Keir Starmer is attempting to do in 4 years what took Kinnock and Blair, fourteen. It’s time media narratives reflected this reality

by David Talbot

New Labour is back in vogue. Judging by the sleek BBC documentaries and a buttonless Blair marking 25 years since his landslide victory, there has been much to savour for those who wish to bathe in nostalgia. None more so than the media, who in a bout of coalescing has decided that the only way elections are now won is if ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ is the theme tune.

As the 2022 local election results filtered through, much of the commentary fixated on Labour falling short of a 1997 Blair-era victory for Sir Keir Starmer. Few suggest that Labour is about to replicate the political meteorite that hit the British political landscape in the late 1990s. For one, Labour’s base is 70 seats lower than what Blair inherited in 1994. The party must win 124 seats – only twenty seats shy of its historic gains in 1997 – at the next election to have a majority of 1.

Labour has, though, fitted the angst of its internal struggles throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s into the spasm of four short years. Which other leader of a major political party would have to inform its membership, as Starmer did at party conference last September, that power “is the object of the exercise”.

Moreover, if general elections over the past decade or so have underlined one trend at all it is that – apart from the Conservative juggernaut of 2019 – the nation has struggled to come to a verdict at all. There is now a patchwork of peculiar local results; national swings broke down in the 1970s, and now even regional swings are a metric of the past.

This new electoral landscape has yet to filter through to the media’s framing of elections held in the twenty twenties. In the 1990s, it was ‘Essex Man’ and ‘Worcester Woman’ that were the mythical and much sought after floating voter. Today, it is of course the ubiquitous Red Wall, which extends as far down as Thurrock, according to some commentary, and 1990s re-trends such as ‘Workington Man’.

Political history rarely, though, if ever, repeats itself and in this Starmer and the Labour Party can take comfort. The next general election in 2024 will not be a ‘return to New Labour’, no doubt to the great relief of many on the Corbynite left, but principally because to try and reheat solutions nearing 30 years old is political vandalism.

Traditional Labour values will, of course, be the central tenet running through the next manifesto; a focus on jobs, dignity and security in the workplace, strong public services, housing, internationalism and social justice intertwined with economic prosperity – updated for a modern setting. But Labour has too often chosen the wrong priorities, espoused by the wrong leaders, in the near past which has resulted in its predicament today. A Labour Party that cares about the public’s economic and social concerns, and is regarded as competent enough to address them, can win a new coalition of voters.

All of this is difficult. But none of it is impossible. Starmer will be aided by another key trend that has become clear over the past two years; the incumbent Conservative government simply does not have the answers to today’s questions. It therefore attempts to stoke cultural wars, and rehash old favourites, to keep its electoral coalition together.

‘Partygate’ has crystalised what many long suspected about the Prime Minister, but moreover it is his lack of seriousness, competency, and intellectual curiosity to even attempt to answer today’s burning issues that provides Starmer’s biggest opportunity. New Labour was, it is oft forgotten, criticised for its safety-first election campaign in 1997. Even its fabled 5 pledges now look incremental in nature in today’s light.

From Blair’s charm to Johnson’s boosterism, Starmer’s seriousness should now rightly be seen as an electoral asset. If the Labour leader uses the second half of this Parliament to develop policies that are both progressive and popular, then things may indeed only get better.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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7 Responses to “Keir Starmer is attempting to do in 4 years what took Kinnock and Blair, fourteen. It’s time media narratives reflected this reality”

  1. Ann Onnimus says:

    It’s telling that Starmer’s apologists aren’t even making any attempt to defend his record anymore, just making excuses for his failure. This post is an excellent example.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Absolutely no comparison
    The post war consensus wasn’t as popular as people thought and labour caused the sea change of 79 by not controlling the unions aspiration or the economy
    The scale of the 83 defeat( although some were cheering after 24 years they finally stood on the manifesto they wanted so much, it was a moral victory )
    The 83 defeat shocked many into seeing labour had to change although thatcher lead by consent it was the devil takes the high road- so she although labour could’ve stopped dons of her more extreme things
    The second the Tories won the 1992 election was in 1975 with the closed ship reversing the industrial relations act and a incomes policy
    ( all be it the SDP ,kicking thatcher out and the deputy leadership election)

