Tony Blair has urged Keir Starmer to reject ‘awakened’ politics and present a government program that is ‘radical without being dangerous’.
A report published by the Tony Blair Institute analyzes the impact of class on voting in the 2019 general election and beyond. Based on analysis by veteran pollster Peter Kellner, it points to specific problems for Labor with two groups: the 26% of voters who fit the formal definition of middle class; and the 12% who would be defined by pollsters as working class but consider themselves middle class.
The first group voted 57% to stay in the EU, but the Conservatives were 22% ahead of these voters in 2019, despite their central message being that they would “get Brexit”. These voters, the former Labor leader suggests, are “concerned about issues of taxation and economic competence”.
The second group, called the “aspirational working class” by Blair, voted to leave the EU by a smaller 53%, but supported the Conservatives over Labor by a 32% margin.
In a poignant preface, Blair claims of the latter group: “A large number voted Conservative despite disagreeing with the party on Brexit. They thought Labour’s far-left economic policies posed a greater threat than Brexit.”
Without what he calls the “millstone” of Starmer’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, Blair argues that Labor can win back many of these voters – and analysis of recent polls in the report shows a 12% turn towards Labor among this “aspiring working class”.
Suggesting they are socially conservative, the former prime minister is urging Labor to ensure it is at the center of ‘culture war’ issues such as transgender rights.
Blair says the party “must plant Labor’s feet clearly near the center of gravity of the British people, who want fair treatment for all and end prejudice, but distrust and hate the ‘cancellation culture’, the ‘woke’ mentality.”
Labor sometimes seems to struggle with cultural war issues. For example, Starmer and party chair Anneliese Dodds were recently criticized for not being able to give a unambiguous answer to the question: what is a woman? A clearer frontbench line has since been agreed, leading to shadow health secretary Wes Streeting telling an interviewer, “Men have penises, women have vaginas, this is where my biology class ends.”
Conservative party co-chair Oliver Dowden has tried to capitalize on the party’s discomfort by accusing Starmer of “kowtowing for the cancellation culture brigade” in a recent speech, claiming: “The Corbynistas, they’re still here.”
Starmer has been accused by some on the Labor left of winning leadership under false pretenses by embracing the core principles of Corbynism during the 2020 campaign and then moving to the centre.
Blair also calls on Labor to work to restore its economic credibility, as he says the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has already begun to do.
“Labour must solve both its cultural and its economic ambition problems. It must be the first to win back those voters who elected Tory despite being traditionally blue. These are the northern ‘red wallers’. But Labor must also do the second to have a realistic chance of winning,” he says.
He also warns Starmer against excessive caution – something the Labor leader is denounced by some colleagues. “The curse of progressive politics is to think the choice is between being voter-friendly and boring, or exciting and voter-repulsive,” he says.
As an example of the kind of radical policy he would like to see, Blair proposes tackling concerns about illegal immigration by introducing biometric IDs as a condition of access to work and public services.