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Will Keir Starmer be the G7’s last liberal standing?

In a few years, Starmer could be the odd one out among Western leaders. Credit: Getty

April 29, 2024 - 3:00pm

The year is 2027. The place is Dulles Airport. The US president is waiting to welcome the newly elected president of France. The plane lands, the band strikes up, a door opens and Marine Le Pen descends into the delighted embrace of Donald Trump.

How likely is this to happen? At the moment, British bookies are offering even odds — or thereabouts — on Trump winning this year, which is pretty fair given the current state of the American polls. France doesn’t choose a new president for another three years. The latest Ifop polling, however, suggests that Le Pen has never been closer to power. At this stage we don’t know who the candidates of the major parties will be, so the polling is for possible match-ups — presented here by Europe Elects:

Against Gabriel Attal — Macron’s current Prime Minister — Le Pen wins by a convincing 53 to 47%. At 35, he’s just too young for the top job. A less risky option is Édouard Philippe (53), who was Macron’s first PM. He’s quite popular for an establishment politician, but the polling shows Le Pen beating him 51 to 49%.

The centrists could fight fire with fire and choose GĂ©rald Darmanin — Macron’s hardline Minister of the Interior. Except, according to the Ifop poll, he doesn’t even make into the second round, being beaten in the first round by radical Leftist Jean-Luc MĂ©lenchon.

In short, Keir Starmer better be ready for a Trump-Le Pen combo. It would be tricky enough having a Nato-sceptic president in the White House, but to have one in the ÉlysĂ©e Palace too spells double trouble. Even if the Western alliance can hold it together — out of fear of Russia — Starmer could cut a lonely figure on the world stage.

Just look at who’s most likely to be leading the G7 nations in 2027. Besides America and France, Germany will also have had an election by then. Olaf Scholz, a social democrat like Starmer, is already a lame duck Chancellor. His likeliest successor is Friedrich Merz — a conservative very much not in the centrist mould of Angela Merkel. In Italy, Giorgia Meloni has a good chance of retaining power. Indeed, she may end up as the longest-serving Italian leader since, er, you-know-who. In Canada, the Justin Trudeau era is set to give way to Tory rule under Pierre Poilievre. Finally, in Japan, it would be brave to bet against the continued dominance of the ironically-named Liberal Democratic Party.

Starmer could find himself as the last liberal in the G7. But he can’t afford to stand aloof. As British PM, he’d have to act as chief Trump-whisperer — while also playing a subtle game in Europe if Le Pen plunges the EU into crisis. What’s more, a close working relationship will be required with Meloni to bolster the pro-Nato wing of an increasingly powerful populist Right. Meanwhile, the Anglo-Japanese community of interest will become ever more obvious as a post-Brexit UK finds its place in the world and Japan seeks closer alliances.

Throw in the unresolved conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, and Starmer is facing a foreign policy agenda of exceptional complexity. Retaining David Cameron’s services might not be such a bad idea.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
19 days ago

Ooof – could be awkward, that.
Maybe steer clear of taking the knee during the G7 photo op and striking up small talk with the other leaders about the issue of whether only women can have cervixes?
To quote Billy Connolly, Starmer would be about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
19 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

You’re on form today, Katharine! Also in other Comments.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
19 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

A crass misfit for sure, there and here! But the so called ‘Right’ in Europe are not really Right at all. There is not one market loving reformist radical Thatcherite among them. Ironically it is the limp Macron who is trying to tackle the deep systemic lefty malaise. Look at Georgia- not a squeak about a degrowth economic order she knows is run by the Overlords in Brussels; she just makes sound and fury about culture and migration – thats her only patch. Le Pen meanwhile is giddy on socialism and welfarism, only right wing on the multicultural disaster and culture war. She may snap at the EU on political matters, but one fears the progressive leftie regulatory New Order established by Brussels since the 90s will survive the impending surge to the right intact.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
18 days ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

How true. The media describes as right-wing anyone who raises concerns about immigration, completely ignoring the socialist, redistributive economic outlook of RN, UKIP, AfD and others.

