Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
20 February 2020

Tony Blair has said that Labour must change fundamentally to win power. But is he right?

The unresolved debate of the last five years is whether the 2017 election result was a foundation for the party to build on. 

By Stephen Bush

Happy 120th birthday! The Labour Party will on Friday celebrate its big day in the way it has celebrated most of them: in opposition and with no clear way out of that unhappy state.

Tony Blair has marked the occasion with a speech, billed as a broad reflection on the state of the Labour Party and British politics but which has, let’s face it, an audience of one: Keir Starmer, the overwhelmingly likely candidate to be the party’s next leader.

Blair’s message is that to win and hold power, Labour must change from top to toe to combine both Britain’s left traditions – liberal and socialist. The message that has brought Starmer to the verge of victory – that has assembled a coalition running from the former national coordinator of Momentum to the chief organiser of Labour First – is broadly that a change at the top, coupled with a similar political offer to 2017 but with a more appealing centre-forward, can win.

Who’s right? The unresolved debate of the last five years is whether the 2017 was election a negative mandate – in which Labour probed the absolute limits of what could be won by default – or if it represented the beginnings of a way that Labour could win in a country with an ageing population, a sluggish economy and a fragmented media landscape (conditions that did not apply the last time that Labour won power in 2005). Was that election result a false hope, as Blair believes, or a foundation on which Corbyn failed to build, as Starmer argues?

There are clearly constituencies – Wycombe, which Labour failed to win; Leeds North West and Canterbury, which it still holds – where Labour is in a much stronger position, even after a disastrous election in 2019, than it was in 2010 and in some cases 2005 and 2001. What’s that about? The answer to that question will, I think, define what Labour’s route to power is – and whether it has one.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.