Starmer calls in Mandelson to inject a dose of New Labour’s ‘winning mentality’

If you are looking from advice, fair enough but don’t bring them in to try and win the next election. The Iraq war, the “bigoted woman” comment and the lack of appeal to the working classes requires a lot more than using ‘New Labour‘ stance.

Sir Keir is going to have one opportunity and it will be in 2024 so here is what he will need to do;

– lend the rope so the Tories start “hanging themselves” with all the mistakes they are making and the incompetence with COVID not to mention enriching their friends during the pandemic

  • you need to start talking about Housing, the housing crisis continues and the Tories have used Brexit as cover for their lack of building.
  • skill trades, which is linked to housing, need to be encouraged more especially with boys at school, they’re failing at school and getting involved with drugs/gangs – this needs to end.
  • we’re going to need to bring some of the manufacturing back, whether it be in existing industries or sectors of energy

Sir Keir Starmer’s attempts to shift his party away from the far left have led him to the door of one of the founding members of New Labour: Lord Mandelson. The Labour leader has turned to the man dubbed the “Prince of Darkness” to shed light on how to move beyond the electorally toxic Jeremy Corbyn years and broaden the party’s appeal.

Mandelson, 67, is understood to have held online calls with members of Starmer’s team and the shadow cabinet, with the Labour leader having experienced his first wobble following hostile briefings from shadow cabinet ministers and sniping from traditionally supportive media.

Tony Blair’s former strategist is helping to craft a message that it is hoped will win the keys to No 10. Mandelson has also offered advice on Brexit and how to woo big business as the party prepares to unveil an “unashamedly pro-business agenda” with a commitment to individual prosperity, growth and wealth creation.

The former European trade commissioner is one of the party’s staunchest defenders of free markets and the City, having once declared that he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes”.

A member of the shadow cabinet involved in the discussions, said: “One of the challenges is that it has been such a long time since we have won an election. So some of the people in our top team have been speaking to some of those people like Peter who were there in 1997 and 2001 about what we need to do to win.”

Having spent years in the political wilderness during Corbyn’s tenure as leader, Mandelson was brought back into the fold by Starmer’s chief of staff, Morgan McSweeney. The pair have struck up a close working relationship. Of McSweeney, Mandelson has said: “I don’t know who and how and when he was invented, but whoever it was … They will find their place in heaven.”

Starmer, 58, who was elected as Labour leader in April, has enjoyed a 10-month honeymoon during which he has overseen a transformation of the party’s fortunes. But the Labour leader is widely seen to have hit a rocky patch after a punishing fortnight when even some of his close allies appeared to turn on him.

Lord Mandelson, Tony Blair’s former strategist

The former director of public prosecutions, who has been an MP only since 2015, won the Labour leadership in the middle of the pandemic.

He got the job after Corbyn led the party to its worst electoral defeat since 1935. The former leader bombed at the 2019 general election after he alienated traditional supporters by failing to criticise the Kremlin over the Salisbury poisonings in 2018 and focusing on niche issues such as Venezuela.

The party has also been left “virtually bankrupt” by scores of costly legal claims brought by those embroiled in the anti-semitism scandal that swept Labour under Corbyn. The party was later found to have breached equality laws.

Starmer has been left with a “mountain to climb”, according to a source close to the Labour leader. “We are at base camp and we are trying to climb Everest.” Another senior figure recalled the long fight to detoxify the party after the far left seized control during the 1980s, adding that Starmer has to be “Blair, Kinnock and John Smith rolled into one” if Labour is to regain power.

But, unlike Tony Blair, who inherited a party which was fit for purpose after work by Smith and Neil Kinnock, Starmer took over a party that was “barely functioning”, according to one of his lieutenants. “We were 25 points behind in the polls. We had been completely hollowed out and had lost all institutional memory of how to be an effective party in opposition, and all in the midst of a pandemic.”

Lord Kerslake, a former head of the home civil service, was tasked with reviewing Southside, Labour’s headquarters, last year. He is said to have arrived at two conclusions: Labour first needed to produce a basic, functioning organisation, in which staff were aware of clear goals. These requirements, “the ABCs” of running a political party, were found to be missing after years of factionalism, starting under Blair and Brown and becoming toxic under Corbyn. Once that was accomplished, Kerslake concluded, Labour must focus on building an organisation that “oozes” a winning mentality, as Blair’s did in 1997.

Starmer’s allies point to a number of key triumphs since he took over, including the appointment of David Evans, his choice as Labour’s general secretary. They also say he has succeeded in building bridges with the Jewish community and reversed the poll deficit, with the Labour leader and Johnson roughly level in terms of who would make the best prime minister.

“We have become victims of our own success,” said one key Starmer aide. “If we had told people last year about what we would be able to achieve in his first year as leader, no one would have believed us.”

