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Does Keir Starmer have the charisma to pull an election victory off?

In October 1996, the year before Labour swept to power, party leader Tony Blair gave a barnstorming speech at its conference in Blackpool.

Most famous for the line “Ask me my three main priorities for government and I tell you education, education, education”, it was a communications exercise to position the party – which at the time had been out of power for 17 years – as both one that had changed, and that could deliver change for Britain. As the May 1997 landslide showed, it worked.

In Liverpool next week, Sir Keir Starmer will take to the stage facing a similar challenge.

The Labour Party has been out of power for 13 years and needs to look like a government in waiting.

Back in 1996, Labour’s conference slogan was ‘‘New life for Britain”, part of the central strategic narrative of “New Labour, New Britain”.

Next week, Starmer is expected to stand under “Give Britain its future back”. Yes, once again Labour is trying to be the undisputed party of change.

Bizarrely, so were the Conservatives last week with their slogan “Long-term decisions for a brighter future”.

Already it does look like their attempts failed, with polls showing the Conservatives continuing to trail Labour by up to 20 points and, with a rather self-contradictory seven-word slogan, it is unsurprising.

Labour’s present strategy does not look as defined as Blair’s did in 1996. While polls show that the majority of voters do not trust the Conservatives to sort out Britain’s manifold crises, fewer than half understand what Starmer stands for, or what his priorities are.

So that is the marketing and communications task he faces over the next two days.

Using marketing speak, as “a product” Starmer and Labour’s “benefits” are less clear to consumers (that is to say, voters) than they were in Blair’s case.

Blair had the confidence to appear both presidential – as shown by his 1996 speech line “1,000 days to prepare for 1,000 years” – while also humble, asking for the country’s support.

Crucially, he had the bravery to fight on the Conservatives’ traditional territory: low taxes, law and order and top-notch education.

And this is what Starmer now needs to do if he is to win big next year.

The burning question he must answer this week is whether he has the bravery, strategic focus and charisma to pull that off.

Danny Rogers is group editor-in-chief of Brand Republic Group

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