Keir Starmer defended the award of a knighthood to his predecessor, Tony Blair, despite a petition with half a million signatures protesting against the honor, as the Labor leader continued to move his party further to the right.
“I do not think the prime minister [Boris Johnson] deserved the right to have an honor. I think Tony Blair did, ”he said on Tuesday in comments that angered many left-wing Labor members.
Starmer adopted the so-called “Blair playbook” of move the party to the center in an effort to replicate its predecessor’s success of winning three general elections a generation ago.
The approach has led him to abandon some of the economic radicalism of his hard-line predecessor and veteran of the hard left, Jeremy Corbyn, while emphasizing his own patriotism.
In his New Year’s speech in Birmingham, he mentioned three Labor leaders who won elections in the 20th century: Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair. Asked why he did not refer to Corbyn, he replied: “I have always quoted Attlee, Wilson and Blair because they won.”
Starmer posed with a Union Jack flag and spoke of his “pride” in describing the Queen and Britain as a “remarkable nation” to live in. He also promised a new “contract with the British people” to maintain confidence in a future Labor government with three priorities: security, prosperity and respect.
Labor currently enjoys a significant lead over Johnson’s Conservatives in opinion polls, reflecting public outrage over revelations from Downing Street parties that violated Covid rules during previous restrictions. An opinion poll by Focal data for the Sunday Times last week suggested that support for Labor was at 40 per cent, compared with 32 per cent for the Conservatives.
Starmer said the parties showed flaws in both Johnson’s leadership and “the flaws of an entire style of government” among the Tories, adding that the government “lost the moral right to state it”. [Covid] rules”.
He accused Johnson of viewing politics as a “branch of the entertainment industry” and said he, in contrast, wanted to get on with the serious business of getting things done. “Just when trust in the government became a matter of life and death, it became for the prime minister a matter of what he could get away with,” he said.
The Labor leader said he would use next year to show people how his party could govern Britain in the future.
He shrugged off accusations that he had offered few new policies, pointing to promises in areas including employment rights, housing and green energy. “Trust must be earned,” he said. “I am confident, but not complacent about the task ahead.”
He also stressed his commitment to preventing crime, citing his record as the former director of public prosecutions.
Starmer was a prominent “Remainer” during the EU referendum campaign and as key shadow Brexit secretary played a key role in persuading Corbyn to support a second referendum. On Tuesday, however, he said he now wanted to “make Brexit work” rather than try to turn back the clock.
He also warned that the government was facing a “cost of living crisis” energy bills going to jump in the spring.
Starmer said he will hold a series of events in 2022 to persuade people to listen to Labour’s vision for the future. He also acknowledged that opinion polls could change quickly. “Just because the Tories are losing public confidence does not mean that Labor is simply inheriting it,” he said. “Trust must be earned.”
Britain after Brexit newsletter
Keep up to date with the latest developments, post-Brexit, with original weekly insights from our public policy editor Peter Foster and senior FT writers. Sign in here.