King David
King David
18 days ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Only card the Caucazoid Neanderthals have to play is the racism card. Mussolini the WOP Meloni is the White SUPREMACIST show horse. The thing is the White led G7 is losing its clout. It’s like the White Bully and his one wannabee White one Asian friend walking around still thinking his white privileges and white skin entitlement makes him special so that he can still call the shots. The only problem the White Bullies usual victims is no longer are afraid of the White Bullies. We see African Nations hooking up with China and Russia the Only White country that did not participate in the Atlantic Slave Trade blood sucking contest. Africa needs to join BRICS en masse and defang the European Vampires at the earliest opportunity. Also Ban Fascist Italians from AU and Caribbean territory. We see CARICOM member states getting rid of the too pale and stale White SUPREMACIST monarchy and demanding Slavery Reparations with out apologies. What self respecting Black man want a White guy who wants to be a Tampon as Head of State.
Honkkkkee is getting more racist globally but The Black man is not laying down in the face of White SUPREMACIST aggression and delusions.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
17 days ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

“Right wing” is a convenient label for (at least) two very divergent political philosophies: market liberalism which at one time would have been a left of centre position – and national conservatism.

Historically speaking, it is the latter that probably deserves the term more than Thatcherism. Supporters of, for example monarchy or aspects of the feudal order and ancient land ownership rights were not necessarily – or even mostly – market liberals. See for example the Corn Laws in Britain and their subsequent abolition.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
19 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

At least if one encounters a fart in a spacesuit, one knows who to blame for the situation. Point the finger at the last guy wearing the suit. If the UK indeed ends up in this scenario, one won’t have to look very hard to assign blame either. The current Tory government had its chance with Brexit to take the bull by the horns and get out ahead of the challenges of a multipolar, deglobalizing world, but rather than step up to the challenge and make bold changes, they drug their feet, dithered, equivocated, negotiated, and basically blew their opportunity. If Starmer is the fart that all have smelt it, Truss/Sunak/Johnson/May are surely they who dealt it.
EDIT: And I’m not entirely sure it matters who is in the White House at this point. Biden has arguably done more to push the US away from unrestricted globalism than Trump did. Other than the highly visible immigration situation, Biden hasn’t exactly been a champion of globalism himself. The inflation reduction act and CHIPS act were both poorly disguised economic nationalism and a tacit recognition that the game has changed and we’re not going back to 2015. Let’s not forget that Hillary Clinton herself was forced to abandon TPP before the 2016 election even happened. The political wind here is blowing solidly in an America first direction, even if the Democrats don’t dare say so out loud.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
19 days ago

I honestly don’t understand the thesis of this essay. Being PM of Britain might be a challenge for the person seeking that post.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
19 days ago

These pendulum shifts happen from time to time but no one involved ever seriously asks why that is. It’s not likely Starmer will break that mold, nor does this piece expect that he will.
And what does this mean: if Le Pen plunges the EU into crisis.” The EU, like the rest of the West, is already in crisis. Crises, really, most of them self-inflicted. Maybe the shift is due to a host of politicians attempting to play Masters of the Universe with sweeping rules on all sorts of things where govt has neither business being nor the expertise required. The new right may follow suit and if so, the pendulum will shift back in a few years.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
19 days ago

Le Pen is more likely to be in a run off with MĂ©lenchon than with a centrist like Philippe. French opinion polls repeatedly underestimate the support for the hard left because of the difficulty in weighing sample sizes to adequately account for the Muslim population, given the absence of reliable census data. France could soon be in territory predicted by Houellebecq.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
19 days ago

Across the Liberal media there were many posters who insisted that by voting to leave the EU we were casting ourselves out of some Edenic EUtopia – all thanks to the racism and stupidity of the Faragistes who would usher in a hard-right, nationalist govt. Meanwhile those nice Europeans would carry on enjoying the enlightened Left-Liberalism that showed how superior they are to those awful Brixity untermensch.
Now it seems as though we are turning to the Metro-Left identitarians (God help us) whilst most of Europe moves to the right.
I keep an archive of comments I posted in the aftermath of the referendum result and sometimes it’s consoling to read back through them and see when I was right – equally it is illustrating to read comments that proved to be wildly off the mark, such as my confidence that, once negotiations started, the pique at our leaving would soon be overcome by the pragmatism of business and we would reach an amicable solution quick quickly!
But here is something I wrote in Feb 2017 that seems pertinent to this discussion and that I think still stands up …….

