Editor’s Letter

The problem for Labour? Tony Blair made leading the party look easy

The party is cursed by the legacy of seemingly effortless popularity, writes John Rentoul

Saturday 17 July 2021 21:30
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<p>Blair was an exceptional leader, but he didn’t get to be prime minister for a decade just by having a big smile and an effective speaking style</p>

Blair was an exceptional leader, but he didn’t get to be prime minister for a decade just by having a big smile and an effective speaking style

Keir Starmer has a lot of people telling him what his problem is. That he served loyally in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet; that he tried to overturn the democratic decision of the British people to leave the EU; or, as a former Labour minister told me this week: “His problem is that Tony made leading the Labour Party look easy.”

It is taking the party a very long time to realise how hard it really was. The problem started with Gordon Brown, who always thought he could do a better job than his next door neighbour, and whose supporters treated the election victory of 2005 (a majority of 66 seats) as a defeat. “I could have done better,” was Brown’s coded message.

As soon as he made it into No 10, though, he discovered that it was harder than it looked. He cancelled the “presidential” police outriders for his convoy, and, as a result, turned up late at events. The outriders were quickly restored.

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