Sir Tony Blair has appeared to criticise Sir Keir Starmer’s lack of ideas for Labour as he attacked a “gaping hole” in British politics.
The former prime minister said Britain found itself at an “inflexion point” and “not in good shape” as political parties lack solutions to both domestic and global crises.
Sir Tony accused the Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn of “extremes” which had drained the political centreground of momentum and ideas.
“We are at serious risk of being relegated from the Premiership group of nations unless we take strong action,” he said.
“We are living through a period of enormous change and we are not in good shape. We need a clear plan for the future. We need ideas for the future.”
‘A gaping great hole’ in politics
Speaking on the Rest Is Politics podcast – hosted by Alastair Campbell, his former spin doctor, and Rory Stewart, the ex-Conservative MP – Sir Tony warned politics was “bust unless there is a change of attitude”.
“Jeremy Corbyn took over the Labour Party, the Conservative Party became a Brexit Party,” he said. “The strong centre ground that you need to drive practical radical solutions was weakened. There has been a gaping great hole where ideas should be.
“I support what Keir Starmer is doing. He has moved the party significantly, the Wakefield by-election result indicated that. The central problem is what are the ideas that are going to stop this relegation, and put [the UK] on an upward path?”
Speaking on Tuesday at a conference hosted by the New Statesman magazine, Sir Keir said Conservative MPs should be “pretty worried” after his party’s by-election victory in Wakefield.
But the Labour leader admitted: “Of course there’s more policy that we need to put on the table and we’re doing that into conference and beyond conference.”
Asked about shadow cabinet ministers reportedly claiming he was “boring voters to death”, Sir Keir replied: “I was sitting around a big table with CEOs from some of the biggest bodies and corporations around this country.
“And we were having a very serious discussion about what they expect from government. None of them said ‘a few more jokes, please’, ‘a bit of a laugh’... They all said we want a government which has a very clear sense of its mission. Boring wasn’t on the agenda.”
‘NHS is stuck in the age of Nye Bevan’
Sir Tony’s comments came as he insisted the NHS must no longer be seen as a “religion”, suggesting it is stuck in the age of Nye Bevan and calling for major changes in the way the health service is run, including stripping Whitehall of many of its powers.
A report by the Tony Blair Institute, released on Wednesday, says without such changes there is a “real risk” the health service in its current form may not emerge intact at the end of the decade.
Sir Tony said the governing principles of the NHS – founded in 1948 under Nye Bevan, a Labour health minister, following the Beveridge report – must remain, keeping a “universal, taxpayer funded service free at the point of use to all”.
But he added the NHS must end a culture of top-down control, and instead make far more use of technology and science to innovate.
“The NHS envisioned by Beveridge and Bevan, a centrally controlled, ‘one size fits all’ service, focused on how we treat sick people, no longer fits the requirements of today’s world,” the report reads.
Nigel Lawson, the former Tory chancellor, famously observed in 1992 the NHS “is the closest thing the English have to a religion, making it “extraordinarily difficult to reform”.
Sir Tony has echoed that warning, saying the NHS “is a service not a religion” and calling for changes to safeguard its future.