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View from the street: Obama, Starmer and the audacity of nope


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Alex, Researcher

Obama, Starmer and The Audacity of Nope


Democratic politics ultimately boils down to the art of inspiration. You can throw policies and statistics at voters all day, but you truly win their support when they believe in the message you stand for.

I first became aware of this upon the 2008 election of Barack Obama. What made Obama so captivating to Americans and international onlookers alike was partly his platform, partly his background, and partly his goosebump-inducing abilities as an orator. I can’t claim to have had much of a nuanced understanding of those characteristics as a six-year-old living in Australia, but it was his overriding message—one of hope for a better tomorrow—that resounded loud and clear with me even then.

Moving since to the UK and the US, I saw many more examples of this artistic political flair. Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon employed it when they presented their dreams of a utopian independent Scotland; so too did the likes of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage when they claimed to stand for the common worker left behind by an elite, globalised establishment. Through tapping into such raw emotions and lofty ideals, shock landslides can be won, and status quos flipped.

Today, Keir Starmer (and, indeed, Anas Sarwar) face a similar situation to Obama in 2008: centre-left candidates challenging a long-established government during a time of controversial economic strife. But while Obama positioned himself as a candidate capable of delivering better than the current government, Starmer’s obsessive doom-and-gloom rhetoric seems more focused on asserting that he is incapable of delivering worse. As of yet, he has no central message for voters to believe in: between the reneging and u-turning, all he seems to have left is that the Tories do not deserve any more time in office. That’s neither a concrete ideology nor an ambitious platform.

This dull strategy, combined with Labour’s grim 2019 election results, has generated more fear that they will fail to live up to present expectations than faith that they may exceed them (case in point: last Thursday’s by-elections). Opinion polls suggest that Starmer’s party is ahead not because anyone likes him – his approval rating is still decidedly negative – but more because they are so sick of the Conservatives that they’ll take any viable alternative. That vacuum of enthusiasm bodes poorly for any government aiming to create lasting change.

The next general election will be the first one I have the chance to vote in. For all intents and purposes, I should be excited by the chance to play my part in improving the direction of the country: I am sure that aged six, I would’ve believed that I’d cast my vote out of the optimism that people like Barack Obama inspired. Instead, though, I expect to be begrudgingly filling in my form out of resignation in my support of the lesser of two evils. Starmer may yet get my vote, then, but he won’t have won my heart.


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