Tony Blair
Credit: I T S / Shutterstock

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has had a few words of advice regarding technology for the newly elected Labour government, but Keir Starmer’s early administration hasn’t taken entirely kindly to the recommendations.

Blair was PM between 1997 and 2007, with his early premiership mirroring Starmer’s to some extent due to both securing huge majorities in their respective general elections. With Labour now back in power for the first time in 14 years, Blair believes the party needs to capitalise on the burgeoning artificial intelligence (AI) opportunity.

A Sunday Times article claims that Blair is calling on Starmer’s government to further promote AI as part of its economic agenda. For the most part, however, the article focused on tax reform.

Keir Starmer, Labour leader – Credit: Rupert Rivett, Shutterstock

Blair’s comments could be seen as a recommendation to Labour, but also could be seen as an endorsement – the party has already recognised the growing significance of AI to the UK economy in its manifesto, and in statements dating back to the start of this year.

Back in February, Labour published one of its first policy documents, before the July election had even been called by outgoing  PM Rishi Sunak. The document, signed by the now-Chancellor of Exchequer Rachel Reeves, asserted that there is ‘a global race to be the country of choice for the growth of AI’.

Reeves summed up Labour’s approach to finances: “We believe a strong financial services sector will drive investment in jobs and new industries. Our financial sector can be a vehicle for growth not just from the top down, but from the bottom up and the middle out.”

AI has significant potential for Britain’s business sector, playing a role in automating processes to save time, money and resources, and sifting through vast amounts of data for fraud prevention and anti-money laundering purposes, for example.

The tech can also play a key role in Britain’s economic growth by attracting investment. Various observers in the financial industry, in-and-outside of the UK, have taken note of investors’ interest in AI – this interest is largely driven in the technology’s adoption for tasks such as the ones described above.

For example, Stripe President John Collison, has commented on an increase in investment in AI technology as  the UK fintech and tech sectors have seen significant fundings rounds relating to AI, such as a $112m venture capital investment in Evohood Labs in February.

Rachel Reeves. Chancellor of the Exchequer
Source: UK Parliament

Britain’s AI sector will only remain a magnet for private investment as long as it continues to innovate, develop and create new products. Responsible development is also crucial to this, as investors may be reluctant to put money into AI products that seem as potentially harmful to businesses, consumers and the wider economy.

Labour’s Conservative predecessors seemed to have taken note of this, setting up the UK’s AI Safety Institute, which is now working with its US counterpart. Labour on the other hand, appears to have its own ideas on AI responsibility.

The party’s 2024 election manifesto included several policies relating to finance and the technology sector, with its notes on AI expressing some concern about the possible impact on traditional industries. Concerns  regarding AI’s impact on employment are nothing new.

Blair’s views on AI, it appears, are shared by Starmer’s administration, one which some political pundits have drawn comparisons to Blair’s own New Labour administration. The party is not entirely onboard with some of its former leader’s suggestions, however.

A long-time advocate for ID cards, Blair has reiterated his enthusiasm for the policy, specifically digital ID. A 2006 Act introduced National Identity Cards, despite concerns around civil liberties, but this was ultimately scrapped by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government elected in 2010.

Blair’s latest comments centre around immigration, citing how digital ID could be beneficial in this regard. Various business sectors would also be affected however, such as providers of age restricted products like alcohol, gambling and tobacco.

Regardless, Home Secretary Yvette Cooper emphasised that they were not in the party’s manifesto and it will take a different approach. Newly appointed Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds also asserted that digital ID cards will not be, confirming them as something the current government won’t explore.