British press divided on Blair

2010-03-31 10:21

London - Former British prime minister Tony Blair proved as divisive as ever on Wednesday, with papers disagreeing sharply over the impact of his return to the political frontline on Labour's election prospects.

Many commentators were more interested in his tan and transatlantic accent than in his public speaking, however - none failed to mention his sun-drenched appearance with one snidely commenting he "glowed caramel".

Blair, who won three successive elections as the head of the ruling Labour Party, stepped back onto the political stage on Tuesday ahead of an election expected on May 6.

Labour has closed a wide poll gap on the main opposition Conservatives in recent weeks, and hope Blair's star power can help revive their fortunes further.

The rightwing Sun led the attack on the ex-premier's come-back speech, in which he threw his weight behind his successor Gordon Brown, with an article headlined "Orange Blair gives Brown poll blues".

"Toxic Tony"

An opinion poll for the paper found that only one in five people thought his speech, at the Labour Club in Trimdon, northeast England, would help his party at the forthcoming vote.

Pollster YouGov quizzed 980 adults in the survey.

"Labour wanted to see how the man once known as Teflon Tony would go down with the voters," said the paper.

"Now we all know that he bombed it's unlikely we'll see much more of him on the campaign trail. He has now become Toxic Tony."

Piling on the pain, the Daily Mail said Blair "has certainly gone all American since he hit the mega-millions lecture circuit".

But making a more serious point, the Conservative-supporting daily said Brown was "taking a considerable risk by playing the Blair card".

"For the name of Tony Blair is not only synonymous with winning votes. It has also become associated with financial sleaze, lying, deceit and corruption."

Conservative demolition

But the Labour-supporting press were in full voice as well - they trumpeted the return of a man who they believed, despite his shortcomings, would undoubtedly give a boost to the ruling party's campaign.

"Who Blairs wins," roared the Daily Mirror.

"Tony Blair stormed back to the centre stage of British politics yesterday with a demolition of (Conservative leader) David Cameron," said the paper.

"Mr Blair's deconstruction of the Conservatives was forensic... his bravura performance will put some belief back in Labour hearts," it added.

On his attacks on the Conservatives, the Guardian commented: "No one active in British politics yet does it better than Blair."

The left-leaning Independent said Blair's performance would have proved "heartening" for the Labour Party.

But it added: "A word of caution before the excitement gets too great, however. Ex-premiers are best used in small doses, if at all."