Eighteen months ago, says Janan Ganesh in the FT, journalists “had Sir Keir Starmer down as a loser”. Now that his Labour Party is 20 points ahead in the polls, we are doing the gracious thing: “telling him why he isn’t further in front”. He must, we explain, be brave. He should “be more radical” and “tell us who he is”. How ridiculous. It is precisely because he’s so “cautious and inscrutable” that Starmer has succeeded. Only politics-obsessed pundits look at the Labour leader and long for a bit more “drama and meaning”. Ordinary voters have quite enough of that in their private lives.
Contrast “no-drama Starmer” with Nicola Sturgeon. Scotland’s departing first minister was “boldness incarnate”: the mission of her career was “nothing less than secession from the UK”; she pushed a gender bill that “stretched public opinion to snapping point”. In style as well as substance she took huge risks, comparing a minister in London to a colonial “governor general”. And for all this, what did she achieve? An independence cause that is “no further along than it was a decade ago”. In normal times, the task of the politician is not to inspire voters with a revolutionary vision – it’s to persuade enough of them to say “oh, go on then”. In turbulent periods, “radical propositions are even surer to flop”. After Brexit, Trump, Covid and the war in Ukraine, the only advice Labour’s leader needs is this: “Be less brave, Starmer. Narrow your political imagination.”