parliamentary division over the question.
The most recent report by research by the House of Commons library said the UK would risk irreversible damage to its trade relationships around the world and its international reputation if it left the customs union with the EU, but did not definitively rule out a Labour government voting to leave.
Blair also drew a link between conservatism and bigotry, saying “secular conservative ideologies of character-building, of individual entitlement, and of common sense stand in stark contrast to the ‘complacency and collectivism’ of a leftist worldview,” before slamming Labour’s attitude towards the far-left Teer Busters group as the “rightwing violence” of “leftist revolutionaries”.
Starmer responded with a string of Twitter posts saying he disagreed with Blair, adding: “It isn’t my responsibility to prove that ideology is really just identity politics, and disassociating the left from identity politics is not the same as disassociating right from identity politics”.
He said Corbyn “does not seek to dehumanise or degrade other groups” and argued the success of the Corbyn camp and Brexit were based on deeper “values”.
Starmer has also faced criticism over his refusal to pledge Labour MPs’ support to retain the backstop – a guarantee that both the EU and UK will not enter into a customs union with the EU for up to two years – which would be necessary to resolve a hard border in Ireland after Brexit.
Keir Starmer v Theresa May: ‘We need an alternative to Brexittoryism’ Read more
Since taking over as shadow Brexit secretary, he has repeatedly stressed that it would be the UK negotiating Britain’s position in an independent trade relationship. Last week, Labour’s leader sent a message to Brexiters in the party.
Corbyn’s Twitter message: “Dear Tory Brexittoryists, today I’m appointing someone dedicated to delivering a new relationship with the EU that means there will be no return to hard borders and a hard Brexit. You’re welcome.