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Echoes of Blair: Keir Starmer Poised for Victory, But a Challenging Governance Awaits

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Adam Boulton: Keir Starmer could mirror Tony Blair's success in leading Labour to Downing Street, but a significant challenge lies ahead.

Starmer is positioned similarly to how former Prime Minister Blair was in the 1990s, potentially securing a majority in the upcoming general election. However, there remains a lack of substantial excitement about Labour and its leader.

Sky News analyst @adamboultonTABB

Sunday, June 16, 2024, 3:

We still have two and a half weeks left.

Throughout this election season, the most frequently repeated comparison has been to Sir Keir Starmer's task of navigating Labour to a win in the general election. Both politicians and commentators often shorthand this challenge by referring to it as the "Ming vase."

This refers to the 1997 electoral race and the previous occasion when a Labour leader was on the verge of concluding an extended duration of Conservative governance.

The metaphor was created by former Labour notable Roy Jenkins who entertained a Liberal Democrat gathering by comparing Tony Blair to a curator cautiously transporting a fragile, extremely valuable Ming vase across a recently polished, hazardously slick floor of a museum.

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Blair successfully executed the maneuver, despite having doubts about its feasibility.

"Expect defeat" is the constant caution from Pat McFadden, who once advised Blair and currently serves as Starmer's campaign manager.

Upon reviewing the election outcome, Lord Jenkins discovered that the results did not meet his expectations. He had anticipated a close victory that would require a strategic coalition between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Labour secured such an overwhelming victory that forming a coalition was unnecessary.

Starmer currently finds himself in a similarly balanced position. According to opinion polls and expert analysis, he appears to be headed toward a win potentially as significant as Blair's.

The leader of the Labour Party and his inner circle might be the final holdouts in the political arena to come to a consensus.

He emphasized to his followers during the Labour manifesto unveiling that the ultimate measure is the general election, underscoring that this goes beyond merely avoiding self-satisfaction.

There's always a risk that a mishap or a knock could cause the pot to shatter on the ground.

Should Starmer emerge victorious, the extent of his majority, should he achieve one, will shape the type of government he can establish.

Blair's significant success enabled him to overlook or overpower any opposition within the Labour Party and the unions. In contrast, Cameron, May, and Sunak each found themselves at the mercy of competing groups within the Conservative Party.

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A notable aspect of this remarkable election campaign is the stark difference between the opposing parties.

The Labour Party has broadly rallied around Starmer, embracing the strict discipline he believes is essential to win back voter confidence.

"He emphasized the gravity of his proposal during the unveiling of his manifesto to his followers. "This isn't about pulling surprises or engaging in theatrics—we've seen enough of that. I am campaigning to be the prime minister, not to orchestrate a spectacle," he declared.

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The gathering in Manchester evoked memories of New Labour in 1997, though the atmosphere was more somber than hopeful. The attendees, clad in business attire accented with touches of red, listened intently. The disturbance caused by a young woman heckling from the crowd was swiftly handled; she was escorted out after the leader chastised her, noting that the party had ceased being merely a protest group five years earlier.

That is when he succeeded Jeremy Corbyn as the head of the party.

Conservative contenders are satisfying their own interests

Within the Conservative ranks, each individual is on their own.

On the campaign trail, Rishi Sunak frequently appears isolated, rarely seen with other prominent party members or large gatherings. Candidates are taking a more independent approach, distributing flyers that often omit Sunak's image or the Conservative party emblem. In some instances, such as with Dame Andrea Jenkins, these materials prominently display Nigel Farage, the leader of the competing Reform UK party.

Some Labour activists are concerned by the sentiments they encounter while canvassing voters at their homes. While many agree that a new government is needed, there's a noticeable lack of excitement about the Labour Party and its leader.

This stands in stark contrast to 1997, when a young Blair was almost idolized.

Despite their lingering concerns, Labour strategists frequently whisper "boring is good" following yet another lackluster showing by Sir Keir.

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They understand that even if people are apathetic towards the leader, Labour could still secure a significant win if the hostility towards the Conservatives is strong enough.

When a previous Conservative supporter decides to vote for Labour, the Liberal Democrats, or Reform, Labour typically has a strong position to win the seat due to its solid core of supporters.

Starmer's cautious strategy positions Labour as the major party presenting the least number of electoral incentives to the electorate.

This party's additional budget allocations as detailed in its manifesto are the minimal compared to the other two major parties. It uniquely accounts for the inevitable increase in taxes and proposes specific tax measures such as implementing VAT on private schooling and eliminating non-domiciled status.

Labour's promises to align with the Conservatives in maintaining current levels of income tax, VAT, and national insurance mirror the strategies of New Labour from 1997.

Labour's fiscal strategy, involving taxes and government spending, is less extensive compared to its primary competitors. According to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), Labour's proposals are "insignificant."

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Explore further: Why did Labour's manifesto contain no shocks? Comparing Labour's manifesto to others: What are the core commitments of the party?

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) is skeptical about Starmer's belief that swift economic expansion could eliminate the necessity for reductions in spending on non-prioritized government departments. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has found it challenging to convincingly argue that Labour's plans would result in an additional £2,000 tax burden for the average family during the forthcoming legislative term.

One unique feature of this campaign is that the Labour Party continues to be seen as the most reliable choice for managing the economy according to survey results, despite economic governance typically being considered a strong point for the Conservatives.

An upcoming prime minister

The Labour Party has adopted a succinct campaign slogan: "Change." According to Starmer, this change represents a shift back to stability, in contrast to what he describes as the "chaos" experienced under Conservative rule.

At the unveiling and on the manifesto’s cover, Starmer was dressed in a shirt and tie, mirroring Blair’s attire.

Similar to Blair in 1997, his party is positioning him as a future prime minister.

The brochure of their campaign is unique as it contains numerous images of the leader engaging in official acts. Notably, it includes a photo alongside Ukraine's President Volodymyyr Zelenskyy during the D-Day event.

Contrary to looking for a mere photo opportunity, sources within the Labour party indicate that Zelenskyy was particularly keen on the meeting, viewing it as a crucial appointment in his Normandy schedule.

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On this side of election day, the biggest risk for Labour is that the opinion polls are significantly inaccurate.

Starmer is unlikely to make a mistake at this point.

Neither Starmer nor Blair excel in dance, yet as they traverse the glossy surface, the same familiar melody echoes behind them. Amidst feelings of hope or frustration, numerous voters appear convinced that a shift away from the Conservatives might lead to improvement.

Starmer might succeed in getting the vase across the finish line, only to discover that it is a substantial load to bear.

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