Sir Keir Starmer is ‘no heir to Blair’ – voters are just punishing the Tories, says ex-YouGov boss

Tony Blair arrives at No 10 Downing Street on May 2, 1997
Roger Parry says Tony Blair, pictured arriving at No 10 Downing Street on May 2, 1997, told supporters a new day had dawned and 'they clearly believed him' - Ian Waldie/Reuters

Sir Keir Starmer is no heir to Sir Tony Blair and his “morning of victory will manifest less exuberant emotions”, the former chairman of YouGov has said.

Roger Parry predicted Labour will win the election on July 4 because of anger with the Conservatives instead of Sir Keir’s personal popularity.

Mr Parry, who led the polling firm between 2007 and 2023, said the Labour leader was on track for a similarly decisive victory but lacked the charm that made Sir Tony so popular with the general public on being elected in 1997.

Labour is currently ahead of the Conservatives by about 20 points in the opinion polls, which has led to predictions of a Blair-style landslide.

In an article for The Telegraph, Mr Parry recalled the “evangelical” mood in London on May 2, 1997, and said the public was “high on the possibilities of Tony Blair’s New Labour”.

“I have news for Sir Keir – July 5, 2024, will not feel the same way,” he said. “You will have won, possibly even more convincingly than Sir Anthony, but your morning of victory will manifest less exuberant emotions.

“Voters are administering a punishment beating to the Conservative party for years of mismanagement and the Labour victory will be a byproduct of that anger. We, the electorate, cannot see the manifestos for the red mist of rage.”

Mr Parry noted early achievements of Sir Tony’s government included Scottish and Welsh devolution, making the Bank of England independent and signing the Good Friday Agreement.

“There seems little indication the Starmer administration is going to be anything like as bold or radical. The safety-first caution exuded by Labour shows it is playing defence of its poll lead more than offence to restructure the nation.

“Blair was nicknamed Bambi for his charm, youth and wide-eyed enthusiasm. People can conjure their own cartoon-animal idea of Keir Starmer and it is likely to be far more lugubrious.”

Michael Portillo and Stephen Twigg
The announcement that Michael Portillo had lost his seat to Labour's Stephen Twigg became one of the defining moments of the 1997 election - Reuters/Alamy

It is a tradition among political enthusiasts to stay up for election night to monitor every twist and turn, and the 1997 poll famously saw Tory defence secretary Michael Portillo lose his seat in a moment highlighting the scale of the Labour landslide.

But Mr Parry wrote: “I have a feeling, like lots of other people, I will probably go to bed early on July 4, knowing with confidence what the outcome will be and not expecting anything too dramatic to result from it.”

It is not the first time Sir Keir has drawn unfavourable comparisons to Sir Tony. Earlier this month, Nigel Farage, the Reform party leader, dubbed his Labour counterpart “Blair without the flair”.

The Labour leader revealed in April he talks to Sir Tony “a lot” to draw on his experience of preparing for power in 1997 and about his experiences of moving from opposition into government.

Sir Keir Starmer, pictured with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
Keir Starmer, pictured with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in September 2022, has spoken of his praise for the two former Labour prime ministers - Kirsty O'Connor/AFP

Despite confirming he holds regular talks with both Sir Tony and his successor Gordon Brown, Sir Keir has dismissed the idea of inviting either into his administration.

In September 2024, Sir Tony will publish a guide for a “busy, aspiring leader” which will be widely seen as a handbook for how Sir Keir should govern if in power by then.

He has made occasional but punchy interventions since the 2019 general election, urging Labour to reject “wokeism” and push its far-Left to the margins of the party, which has been a point of pride for Sir Keir during the election campaign.


‘Tony Blair was a rock star politician – Keir Starmer is not’

By Roger Parry

Just after dawn on Friday May 2, 1997, I was caught up in the aftermath of what seemed to have been an evangelical, religious rally.

It was a beautiful morning, and I was on my way to a hospitality breakfast in the City, a post-election discussion hosted by a bank. Much of the previous night I had been at media election parties – going to bed in the early hours after the loss of Michael Portillo’s seat confirmed the scale of a Labour victory.

The group of true believers I encountered dancing their way across Westminster Bridge must have had less sleep than me, but they exhibited a fresh-eyed, energetic euphoria. Their Messiah had triumphed. He had told them a new day had dawned and they clearly believed him. They were high on the possibilities of Tony Blair’s New Labour.

I have news for Sir Keir. Friday July 5, 2024 will not feel the same way. You will have won, possibly even more convincingly than Sir Anthony, but your morning of victory will manifest less exuberant emotions.

The May 2 revellers had been at Labour’s election night party at the Royal Festival Hall. That was the one with the unlikely combination of Peter Mandelson, John Prescott and Neil Kinnock dancing to D:Ream.

Walking around London that morning, it was impossible to find anyone who did not say that they had voted for Blair or supported him. He seemed to be a national hero. He was, in almost his own words, the “people’s PM”.

Today, his reputation has been dulled by time and the Iraq war, but we should remember in 1997 he was the epitome of the rock star politician. His immense personal popularity reflected the then positive and youthful image of Bill Clinton in America. Added to this was Blair’s own stellar performance on the campaign trail and television. The 1997 electorate was endorsing a cult of personality.

John Major’s Tories were unpopular, but the Blair landslide was based on shared hope and personal charisma; 2024 feels very different.

Voters are administering a punishment beating to the Conservative party for years of mismanagement and the Labour victory will be a byproduct of that anger. We, the electorate, cannot see the manifestos for the red mist of rage.

In 1997, Labour promised, and did deliver, extremely consequential changes to the way the UK was run. It was the first Blair government that introduced devolution to Scotland and Wales. It created the then novel post of Mayor of London. It reformed the House of Lords and made the Bank of England independent. Also within 12 months of being elected, Blair signed the Good Friday Agreement, largely ending the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

There seems little indication the Starmer administration is going to be anything like as bold or radical. The safety-first caution exuded by Labour shows it is playing defence of its poll lead more than offence to restructure the nation.

Blair was nicknamed Bambi for his charm, youth and wide-eyed enthusiasm. People can conjure their own cartoon-animal idea of Keir Starmer and it is likely to be far more lugubrious.

In the aftermath of May 1997, starstruck visitors to Downing Street described the experience in terms of entering a “New Camelot” to be part of a brave new world. With Sir Keir, it is likely to feel more like a visit to the office of a competent headmaster to discuss raising funds for the renovation of the science block.

On that Spring morning in May 1997, it felt like Blair was being anointed by universal acclaim to lead the UK to the broad sunlit uplands. By contrast, it feels Starmer will be appointed by a jaded nation which hopes he will be a bit less bad than the last lot.

Blair famously said he felt the “hand of history” on his shoulder and perhaps it was that sense of historical significance that caused so many of us to be awake that May morning in 1997 to watch the victory events. I have not yet been invited to any election parties or breakfast briefings for this July.

I have a feeling, like lots of other people, I will probably go to bed early on July 4, knowing with confidence what the outcome will be and not expecting anything too dramatic to result from it.

Roger Parry CBE was the chairman of YouGov from 2007 to 2023

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