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Sorry Keir, there’s no Cool Britannia this time

Blair in 1997. Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs/Getty

Whatever vibes they’re trying to conjure at the Labour Party conference, says Hugo Rifkind in The Times, “it’s not 1997”. Keir Starmer is allying himself as much as possible to New Labour – Peter Mandelson is apparently stalking around the event like he owns the place, while the once-hated Tony Blair Institute has a stand. But it would be a mistake to think the party is about to do what it did back then. Politicians think everything is about politics. “Sometimes, though, even politics isn’t entirely about politics.”

Back in 1997, it was simply impossible to be “20 years old and against New Labour”. Unlike the fusty Tories, Tony Blair and co showed an “instinctive comfort” with a changing Britain. Political folklore tends to bundle New Labour together with Cool Britannia and Britpop. But Oasis and Blur had “fought their greatest duels” by 1995, hitting the tabloids mostly under John Major. Labour simply rode the wave of an already transformed culture, leaving the ruling party “thoroughly wrong-footed”. None of this has a parallel today, and Starmer knows it. He reminded the BBC last week that “the mood in 1997 was one of optimism”, and that now is a very different time. This is why people are wrong to write him off as too focused on “drab managerialism”. What better focus is available? He has no Britpop, no Cool Britannia, no uplifting wave of social change on which to ride. “A new dawn has broken,” said Blair, but dawn was breaking anyway. Starmer’s promise is more modest. “And today, maybe, that’ll have to do.”

📈🤨 People who voted for the first time as teenagers in 1979, and are now in their early sixties, have only seen the governing party change twice, says Anthony Broxton in UnHerd: through Tony Blair and David Cameron. “It is little wonder that scepticism to opposition poll-leads runs deep within the national psyche.”