I first voted for Labour in 1997 when Tony Blair stood as the leader of New Labour, the moniker of a rebranded Labour Party that stormed the general election that year to win the biggest majority in the House of Commons (179) in the Party’s history.
It was far from a perfect project, but New Labour lasted until 2010 when the Conservatives under David Cameron won the general election that year. This paved the way for the Conservative Party’s 13-year tenure holding the reigns of power in the UK.
In an interview by Andrew Marr in The New Statesman on 26 July, Tony Blair shared his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing the Labour Party under the current leadership of Keir Starmer. Blair’s insights, drawn from his extensive political experience and current work at the Tony Blair Institute, offer a roadmap for Starmer as he prepares for the next general election.
Timely advice, I believe, as after thirteen years of the Conservatives in charge – and four prime ministers, half of whom were appointed by party members, not through general elections – we now see a country that by almost any measure is in trouble with ‘how deep?’ depending on your political point of view (such as according to The New Statesman and The Daily Telegraph).
Andrew Marr‘s interview is a good assessment of the UK political landscape and a very good read. To help me (and perhaps you) grasp the essential elements from his conversation with Blair, I’ve summarised what I see as those essentials.
Blair identifies the technological revolution brought about by artificial intelligence as a critical issue for Starmer to address. He believes that understanding, harnessing, and mastering AI can lead to significant improvements in public services and the way people interact with the government.
From education to crime fighting, Blair sees AI as a revolutionary force that will change everything. He urges Starmer to focus on the potential benefits of AI, while also addressing the privacy concerns and potential for abuse that come with this powerful technology.
On Brexit, Blair expresses a constant sadness and sees the decision to leave the EU as a significant challenge for the UK.
While he doesn’t see a short-term way of returning to the EU, he suggests that Starmer should aim to establish a proper working relationship with Europe. Blair believes that the UK cannot afford to be outside the political decision-making of its own continent (a view with which I strongly agree) and suggests that a special relationship with the EU could be beneficial for the country.
Blair acknowledges that the task ahead for Starmer, should Labour win power, will be bigger than the one he faced in 1997. He emphasizes the importance of using the time before the election – which must be called by December 2024 – to prepare for government and eliminate any vulnerabilities.
He also suggests that the Labour Party should focus on strengthening its position while the Conservatives struggle to gain traction, especially in the remainder of 2023 – surely an opportunity for Labour in what some call a wasted year under current prime minister Rishi Sunak – and into 2024.
Blair advises Starmer to be fiscally responsible. He argues against defining ‘radical’ by how much you spend, pointing out that Britain is already spending more than ever before under a Conservative government. Instead, he suggests that Starmer should focus on offering hope to the people.
Blair also hints at the possibility of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, suggesting that there isn’t a huge gap between Starmer and Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. He believes that such a coalition could be more beneficial than focusing on electoral reform. There is a history of “working arrangements” between the Lib Dems and other parties in power.
In conclusion, I think that Blair’s insights offer a valuable perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing the Labour Party. His emphasis on the importance of AI, the compelling need for a new relationship with Europe post-Brexit, and the potential for a coalition with the Liberal Democrats all point to a complex but potentially rewarding path for Starmer and the Labour Party.
As the next general election approaches, these insights could herald the rehabilitation of Tony Blair back into so-called front-line politics in the UK (“Look away, Labour left: Tony Blair is in fashion again” says Politico). Perhaps more immediately significant is the crucial role they will likely play in shaping Labour’s strategy and future direction.
To create the summary of Andrew Marr’s interview with Tony Blair, I prompted ChatGPT 4 to “Highlight the key arguments Blair makes about the AI revolution, the curse of Brexit and what Keir Starmer must do to win the next general election”. From the generative AI summary, I reviewed it in comparison with the comprehensive texts in The New Statesman article, carefully checking factual accuracy (no AI hallucinations detected). From that point, I edited the text for better clarity in some areas, adding some personal perspectives and citation links to verifiable and neutral sources primarily on Wikipedia.
For the full story, read the original article: Tony Blair: “If I was back in front-line politics…” by Andrew Marr, The New Statesman, 26 July 2023.
Photo at top: a still from the video recording of (left to right) Tony Blair and Keir Starmer in conversation at the Future of Britain conference in London on 18 July 2023.