Keir Starmer faces backlash over billboard comparing him to Tony Blair

A controversial message in a Scottish town

A billboard in the Scottish town of Kilmarnock has sparked outrage among Labour supporters and critics alike. The message, which reads “Keir Starmer is Tony Blair in disguise”, was put up by a group called the Scottish Resistance, who claim to be fighting for Scottish independence. The billboard also features a picture of Starmer wearing a mask of Blair, the former Labour prime minister who led the party to three consecutive election victories but also faced criticism over his involvement in the Iraq war and his perceived shift to the centre-right.

The Scottish Resistance said they wanted to expose Starmer’s “hypocrisy” and “betrayal” of the Labour values, accusing him of being a “Tory-lite” leader who opposes a second referendum on Scottish independence. The group also said they wanted to highlight the contrast between Starmer and the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who they praised as a “progressive” and “democratic” leader.

The billboard has drawn mixed reactions from the public, with some agreeing with the message and others condemning it as unfair and misleading. Some Labour supporters said the billboard was a “smear campaign” and a “cheap stunt” that ignored Starmer’s achievements as a human rights lawyer and a former director of public prosecutions. They also argued that Starmer was not a Blairite, but a pragmatic and moderate leader who could appeal to a broad range of voters and challenge the Conservative government.

Starmer’s stance on Scottish independence

One of the main issues that the billboard aimed to highlight was Starmer’s opposition to a second referendum on Scottish independence, which the SNP has been pushing for since the Brexit vote in 2016. Starmer has said that he does not support another vote on the matter, arguing that it would be “divisive” and “distracting” from the more urgent issues facing the country, such as the coronavirus pandemic and the economic recovery. He has also said that he respects the result of the 2014 referendum, in which 55% of Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom.

Keir Starmer faces backlash over billboard comparing him to Tony Blair

However, Starmer has also said that he would not block a second referendum if there was a clear and consistent majority of Scots in favour of it, and that he would respect the decision of the Scottish Parliament, which is currently dominated by the SNP. He has also said that he would offer a “positive and progressive” alternative to both the status quo and independence, by devolving more powers to the Scottish Parliament and reforming the UK’s constitutional arrangements. He has called for a “new settlement” that would give Scotland more autonomy and representation within a “renewed and reformed” United Kingdom.

Starmer’s comparison to Blair

Another issue that the billboard raised was the comparison between Starmer and Blair, who is widely seen as a controversial and divisive figure in British politics. Blair led the Labour Party to three landslide election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005, but also faced criticism for his support for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was based on false claims of weapons of mass destruction and resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and a prolonged insurgency. Blair also faced accusations of abandoning the party’s traditional socialist values and moving it to the centre-right, adopting neoliberal policies such as privatisation, deregulation and public-private partnerships.

Starmer has said that he admires Blair’s electoral success and his achievements in areas such as the minimum wage, the peace process in Northern Ireland and the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales. However, he has also said that he disagrees with Blair on some issues, such as the Iraq war, which he opposed at the time and described as a “mistake”. He has also said that he is not a Blairite, but a socialist who believes in social justice, equality and human rights. He has said that he wants to unite the party and the country, and to offer a “new and different” vision for the future.

The impact of the billboard on Starmer’s leadership

The billboard in Kilmarnock is not the first time that Starmer has faced criticism and opposition from various factions and groups, both within and outside the Labour Party. Since he became the leader of the opposition in April 2020, he has had to deal with the legacy of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, who led the party to its worst election defeat since 1935 and was accused of failing to tackle antisemitism within the party. Starmer has also had to navigate the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited his ability to campaign and communicate with the public. He has also had to balance the demands and expectations of different sections of the party and the electorate, who have different views on issues such as Brexit, the economy, the environment and social issues.

The billboard in Kilmarnock is unlikely to have a significant impact on Starmer’s leadership, as it represents a fringe and extreme view that is not shared by most Scots or Labour supporters. However, it does reflect some of the difficulties and dilemmas that Starmer faces as he tries to rebuild the party’s trust and credibility, and to win back the voters who deserted Labour in recent elections. Starmer will need to demonstrate that he can offer a clear and coherent alternative to the Conservative government, and that he can address the concerns and aspirations of the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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