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Keir Starmer’s non-stop Blairisms

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Wry Labour smiles after Keir Starmer, stung by Unite union firebrand Sharon Graham’s jibe that he’s a Blair tribute act, denied the charge with a classic Tonytastic line. Pushing back at the barbed comparison in Liverpool, on a visit to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference, Brother Keir’s insistence that the party under him is “focused on the future, not the past” echoed Blair’s “for the future, not the past” speech to the TUC in 1999. The Blairite playbook left one Labour MP musing that this is no time for sound-bites and perhaps Starmer feels the hand of history on his shoulder.

Tory morale was lowered not raised by the recent away day at earth-shifter JCB’s Midlands HQ. Back in Westminster one participant described the path to victory outlined by the strategist Isaac Levido as narrower than a tightrope. Dire private polling prompted another dejected MP braced for falling off that rope to wonder aloud whether “go find a new job” would be saner advice. Sinking Conservative MPs are busily digging escape tunnels.

Desperate times, desperate measures in Tamworth, where Tories are scrambling for a by-election candidate after Christopher Pincher’s resignation. Eddie Hughes, selected to stand in the vacant seat at the general election because his Walsall North is to be axed, has ruled himself out. That smacks of self-preservation. If Labour was to win the looming contest and the constituency he vacated, Steady Eddie would be blamed for losing two by-elections. Tea-room chatter says Eddie’s wife might run, to keep Tamworth warm for him until the general, when the Cons may enjoy a better chance.

Largely slipping under the radar of Starmer’s reshuffle, Fabian Hamilton’s removal and the abolition of his post as shadow minister for peace and disarmament beat the final Jeremy Corbyn-era ploughshare into a sword. By axing a role created in 2016 by a banished predecessor, Starmer, cooed an ally, is arming Labour to battle Tory allegations that Labour is weak on defence. Nukes R Us.

Starting on the railways only after a false start in the construction industry, train-stopping electrician Mick Lynch quipped at a TUC fringe event that he’d be general secretary of Unite instead of the RMT had building bosses not derailed him.

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Boris is dead. He passed away peacefully after a distinguished life. Not Johnson, obviously. The ex-PM isn’t reputable. It’s Boris the 15-year-old jackapoo, owned by ex-defence minister Alec Shelbrooke. Doggy Boris is succeeded by Arthur, though the Elmet and Rothwell Tory was quick to stress his new mutt is named after Balfour rather than Scargill. Sidesteps a tricky Rishi issue, I suppose.

[See also: Lisa Nandy fails to take Starmer’s reshuffle hint]

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This article appears in the 13 Sep 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Revenge of the Trussites