“I’m afraid Keir Starmer has taken off badly” – fr

“I’m afraid Keir Starmer has taken off badly” – fr

For four weeks, Peter Mandelson has retreaded old steps. In soliciting the Labor Party around Hartlepool, the northeastern coastal town he represented as a Member of Parliament from 1992 to 2004, he met many former voters.

“I was struck to go back to all the old areas of counseling where I received so much support [by] what the owner occupancy and new construction of private homes have done; there is intelligence and cleanliness in these houses and their gardens, ”he told me from the cottage he rents on a farm in Wiltshire.

“I can see that people are proud of what they have achieved, they are ambitious, and they are not so sure now that they have achieved this with the Labor Party.

When we spoke on FaceTime, the Labor peer and former business secretary, 67, had just returned from walking his two dogs, Jock and Poppy: a fleeting break from the media frenzy over how Hartlepool was lost during a Conservative by-election for the first time since 1959.

From conversations with former voters, Mandelson concluded that people “don’t see the point of voting for Labor so clearly” as they once did.

“The party has lost its effectiveness for many in these places,” he said. “We are in an era of much weaker loyalty and partisan affiliation than ever before. They are looking for another type of policy, less hidden by tradition, old emblems, sentimentality, and for a more transactional and efficient approach …

“They aren’t that much left out; it is work that is being left behind.

Yet Mandelson still believes that “more than half of the country is leftist in its values.” He speaks with pride of what three successive Labor governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have done for the people of Hartlepool.

“Improving their chances in life through public services, investing in infrastructure, rebuilding schools, completely redeveloping the general hospital, supporting community policing, fighting anti-social crime, we have accomplished so much,” he said. declared. “But that was ten, 15 years ago, and what have we been doing since?” We spent our time airbrushing it, either not talking about it, or repudiating it and burying it, without putting anything in its place.

Since 2010, Mandelson has lamented the reluctance of the party – under Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn – to celebrate New Labor. “In politics, you reap what you sow. Over the past decade we have sowed mystification, inefficiency, extremism and internal fighting as we rushed to the fantasy land under Jeremy, ”he said. “And we are now living with the consequences and we shouldn’t be surprised.”

Although he maintains that voters are still put off by the Corbyn era (when “Labor disappeared into a strange ideological world”), Mandelson also has lessons for Keir Starmer, who he said “depended too much on the conviction that changing the face at the top would be enough ”.

Starmer “knows that a transformation is necessary, but he does not have the political project to correspond to this transformation, nor the allies of the party to help him achieve it”, he added.

“He realized that changing the face at the top of the party, then giving one last push, is not going to work, but there is no plan in place to do more … There is no point to get rid of the incubus of Jeremy Corbyn and continue to uphold his policy and his manifesto on which we fell to such a terrible defeat in 2019. “

In February, it was reported that Mandelson had been brought to the fold by Starmer Chief of Staff Morgan McSweeney. Some critics assume he has the ear of the Labor leader, with former shadow chancellor John McDonnell recently warning: “Unless Keir Starmer reduces Mandelson’s influence, there will be more division.”

Still, Mandelson told me he hasn’t spoken with Starmer since 2018, when they spoke “briefly about Brexit.” “I would have liked to give more,” he replied, asked about his relationship with the chief’s office. “All I can do is write articles and give interviews. What else can I do? “

While he can’t see “an alternative, better leader on the horizon,” Mandelson says Starmer was wrong to think “he could easily ride both horses”: party leftists and “ordinary voters. and decent from Worthing to Hartlepool ‘in the country. “In the process, I’m afraid it has come off badly.”

One of the early modern-day spin doctors, nicknamed the “Prince of Darkness,” Mandelson became Labor’s communications director under Neil Kinnock in 1985 – another time of crisis for the party. He went on to lead the 1997 campaign which culminated in Tony Blair’s landslide victory.

“I’ve done this route twice already,” he smiles. “The challenge for Keir is that he has to be both Kinnock and Blair in one.

Yet the party’s predicament today is “much worse” than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, Mandelson warned, urging it to modernize its focus – to “anchor progressive values ​​in the revolution.” technological ”, for example.

“We look outdated, with too little to say about the contemporary world,” he argued. “The truth is we keep talking about the ‘same old Tories’, what voters are talking about is ‘the same old Labor’. We have to wake up to this. For many voters, there is a simple question: What’s the point of voting for Labor? “

This article will appear in the next issue of New Statesman magazine, subscribe here.


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