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10 March 2022

Should Tony Blair advise Keir Starmer on policy?

The former prime minister’s bid to advise Starmer will add to the perception held by internal Labour detractors of a rightward “Blairite” shift.

By Anoosh Chakelian

The New Statesman brings you a big Labour story today, with the news that Tony Blair wishes to return to politics to advise the next Labour administration.

“What I would like to do is help on the policy side with the next Labour government,” he revealed in a discussion with the actor Michael Sheen, which I chaired for a guest-edited issue of the magazine.

You can read our story here. The special issue including the whole interview will be out on 25 March.

In a wide-ranging conversation on British identity, the UK’s changing role in the world and Sheen’s three onscreen depictions of Blair, the former prime minister was pushed on whether he’d return to British politics.

“Let’s say I don’t think that route would be open to me, even if I wanted it. So it’s not something I think about at all,” he replied.

However, he then disclosed: “What I would like to do is help on the policy side with the next Labour government… it’s got to be a platform that makes people think the world’s going to change, it’s just got to be the sort of change they’re not frightened of.”

The question is whether Keir Starmer and his shadow cabinet would welcome the help of a figure who so divides their party and the country at large. Simply the idea of New Labour grandee Peter Mandelson advising Starmer behind the scenes – via his chief-of-staff turned campaign director Morgan McSweeney, a Mandy ally – infuriates the Labour left (even though Mandelson told me last May he hadn’t spoken to Starmer since 2018).

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Despite a petition with more than a million signatures to withdraw Blair’s knighthood in early January, Starmer was confident in saying he deserves the honour. He has also been vocal about championing the former prime minister’s record, unlike his predecessors Jeremy Corbyn and the current shadow cabinet member Ed Miliband (whom some New Labour veterans blame for underplaying their achievements).

This latest story will add to the perception held by Starmer’s internal detractors of a rightward “Blairite” shift, particularly since his most recent reshuffle. In reality, this has been more of an adoption of tone and emphasis than policy (Starmer’s policy platform includes scrapping tuition fees, insourcing public contracts and tightening labour market regulation, for example). But how the Labour leader responds to Blair’s wishes may signal the extent of his commitment to such a path.

[See also: Exclusive: Tony Blair wants to advise the next Labour government]

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