This week, current British Labour party leader Ed Miliband held a joint fund-raiser with former leader Tony Blair, announcing the latter’s return to frontline British politics. Blair, currently the Quartet envoy on the Middle East, will work on Labour’s policy review, beginning as an advisor on the Olympic legacy, hopefully as a precursor to a more significant role.
Blair has become hugely divisive within the party, treated with near pathological hatred by those that vehemently opposed the Iraq war and the New Labour movement, and idolised by those who loved his ability to win elections, reform public services, and modernise Britain. His return has the potential to exacerbate an underlying struggle within the party between a harder left, that wants a return to Labour’s historic roots, and the “Blairite” right, that think Labour and the country need to evolve and develop in order to thrive and succeed.
A British election probably will not be held for another 3 years, but after a bad loss in the 2010 elections, Labour has recovered well and avoided self-destructing in the way conservatives did following their humbling loss in 1997, and a future Labour government in 2015 appears perfectly plausible. Whilst a few Labour MP’s hold some unhelpful and ill-informed views of Israel and the Middle East, the majority are perfectly rational, and many are strong supporters of Israel and a two-state solution.
The return of Blair adds another political heavyweight who understands the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and supports Israel’s need for security in a tough neighbourhood, but also advocates for Palestinians. How much influence he will have, and whether he concentrates on domestic politics or foreign policy, remains to be seen, but there is cause for optimism. If nothing else, Blair and his supporters will receive increased prominence and act as a moderate counter-weight to the far left of the party who tend to have more negative views of Israel.
Support for Israel within Labour was boosted last week when the shadow chancellor Ed Balls spoke at the Labour Friends of Israel annual lunch, stating his unambiguous support for Israel, a two-state solution, and opposition to boycotts. The shadow chancellor also announced he will lead a delegation to Israel later this year with Liam Byrne and Chuka Umunna to help strengthen the bilateral relationship and understand Israel’s high-tech inspired economic successes. Israel clearly has many friends in the British Labour party, and we should continue to cultivate and strengthen that bond.