UK Politics

Labour: Blair seeks to 'set record straight' over inequality claims

Tony Blair on the campaign trail in 2001 Image copyright PA

Tony Blair has hit back at Jeremy Corbyn after the Labour leader questioned his predecessor's commitment to tackling inequality while in power.

In a speech on Saturday announcing a shift in policy on social mobility, Mr Corbyn said "for decades we have been told that inequality does not matter".

Mr Blair said it was the latest example of his government being grouped with Tory ones in "one unbroken line".

"This is bad politics and worse history," he said. "Enough is enough."

The two men have large political differences, despite both having served as Labour leader.

As a rebellious backbencher on the left of the party, Mr Corbyn was a fierce critic of the Iraq war and the Blair government's education and health reforms between 1997 and 2007.

Since Mr Corbyn's election as Labour leader in 2015, Mr Blair has publicly criticised the party's change of direction and questioned his suitability to be prime minister.

In a video posted on Twitter, Mr Blair said it had become "something of a mantra" for Mr Corbyn to criticise the "failed economic policies" of recent decades as if there was little or no difference between his government and those of Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron.

In a speech in Birmingham last weekend, Mr Corbyn said attempts to boost social mobility and improve opportunities for working-class communities under Mr Blair had failed.

He argued that a new focus on social justice was needed instead to tackle the "hierarchy of entrenched inequality".

But, in his video, Mr Blair said it was wrong to suggest that inequality had been ignored for the past 30 years and that all governments had pursued the same economic policies, as he suggested Mr Corbyn had claimed in a speech to the Unite union conference in October.

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Media captionCherie Blair talks to the BBC's Newsnight about her time in Downing Street

It was time, he said, to "set the record straight" about the last Labour's government achievements in office.

Mr Blair said it had overseen the largest peacetime investment in public services, which had transformed hospital waiting times and school results, while helping to lift one million children out of poverty.

"Of course, like any government, we had faults, failures and did things people disagreed with," he said.

"But don't tell me or those who worked with me or those in the Labour Party at time that we did nothing for the poorest in the country or the world. We did and we're proud of it."