At any given time, says Janan Ganesh in the FT, “the reigning US Democrat and UK Labour leaders will resemble each other”. JFK and Harold Wilson were “slick but shallow” icons of change. Jimmy Carter and James Callaghan were “decent plodders in difficult times”. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were “silver-tongued centrists”. Today, Joe Biden and Keir Starmer are “of a piece” too. Biden is mocked as an “affable klutz” despite having been on three winning presidential tickets and passing major climate legislation this summer. Starmer is scolded for being “mere favourite” to win the next election, and for being a bit boring.
The reason these two dull, dependable men are so underestimated is that political pundits are not normal people. For them, politics is an identity and they are members of a “partisan tribe”. Because these obsessives are seeking “some kind of rapture” in politics, they pay too much attention to “passion, vision, rhetoric and romance”, and forget the electoral power of “well-meaning blandness”. Diligent, unprepossessing, “best-of-a-bad-bunch” candidates have long thrived in politics. People forget that Barack Obama won in 2008 as the blander candidate, compared to the erratic John McCain and his deeply unserious running mate Sarah Palin. “Hope and change” might have secured Obama the Democratic nomination, but the “no drama” side of him clinched the White House. When Starmer is called a visionless bore, or Biden a life-long mediocrity, “I hear only votes rolling in”.