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19 July 2023

Tony Blair anoints his successor

Keir Starmer’s appearance at the former PM’s Future of Britain conference was like a graduation.

By Freddie Hayward

Tony Blair looked like he was watching his son graduate yesterday (18 July), as he sat beside Keir Starmer on-stage at the Future of Britain conference. The former PM has been advising Starmer behind the scenes for some time. But they’ve remained distant in public. This was them taking their relationship out into the open, a ceremonial nod of approval from Blair to his successor, for Keir to kiss the ring. And in turn, for Starmer to welcome Blair back into the Labour Party as a grandee, not a villain.

The appearance was more symbolic than substantial. Starmer followed Henry Kissinger, but said little new in his speech. He reaffirmed that growth was central to Labour’s five national missions, incanting “growth, growth, growth” (geddit?) with a smile in Blair’s direction.

He also pushed back against those criticising his stance on the two-child benefits limit with a sermon on making tough choices, a message he delivered to the shadow cabinet hours before. The leader has subdued the revolt, for now. But Andy Burnham told Andrew on his LBC show yesterday that while he recognises the constraints on Labour in opposition, getting rid of the policy “should be at the front” of their priorities. Another reminder that metro mayors – with their independent power bases – can provide a counter balance to the tightly controlled Westminster operations of both major parties.

On that note, rumours about both a government reshuffle and a Labour reshuffle are making MPs sweat as they traipse around Westminster’s summer-party circuit. “I’m just trying to do my job,” one panicked minister told me yesterday. An MP said there was nothing more annoying than spending all summer working on your brief, only to be moved in the first week of September. Both reshuffles could come soon after tomorrow’s by-elections. Both party leaders will want to finalise their teams for the coming election. It could be this week, or it could be after the summer.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe to it on Substack here.

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[See also: “Cautious Rachel” defends two-child benefit cap]

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