Blair and Corbyn weigh in on Keir Starmer’s election troubles

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters

Keir Starmer is facing pressure from two former Labour leaders over how he transforms the party’s fortunes after its disappointing local election results.

Tony Blair said Labour’s performance last week, in which it lost council seats and the Hartlepool byelection, was a major setback. He said that while Starmer was “intelligent, capable, moderate-minded”, he was “struggling to break through with the public”.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn said it was a “bit rich” to pin blame on him for the party’s fortunes in the 13 months since he stood down as leader.

The interventions place Starmer in an even trickier position as he tries to reassert his leadership following the “bitterly disappointing” election results and a subsequent derailed shadow cabinet reshuffle.

Blair said Starmer had been “generally reasonable” when opposing the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and appeared “sensible but not radical” to voters, adding that he “lacks a compelling economic message”.

The former prime minister, who won three general elections, said: “The Labour party is now scratching its collective head and wondering why the replacement of an extremist with someone more moderate isn’t achieving the miracle renaissance. It is even asking whether Keir is the right leader.

“But the Labour party won’t revive simply by a change of leader. It needs total deconstruction and reconstruction. Nothing less will do.”

Writing in the New Statesman, Blair added: “We need a new progressive movement; a new progressive agenda; and the construction of a new governing coalition. The construction of this new progressive movement should start with an open dialogue between like-minded Labour and Lib Dem members and the non-aligned.

“Otherwise, we will be in the dreary business of fighting with a cause which is unclear, our hands tied behind our back, on a ground we didn’t choose in a battle we can’t win, against a foe which doesn’t deserve to triumph; and hoping that another defeat will bring the clarity of purpose we should embrace now.”

Related: Jo Cox’s sister says she would be ‘honoured’ to stand for Labour in Batley and Spen

Corbyn, who still has the whip suspended after his response to the equality watchdog’s investigation into antisemitism in Labour under his leadership, countered accusations that he had paved the way for the party’s current troubles.

Speaking to ITV News, the Islington North MP said: “I think it’s a bit rich to start blaming me for stuff that’s been done over the past year that I’ve had absolutely no part of whatsoever. I do think that dumping on somebody because they’re not there any more is a bit weak. Do I take responsibility for it? No.”

Corbyn also said the policies he promoted in the 2019 manifesto were “popular” and that if Starmer ditched them, “we’ll be in an even worse position”.