    Labouf had a reason to exist in the 80’s the homeless ,gay ,womens rights , minorities and the police

    It was still for the working class who didn’t but their council house
    Couldn’t get a aspirational job
    Labour doesn’t want to win or Starmer would get in his knees, clasp his hands beg for forgiveness in the 2nd referendum for realism admit he should listen to those who warned him and make it a expulsion set offence for labour members to send email or our in line that we should rename raids after locals, things like George Floyd road, or those who call the working class Nazis Fascists, racist, bell@nds

    Labour won’t want to win it thinks it can just get ex Libdem members as if doesn’t want to do what it’ll take to win to get working class votes back
    For the record in Romford in Essex labours vote went doen last week, all be it so did the Tories but to other right wing groups, that will go back
    Rhe 2024 election can see thd Tories win without london

  3. John P Reid says:

    The Tories got 44% of the vote in 79, the 80’s labour could get voted beck from the liberals, SDP

    Look AT 2015 ukip split the Tory vote labour should get coalition exLibdem votes
    Both of which work in labours favour it wasn’t enough

    Blairites blame Corbyn for the 2019 defeat without twigging the architect of the 2nd referendum of remain was the reason
    Being anti Corbyn wont do it

  4. Tafia says:

    Best description I have ever heard of Starmer on TV by a former-Labour voter in the Red Wall – “He’s that wooden birds nest in him and I doubt he even has a pulse and he’s about as interesting as a wet sunday afternoon in B&Q.”

    You are not getting the Red Wall back until you can guarentee it in spades that you will not attempt to re-join the EU, you will not attempt to re-join the Customs Union, the Single Market or persue ‘closer alignment’. And you definately definately will not entertain a coalition or a ‘confidence & supply’ with the SNP.

    Drop all the Woke garbage, stop playing to metropolitan middle/professional class faux-Lefties – and have the courage to say “A woman is an adult human female”.

  5. John P Reid says:

    If Keir Starmer wants to be Kinnock he should plagiarise them 1985 conference speech

    i’m gonna tell you when you’re gonna listen

    You start with good intentions of dealing with homophobia and racism over the years
    extra letters get added
    And you end in The grotesque chaos of the Labour Party
    The labour letting a man (a rapist )saying he’s a woman going in a woman’s prison cell and using her lady penis to rape women and the Labour ladies women rep a man saying I’m a lesbian and you should suck my lady d@@k if you don’t like it you should be expelled
    and also muslims rapists knowing Cops are to scared of the fear of being called racist and Jackie Smith saying don’t investigate them
    so when Muslim rapists knew they could get away with rape by screaming racism which is antiwhite racism to rape white girls and then Muslim MPs Said white girls who were raped you should shut up for the good of diversity

    I’m telling you can’t play politics and peoples livelihoods

  6. Anne says:

    ‘Workington Man’ overwhelmingly voted Labour in the recent Council elections. Cumbria has been divided into two authorities- Cumberland now has a Labour controlled Council, while the second authority has a Lib Dem controlled council. This region has 5 MP – 1 Lib Dem (Tim Farren) and four Tory. Three out of the four Conservative MPs future is precarious.
    Depending on what happens with Starmer’s challenge regarding so called beergate the analytical reports for a future election predictions Labour with a very small majority.

  7. Tafia says:

    Labour underpe-performed Anne and the figures do not lie.

    Labour needed to see the Tories lose around 800 seats to say it was on course to win the next GE. The prediction in the closing days was the Tories would lose 550. The final result was that they only lost around 350.

    Of 5,593 seats up for grabs between England & Wales, the figures were:-

    Previous: 1526. Predicted: 978. Actual: 1186

    Previous: 2695. Predicted: 3514. Actual: 2791

    Previous: 613. Predicted: 662. Actual: 781

    Previous: 49. Predicted: 23. Actual: 124

    Plaid Cymru
    Previous: 193. Predicted: 151. Actual: 202

    Previous: 517. Predicted: 265. Actual: 550

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