Tony Blair's comeback: 'I want to be part of the debate'

Jason Farrell, Senior Political Correspondent

Tony Blair has indicated a return to a more active role in politics, saying he wants to be "part of the debate" while expressing concern that the centre-ground is being "squeezed out" by the left and right.

The former prime minister has ruled out standing as an MP but says he wants to focus on "solutions for today's world".

It is 20 years since New Labour's landslide victory in 1997 and to mark the occasion, Mr Blair talked candidly to Sky News about the changing politics within the Labour party.

He rejected the idea that the Iraq War is what turned his party away from New Labour, describing this as "the wrong reading of history".

But while Mr Blair admitted the war "left people dismayed", he does not believe it contributed to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn.

He said: "Some people left the Labour Party, that's absolutely true but I don't think it was the reason why we ended up deciding that New Labour was wrong.

"I think actually the reasons are far more to do with domestic politics and to do with the politics inside the Labour Party."

The former prime minister remains convinced Saddam Hussein posed a global risk.

He told Sky's Adam Boulton: "Personally I think that if we'd left him in power, he would have turned out like (Syrian president Bashar al) Assad, or the leader in North Korea.

"I think he would have ended up as a significant threat to the world, but you can never go back and take a different decision and see how it would have turned out."

Quizzed about the inaccurate statements he made in the House of Commons about the Iraqi leader's ability to deploy weapons of mass destruction, he said: "There never are enough times to apologise for the intelligence being wrong.

"It was the intelligence we were given and by the way we were given it for a very simple reason - he was the one leader in the world who had actually used WMD since the Second World War, and had done that to devastating effect in the region with his own people."

There is an irony that the 20th anniversary of Labour's historic landslide victory falls on the eve of an election that is widely predicted to see an historic Labour defeat.

Mr Blair is winding up his business interests to focus on global and domestic politics.

While confirming that he won't stand as an MP he told Sky News: "I'm sure of one thing - that I want to take part in the debate.

"I've shut the business side and transferred all the money to the non-for-profit, which was always my intention by the way, and we're creating this institute which as well as the work that I do in Africa, the Middle East is about co-existence between people of different faiths, it'll focus particular on what are the policy solutions for today's world."

He added: "I think the problem for politics is the centre-ground being squeezed out of politics, in this country particularly, is a really bad thing for British politics, because the truth is the 21st century is not about the old ideologies of left and right, it's about values that sure are about opportunities for all and about social justice, but realise that in a world whose chief characteristic is change."

Meanwhile on the election campaign trail today, Jeremy Corbyn will outline plans for a "consumer rights revolution" which will introduce legal minimum standards for all rental homes, Theresa May is visiting the North West as she is understood to be considering plans to give middle-aged workers tax breaks to help ease the cost of their parents' social care, and Tim Farron will take the so-called Liberal Democrat "fightback" to a trio of marginal constituencies and urge voters to elect MPs from his party to strike a blow to Mrs May's "hard Brexit agenda".

The Conservative Party accused Labour of being split over support for Mr Blair.

Andrew Griffiths, MP for Burton, said: "Jeremy Corbyn's Labour are even in chaos over whether or not the 1997 General Election result was a good thing or not.

"Their campaign chair Andrew Gwynne thinks Tony Blair is an inspiration, Jeremy Corbyn thinks he's a war criminal.

"This is just further demonstration of what you'd get from Corbyn - a coalition of chaos full of Labour MPs who don't even think he's the right man for the job."

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