Gordon Brown is advising Keir Starmer on constitutional reform

Concerns about the new leader first emerged earlier this month when the party was mocked for a leaked strategy document that urged Starmer to focus on a new patriotic approach, including more use of the Union Jack. In a bruising week, he was later forced to admit blundering when he wrongly accused Johnson of misleading the Commons.

Starmer had predicted the criticism, warning his shadow cabinet in December that his leadership bounce was likely to end once the coronavirus vaccine programme began. But this has also coincided with wider rumblings in the party about Starmer’s style of leadership, and the competence of his shadow cabinet. “He’s not cutting through,” said one Labour peer. “He hasn’t got the political nous and the people with the right skills around him to know to press the right political buttons. MPs will not hold back when they return to Westminster and the normal tea room gossip resumes.”

Another senior party figure said: “Starmer just isn’t very political. He spent too long doing a politically neutral job as director of public prosecutions and that has made him risk averse. He needs to be more ruthless and that starts with him sacking half of his shadow cabinet.”

Another Labour big beast added: “He has failed to make an emotional connection with the electorate.”

One senior party strategist said there were also concerns that Starmer was “overly-focused” on winning back the Brexit-supporting “red wall” seats in the north, which switched to the Tories in 2019. “Starmer should try to do what Blair did, and be a leader for an entire country, but at the moment he is obsessing over a small number of seats and an even smaller number of voters who the party has identified might switch back from the Tories to Labour,” said the source. “He is casting his net too narrow.”

Privately Starmer has also been warned by allies that certain members of his team are under-performing and “near invisible”. Among those who have been identified are Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor, Andy McDonald, the shadow employment secretary, and Kate Green, the shadow education secretary.

At least one source close to Starmer is understood be arguing for a reshuffle. “Many of those appointed to Keir’s team have never served in opposition, let alone government.

“The lack of experience is telling. There are very talented people within the party and there is a sense that he is not fielding his top team.”

Another senior Labour figure said: “Boris Johnson has got one of the worst cabinets in post-war British history. It is disturbing that some of their Labour counterparts are even worse.” Some believe that able former ministers including Yvette Cooper and Hillary Benn should be offered a route back.

A source close to Starmer did not rule out a reshuffle. “He wants to give his shadow cabinet a good chance but he is focused on winning in 2024 and no one should doubt how single-minded he is about getting Labour back into power.”

Starmer spent last weekend licking his wounds. He spoke to key allies and sought their views on why some believed that his leadership had “hit a brick wall”. Among those who offered him their advice were Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, and Claire Ainsley, the director of policy. “He is in listening mode,” said one key ally. “He wants to learn from it and become the best leader he can.”

Those close to the leader say the job of rebuilding the party during a pandemic has been made even trickier by having to conduct most business over Zoom calls from his north London home. One senior member of the shadow cabinet complained that they have been in the same room as Starmer only once since he became leader — making it difficult for him to forge bonds with his top team.

Among those Starmer speaks to regularly is the former prime minister, Brown, who is advising him on constitutional reform. He has also spoken to Blair “a handful of times”. Starmer is neighbours with Blair’s former spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, although relations are understood to have cooled after Campbell publicly expressed frustration at Labour’s stance on Brexit.

Starmer is planning to take a leaf out of the New Labour playbook with the launch a “prawn cocktail offensive” with potential wealthy donors. A source close to the Labour leader said: “Donors are warming to the party again and we are starting to see the money roll back in.”

The Labour leader is also expected to mimic Campbell’s infamous rapid rebuttal unit. In opposition during the 1990s, Blair’s press chief created a computer informally known as “Excalibur” which issued instant responses to Tory attacks.

Now the party is to embrace a “digital first” strategy with the launch of a new app — dubbed “Excalibur 2” — to perform the same function in an attempt to professionalise the party’s media handling. Ben Nunn, Starmer’s director of communications, who is said to have “impressed” Mandelson, is expected to oversee the project.

It is understood that Mandelson, Campbell and Blair agree that there is no public appetite for the Labour leader to set out his vision yet or develop a full array of policies despite criticism that voters do not know what he stands for or what kind of party he wants to lead.

A person involved in conversations said: “He needs to be self-disciplined now. This is not the time to repeat Ed Miliband’s mistakes and offer a range of policies which will be trashed between now and the next election.”

But the appeal appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Starmer will use a keynote speech on the economy on Thursday to reinvigorate his leadership. He will call for the conversion of the government’s “bounce back loans” into a student-loan style arrangements, which will help businesses hit by the pandemic delay repayments until they return to profit.

A senior member of the shadow cabinet who has seen the speech said: “Business does not feel that they are being listened to by the government, which presents us with a huge opportunity. Just as the Tories’ parked their tanks on Labour’s lawn at the last election so we can park our tanks on their lawn now.

“This is the start of the fightback and this speech will be an important moment for Keir. He knows that if he has any chance of becoming the next prime minister, he will need to convince voters that Labour can be trusted on the economy.”