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Keir Starmer asks Obama, Trudeau and Blair for election advice – POLITICO


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LONDON — Keir Starmer dreams of becoming the next British Prime Minister. Can being around proven winners really help him succeed?

Last week, Britain’s Labor leader traveled to The Hague, Montreal and Paris for a series of public engagements with senior politicians as he seeks to project a statesmanlike image on the World Scene.

Behind closed doors, Starmer quizzed some of the most high-profile progressive leaders of the 21st century on how to govern – and win. “He always asks, ‘What are they doing?’ What can we learn from this? And what do we not know? said a senior Labor Party figure.

Given Labor’s 18-point lead over the ruling Conservatives – and with an election looming in 2024 – more progressives want to talk to Starmer. A member of Starmer’s shadow cabinet said that although convincing foreign leaders to take the time to meet the Labor leader had once been an “uphill struggle”, it was becoming “much easier” as Starmer got closer to power.

In recent days, Starmer has met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and French President Emmanuel Macron. Most strikingly, he revealed a series of private conversations with former US President Barack Obama.

Speaking from Montreal – where he was attending the Global Action for Progress Summit with other centre-left leaders – Starmer told POLITICO’s Power Play podcast that he had spoken “multiple times” to Obama about challenges he faced as president and how the UK could learn from them.

Starmer said of Obama: “He’s a keen observer of politics in the UK, he’s completely aware of what’s going on and I think it’s always useful to test my ideas on people who won elections, people who made difficult decisions in power. because it helps me think about how we might approach some of the decisions we might have to make if we win this election.

Progressives versus populists

At the summit in Canada last weekend, Starmer rubbed shoulders with center-left politicians and talked about taking the fight to the right.

John McTernan, Tony Blair’s former political secretary who attended the conference, said Starmer was in “his peer group”. “You could see it and the whole Labor team was well-liked and well-connected.”

At the heart of the leaders’ discussions was a recognition that populists were, on balance, better at communicating with voters than progressives.

At the event, the Labor leader was seen chatting at length with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau during a closed-door reception on Friday evening. Speaking at a panel on Saturday, Starmer said Trudeau had warned him of the dangers of progressives “moralizing” and “looking down on the rest of the world”.

Norwegian Prime Minister Støre is also seen by Starmer’s office as a key ally, several senior Labor officials said. Starmer and Støre appeared together on a panel in Montreal – two left-wing leaders in European countries who sit outside the EU.

McTernan said Starmer revealed to the room that he visited Støre in Norway for several days after the Brexit referendum in 2016. “He spent three or four days talking to people in Norway about what it’s like than being outside of Europe,” McTernan said. “He immediately and instinctively understood that Britain, outside the European Union, had to learn from Norway. »

Another figure Starmer is friends with is Frans Timmermans, the former vice-president of the European Commission, who is running for Prime Minister of the Netherlands with the Dutch Labor Party.

“Keir and Frans have stood out as two party leaders on the rise and looking forward to a very good year,” said the senior Labor figure quoted above.

Back home, the two politicians Starmer consults most are the last two Labor prime ministers – Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He speaks regularly to both, aides say, and made headlines with his decision to share the stage with Blair this summer.

From red to green

As the UK’s electoral battle lines are drawn, perhaps the most important example Starmer could learn from is Australia.

The Australian Labor Party’s Anthony Albanese cruised to victory in 2022 after a campaign in which Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberals made climate policy one of their main dividing lines. Isaac Levido, the Australian political guru and Conservative election strategist, was a consultant to Morrison during that election.

“What is really clear to me is that Isaac Levido managed to persuade Rishi Sunak to adopt the 2022 Liberal government strategy before the election,” McTernan said. “And what Isaac Levido forgot to tell Sunak and his government was that the Liberals have suffered the worst beating in a generation.”

Attendees at the Montreal conference were presented with a poll suggesting that voters in 10 countries, including the UK, Australia, France, Germany and the US, largely supported climate policies when they were presented from the perspective of energy security and high quality. jobs in sectors such as electric cars, batteries, wind and solar power.

One of the former leaders Starmer is closest to is Ed Miliband, Labor’s most high-profile environmental policy spokesman.

He has reinvented himself as a podcaster and climate champion since losing to David Cameron’s Conservatives in 2015, and now sits on Starmer’s senior team as shadow climate secretary.

Asked for his advice to Starmer following his own difficult experience as Labor leader, Miliband told a POLITICO event on energy and climate this week: “My only advice to Keir has always been: be- even.

Esther Webber and Annabelle Dickson contributed reporting.


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