Why Starmer Prevailed in Britain and Why Biden Likely Won't in the U.S.

Politico analyzes why Starmer prevailed in Britain and why Biden is likely not to in the U.S.

by Sededin Dedovic
Why Starmer Prevailed in Britain and Why Biden Likely Won't in the U.S.
© WPA Pool / Getty Images

With his gelled hair and a penchant for dark blue shirts worn under jackets—like a teacher preparing to step onto a school disco stage—Keir Starmer might not appreciate being called boring. But compared to the chaos that has characterized British politics in recent years, the new prime minister's mundane demeanor is likely his biggest electoral asset, writes Politico.

Starmer's Labour Party's convincing victory over the Conservative Tories in Thursday's parliamentary elections is a testament to the idea that in politics, boring isn't always bad. Like American President Joe Biden in 2020, Starmer capitalized on voters' desperate need to end the madness.

"Many people we speak to in focus groups say Starmer is boring, but maybe boring is what we need right now," said Luke Trill, executive director of More in Common, a political consulting firm. Certainly, there is exhaustion with the Tories, but also a general sense that politics has no end.

Now the question is whether Starmer can continue to do the boring job—or, like Biden before him, will power return to bite him. For now, the new British prime minister is content enough with his historic victory.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer celebrates winning the 2024 General Election© Ricky Vigil / Getty Images

Analysts (and Starmer's defeated Conservative opponents) agree that many voters simply wanted a change from worn-out comedians and economic mismanagement after 14 years of Tory rule.

Brexit divided the country and unleashed years of bitterness, ending the careers of two Tory prime ministers: David Cameron and Theresa May. The Covid pandemic took a toll, after Boris Johnson was caught in a series of scandals, including a police fine for a party at Downing Street that violated isolation measures.

Then, after just 45 disastrous days, Johnson's successor Liz Truss became the fourth Tory prime minister to be shown the door at 10 Downing Street. After crashing financial markets, she not only destroyed her own political career but also further damaged her party's already tarnished reputation for competence.

Not even Rishi Sunak's calming managerial style while clearing up Truss's mess could salvage the Tory brand. Enter Stramer. A political speaker who enjoys the simple pleasures of football and a good curry (and dislikes working late on Fridays), the underestimated Labour leader embodies the politics of boredom.

During his campaign, he chose not to promise much, offering instead a quiet one-word slogan: "Change." However, for British voters tired of chaos, forgettable proved to be appealing. In his clash with Sunak—also not the most exciting politician—Starmer achieved his party's biggest victory since former Prime Minister Tony Blair shattered the Tories in 1997.

As Starmer's biographer Tom Baldwin notes, the Labour leader didn't need a 100,000-word tome to sell himself to the nation after years of Tory turmoil. He just needed three words: "I'm not them." Starmer's appeal echoes another centrist speaker, mostly uninspiring.

After four years of President Donald Trump—whose tenure was marked by breaking established norms, provoking allies, and rejecting international agreements—the majority of the country rallied behind an unspoken theme of Biden's 2020 campaign: Make the White House boring again.

White House aides—and the president himself—were satisfied comparing Biden's successful results to Trump's failed efforts.

President Biden Delivers Remarks At The White House On The Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse© Andrew Harnik / getty Images

"He promised 'Infrastructure Week' every week for four years and never did a thing," Biden told a group of union members this spring, praising the launch of 50,000 projects from one of the domestic spending bills he signed.

"Americans overwhelmingly chose President Biden's competent leadership over Trump's chaos and weakness," said Charles Lutvak, a campaign spokesperson, speaking before the disastrous U.S. presidential debate sparked another round of concerns about Biden's age, leading to calls for him to step aside to make way for another candidate.

Even before Biden became interesting for all the wrong reasons, his poll numbers were already declining, predicting a defeat in November to a politician whose ability to dominate the news cycle—good or bad—was unparalleled in modern American history.

Even where his major infrastructure bills were successful, many voters who saw their benefits didn't know he was responsible for them, a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll showed. "We wanted to let tired Americans think less about the White House," said a former senior Biden campaign official not authorized to speak publicly about internal discussions.

"But from time to time, it's possible to wonder if we did too good a job." Recently, the White House and campaign advisors became frustrated with how difficult it was to convey their message—that Biden is a competent adult in the room—and break through a crowded, fragmented media landscape, three officials said.

Biden, like Starmer, is not the most dynamic communicator. His years and a series of crises—including the Gaza war and stubborn inflation—have hindered his ability to sell his accomplishments to the public. The cruel irony for Biden's team is that the president currently monopolizes media and public attention—but not for the reasons they hoped.