Keir Starmer aspires to become the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. Can networking with successful individuals truly assist him in achieving this goal?
Last week, the leader of the U.K. Labour party traveled to The Hague, Montreal, and Paris to participate in various public events with prominent political figures in an effort to showcase a diplomatic persona on the international platform.
In private, Starmer has been seeking advice from prominent modern progressive leaders on strategies for governing and succeeding. According to a high-ranking member of the Labour Party, he consistently inquires about their tactics and what lessons can be applied, while also considering what to disregard.
Due to Labour’s significant advantage of 18 points in the polls over the ruling Conservatives and the upcoming election in 2024, there is a growing desire among progressives to have discussions with Starmer. According to a member of Starmer’s shadow Cabinet, it used to be challenging to persuade foreign leaders to meet with the Labour leader, but it has become significantly easier as Starmer’s chances of gaining power increase.
In recent days, Starmer has had meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, and French President Emmanuel Macron. He also shared details of private discussions with former U.S. President Barack Obama, which garnered a lot of attention.
While in Montreal for the Global Progress Action Summit alongside other center-left leaders, Starmer shared on POLITICO’s Power Play podcast that he has had several conversations with Obama regarding the difficulties he encountered during his presidency and how the U.K. could potentially benefit from those experiences.
According to Starmer, Obama is knowledgeable about British politics and is well-informed about current events. It is beneficial for him to seek feedback from successful election winners and leaders who have made tough decisions while in office, as it helps him consider various approaches to potential decisions if he were to win the election.
Progressives vs. populists
During the recent summit in Canada, Starmer socialized with fellow center-left leaders and discussed strategies for combatting right-wing ideologies.
John McTernan, who was once a political secretary to Tony Blair and was present at the conference, noted that Starmer was well-regarded by his colleagues. He observed that Starmer and the rest of the Labour team were popular and had built strong connections.
The main focus of the leaders’ conversations was the recognition that populists were generally more effective at connecting with voters compared to progressives.
During the event, the leader of the Labour party engaged in a lengthy conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau at a private reception on Friday night. While participating in a panel discussion on Saturday, Starmer shared that Trudeau had cautioned him about the pitfalls of progressive individuals being judgmental and looking down on others.
According to several high-ranking Labour officials, Starmer’s team considers Norwegian Prime Minister Støre to be a crucial ally. Both Starmer and Støre participated in a panel discussion in Montreal, representing two progressive leaders from non-EU European nations.
According to McTernan, Starmer informed those in the room that he had recently traveled to Norway to meet with Støre for a few days following the Brexit referendum in 2016. During this visit, Starmer engaged in discussions with various individuals in Norway to gain insight into the experience of being a non-EU country. McTernan added that Starmer quickly recognized the importance of learning from Norway for the benefit of Britain outside of the European Union.
Starmer has a good relationship with Frans Timmermans, a previous vice president of the European Commission who is currently campaigning to become the prime minister of the Netherlands with the Dutch Labor Party.
According to the senior Labour official mentioned, Keir and Frans are the standout leaders of the two parties and are expected to have a successful year ahead.
When he is at his residence, the two politicians that Starmer turns to for consultation are former Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. His aides state that he frequently communicates with both of them and caused a stir when he appeared on a stage with Blair earlier this summer.
From red to green
As the U.K. prepares for elections, Starmer could benefit from studying Australia’s approach as a key example.
In 2022, the Australian Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, won the election after a campaign that focused on climate policies as a major point of contention with the Liberal party, headed by PM Scott Morrison. Isaac Levido, a political expert known for his skills in elections, served as a consultant to Morrison during that time.
McTernan stated that it is evident that Isaac Levido has effectively convinced Rishi Sunak to implement the Liberal government’s 2022 election strategy. However, Levido has failed to inform Sunak and his government that the Liberals received the worst defeat in a generation.
The Montreal conference participants were shown polls indicating that citizens in 10 nations, including the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, and the United States, strongly favored environmental policies when they were connected to energy security and job opportunities in industries like electric vehicles, batteries, wind, and solar energy.
One of the former leaders that Starmer is closest to is Ed Miliband, Labour’s most high-profile spokesperson on environmental policies.
After narrowly losing the election to the Conservative Party’s David Cameron in 2015, he has transformed himself into a podcaster and advocate for climate issues. He currently serves as the shadow climate secretary in Starmer’s top team.
When asked for his thoughts on what Starmer should do as Labour leader based on his own challenging experience, Miliband shared at a recent POLITICO event focused on energy and climate: “My only recommendation for Keir is to stay true to himself.”
Reporting was contributed by Esther Webber and Annabelle Dickson.