It’s good that Keir Starmer is ‘Blair without the flair’

Keir Starmer. Photo by Chris McAndrew, CC BY 3.0

Before Britain’s July 4 general election, a lot of people were describing Keir Starmer as “Blair without the flair”. They meant that Mr Starmer was quite unlike the last Labour Party leader to ascend to the dizzying heights of prime minister.

Mr Starmer was routinely judged to lack Tony Blair’s charisma, his ability to force the whole room to focus on him.

Crucially, he seemed unable to speak passionately, a singular skills mismatch for Mr Starmer’s application to be Britain’s top politician. That was strange considering Mr Starmer had formerly been a human rights lawyer, a job that must surely have required him to persuade and inspire. As for Mr Blair, he was silver-tongued, having a way with words that could potentially charm the birds off the trees.

But then the general election results came in, sweeping Mr Starmer into 10 Downing Street with a majority of 412 seats. While a 174-seat majority was a massive number, it too had a feel of “Blair without the flair”. First, because it was just shy of the 1997 Labour victory under Mr Blair. Full Fact says “it is often reported as 179, though other sources suggest it was 177 or 178”. Whatever the actual number of seats won by Mr Blair’s Labour Party in 1997, it was clear that Mr Starmer had a few less. The ‘Blair-sans-flair’ moniker seemed appropriate, especially because Labour’s 2024 victory was being described as a “loveless landslide”, a win off the back of just 34 per cent of the vote, the lowest winning vote share in British electoral history.

And yet, is it entirely fair to dub Mr Starmer “Blair without the flair”? He is not flashy, it’s true. But Mr Starmer is his own man, decisively so. The sheer joy he appears to feel in leading his party to victory (and into government) has done something strange to Mr Starmer’s face – it is newly animated. And his voice has become deeper, the grating nasal tones and high whine have seemingly vanished overnight.

Rather than the scripted, strangled commentary he routinely offered before the election, Mr Starmer now sounds more relaxed and natural, albeit a deadly serious man anxious to do something, anything, to govern Britain better.

It’s rather good actually that he lacks Mr Blair’s flair.

Unlike 1997, this is not a ‘Cool Britannia’ moment. Britain is not trendy and hip, jiving to the beat of edgy new music.

Britain 2024 feels agony in the austerity of hope, even the simplest kind: realistic hope.

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