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Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves says the incoming Labor government will “learn a lot” from the Tony Blair era at Westminster but it cannot simply support the party’s 1990 political program.

Reeves said the platform for the upcoming general election, which must be held by the end of next year, must be different from the New Labour era because it faces “challenges of a different nature”.

She spoke on Saturday’s FT Weekend section about what would happen if the opposition won a majority, as was widely expected given its large poll lead.

She also reiterated the party’s long-standing position that it will not seek to rejoin the European Union but instead work to improve relations with the 27-nation bloc.

Rachel Reeves speaks at music festival
Rachel Reeves, on stage right, tells festival goers that Labor will seek a better deal with Brussels © Em Fitzgerald/FT

Since Keir Starmer became leader, Labor has faced criticism from both the left and the right for his cautious centrist approach similar to that adopted by Blair in his landslide victory in the 1997 general election. The most publicized aspect of the party’s strategy in that election was a five-point “commitment card” outlining key policies.

Asked how Starmer’s approach was similar to that of New Labour’s founders, Blair and Gordon Brown, Reeves suggested a balancing act.

“We learned a lot from what Tony and Gordon did in 1997,” Reeves said. But she added: “The challenges we face today are of a different nature. So we don’t pick up the commitment card from 1997 and think we can dust it off.”

She added that the party would build a stronger public sector, with a particular focus on the National Health Service (NHS).

On the European front, Reeves reiterated Starmer’s position that the party must accept the fact that the UK has left the EU and will not rejoin anytime soon.

However, she insisted the party would seek to improve the Brexit deal signed by former prime minister Boris Johnson’s government.

One of the areas she will target is the veterinary agreement, which she says will ensure smoother trade, she said. She also pledged to seek mutual professional recognition agreements to help trade in services and better visa deals for musicians and other cultural workers.

“Do we have to accept the fact that we have left the EU? Yes,” Reeves said. “Do we have to admit that the deal we reached is good enough? Absolutely not.”

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