Starmer ‘lacks compelling economic message’, says Blair in electoral post mortem

·4 min read

Tony Blair has said Sir Keir Starmer “lacks a compelling economic message” as three of the Labour leader’s predecessors weighed in on the party’s electoral woes.

The former prime minister advised Sir Keir to debate cultural issues “urgently and openly” to prevent them being damagingly defined by the right and ‘woke’ left”.

Mr Blair’s successor in No 10 and at the head of the Labour Party, Gordon Brown, suggested the coronavirus pandemic had hindered Sir Keir’s ability to connect with the public.

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While Ed Miliband, who led Labour in opposition, said the party needs to be “bolder”.

Labour has been in turmoil since the by-election defeat in Hartlepool and setbacks in council elections in England were followed by a botched reshuffle.

Detailing his analysis of the left’s dilemma, Mr Blair said the “old-fashioned economic message” of high taxation and a large state is “not particularly attractive”.

And he criticised “voter-repellent” slogans on the left such as “defund the police”, as the party tries to rebuild from the crushing general election defeat that it was led to by Jeremy Corbyn.

Former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown with former Labour leader Ed Miliband (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown with former Labour leader Ed Miliband (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Turning his attention to Sir Keir, Mr Blair said he is “struggling to break through with the public” as he described last week’s elections as “a major setback”.

“But the Labour Party won’t revive simply by a change of leader. It needs total deconstruction and reconstruction. Nothing less will do,” Mr Blair wrote.

“At present, Labour expresses perfectly the progressive dilemma. Corbyn was radical but not sensible. Keir seems sensible but not radical. He lacks a compelling economic message.”

Labour Party shadow cabinet reshuffle
The Hartlepool by-election defeat has damaged Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Blair said that Labour is being “backed into electorally off-putting positions” on issues surrounding culture, gender, race and identity.

“A progressive party seeking power which looks askance at the likes of Trevor Phillips, Sara Khan or JK Rowling is not going to win. Progressive politics needs to debate these cultural questions urgently and openly,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Brown cited the restrictions to tackle Covid-19 as having been a great hindrance to Sir Keir’s ability to communicate directly with the public.

“He’s got to be given time to fight the next election, and he will do so in my view,” he told Times Radio.

“I think the issue however is that he’s never had a chance to get around the country.

“I mean he’s never actually been able to address a public meeting and rally as the leader of the Labour Party, and I hope and I expect that, over the summer, he’ll be spending his time going to all the different communities of this country and spending time not just giving speeches but listening and learning.”

Mr Miliband, who Sir Keir restored to the frontbenches as shadow business secretary, said it is not time to “blow the final whistle” on Sir Keir’s leadership, arguing the leaders believes the country needs a “big economic change” to make it less “unfair, unequal and unproductive”.

But, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “We should be bolder, of course we should be bolder.”

The assessments from the former leaders came after current deputy Angela Rayner admitted that members of the public did not know what Sir Keir “stood for” before they went to the poll.

Ms Rayner acknowledged she has a “very frank relationship” with Sir Keir after the weekend’s reshuffle saw her initially sacked but then promoted.

Amid accusations the Labour leader was trying to scapegoat Ms Rayner, it was announced she would be given a senior new role shadowing Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.

Ms Rayner, who was also made shadow first secretary of state, effectively making her the shadow deputy prime minister, did not deny that Sir Keir had attempted to sack her from the shadow cabinet.

During an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, Ms Rayner said: “I’m not going to discuss the robust conversations that me and Keir have and have always had.”

But she added: “What I heard on the doorstep is that they didn’t know what Keir Starmer stood for, so that’s what I think our challenge is, actually.”

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Following the final results of Thursday’s English council elections, the Tories gained 294 councillors across the nation, while Labour lost 267.

Labour is seeking to reconnect with voters after the electoral defeats, with another potentially tricky seat to defend in the forthcoming Batley and Spen by-election.