Tony Blair visited Merton last night to speak at a Labour Party fundraising dinner on the eve of his first day out on the campaign trail.

The former prime minister was invited to Mitcham by Labour parliamentary candidate for Mitcham and Morden Siobhain McDonagh - one of the female MPs nicknamed Blair's babes as she became the constituency's MP in May 1997, the day Mr Blair took over at No 10.

More than 400 people, including London Labour parliamentary candidates David Lammy and Chuka Umunna, Merton councillors, residents and businesses attended the gala at Chak89 in Bond Road, Mitcham.

Ms McDonagh said: "I was honoured and delighted that the most successful Labour leader in history came to support Mitcham and Morden at our fundraising gala, and the 430 people in the room were absolutely delighted that he was there."

She said he spoke about his "hope for a Labour government", the "divisive politics of UKIP" and his "support for the marginal seats" in London - for which thousands of pounds were raised at last night's dinner.



He also praised Ms McDonagh for her Save St Helier Hospital Campaign.

She denied that Mr Blair was a divisive figure among traditional Labour supporters in this year's election, saying: "Tony Blair is the most successful Labour leader ever.

"He won the general election three times."

Tessa Tyler-Todd, 22, a Mitcham resident who was among the crowd last night said: "It was a fantastic event.

"Siobhain McDonagh was absolutely fantastic to bring everyone together and fundraise so much."

Describing Mr Blair's speech, she said: "He told this story that while he was still prime minister he was in a meeting and someone said we are going to have to close St Helier Hospital.

"And he said, have you met Siobhain McDonagh and Margaret McDonagh? [Ms McDonagh's sister and former general secretary of the Labour Party].

"And he said well if you do, you'll know that they won't be doing that."

Press were not invited to the event. Ms McDonagh said: "I have fundraisers all the time and you are never invited.

"I just think that these events are for the invited people to have a good time and let their hair down.

"As well as the fact that Mr Blair has quite high levels of security and I wouldn't want to do anything to endanger him or anyone at the event."



Journalists were heckled by audience members at a Labour Party press conference in Sedgefield earlier in the day for asking Mr Blair questions. 

BBC deputy political editor James Landale tweeted: "This Tony Blair event very nostalgic.

"A member of the audience even called me "Tory scum" for asking a question."