It’s all very well for Remainers to claim that the EU is an inherently benign organisation and that we would be better off simply gifting dominion to supranational EU govt rather than rely on our own (admittedly shambolic) parliament. But what if circumstances change?

Britain has no history of extreme governments. No Communists or Fascists are ever likely to be in power here – despite what some of the more lurid catastrophists in our media might like to pretend. But the rest of Europe? Well, it’s happened before.

Remainers are sanguine about a remote power-structure, untouchable by the electorate, because:

a) they have faith in a benign technocratic elite who can maintain the cosy, globalist status quo of which they approve.

And

b) they have no faith in the electorate – whom they seem to hold in contempt.

But what if that changed? What if we saw a rise of openly nationalist, right wing parties gaining support across the bloc? What direction might the EU take then to accommodate them? I would suggest that Mrs Merkel flinging open the doors of Europe to mass immigration makes that all the more likely – we’ve already seen migrant hostels attacked in Germany and growing complaints from across the EU from those whose lives are being impacted by the large influx of unassimilated migrants.

If those tensions grow – and I’ve no doubt they will- then support for anti-immigration parties will rise.

Posters here go on about UKIP and the Tories under Mrs May as though we’re seeing a neo-fascist resurgence here – which we palpably are not. In fact, if you want to guess the European country which is probably the least likely to see any far right party even get a toe-hold in power – it would probably be the UK.

Go figure. But you wouldn’t know it if you relied on Guardian CIF for your worldview.

Genuine far right groups in the UK generally consist of 6 angry blokes down the pub, muttering under their breath. These idiots are no more likely to get a sniff of power than Marine le Pen is to be voted UN Secretary General.

Remainers assume that the EU will continue to implement policies they agree with. If they started implementing policies Remainers opposed, would they be so supportive?

There is a false assumption that the lack of influence any one nation has over the EU is unimportant as the EU will continue to pursue policies they support. If support for the hard-right grows it will likely lead to vastly different EU legislation. Remainers dismiss the notion of Sovereignty as an irrelevance now – but they might find themselves grateful that Brexiteers regained the influence of British voters.

Karen Arnold
Karen Arnold
19 days ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

It will certainly be ironic that the strongest sentiment against rejoining the E U could come from those most opposed to leaving.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
19 days ago
Reply to  Karen Arnold

Which of them would have the humility to admit it, though?
Many of public Remainers will carry the rancour with them to their graves. They’ll never forgive us for casting the country out of the European paradise of their imagination.
Even if Britain enjoys a 25 year run of unparalleled prosperity and the EU fell to totalitarian government, or even collapsed altogether, can anyone imagine Bercow, Adonis, Alastair Campbell or Anna Soubry (or too many others to count) having a damascene moment of clarity and admitting they were wrong?
No, they’ll be like the Marxist academics who, long after Russia had proven that the ideology led to ruin, still denied the famines and purges and clung to the belief that it was a workers’ paradise.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
19 days ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

You are right. The Remainiacs are exactly like those twisted old Marxists. They succumbed to a nasty mental derangement during the civil war, feeling free to express hatred toward fellow citizens. It can be heard every day on the radio. A form of breakdown. What makes them so wretched is the damning fact that it was not political fervour that motivated them to even march against democracy and call for only grads to have the vote. It was ugly naked base greed – the fear that the ending of free movement would crash the property boom and rigged market that had enriched Londoners by 100k a year tax free for a giddy decade. Our elite turned out to be a very mucky nasty entitled class apart, dedicated not to nation or fellow man – just to their own caste and good old fashioned greed. Let them stew in those juices.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
18 days ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

The people you list would be claiming that if the U.K. had Remained we would have been able to keep the EU on the(ir) right track.
Hell will freeze over before the facts change their prejudices.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
18 days ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Europe is not really moving to the Right and Britain is not moving to the Left. It’s simply the electorates are totally fed up with the political class in general and their incumbent governments in particular.

Matt M
Matt M
19 days ago

Starmer has got to win yet. Six months is a long time in politics.

AC Harper
AC Harper
19 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

And being Prime Minister in a Labour Landslide Parliament might turn out to be a booby prize.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
19 days ago

“Runaway Dave” Cameron’s services should never have been re-hired, let alone retained.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
18 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

You forgot to start with “hired”.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
18 days ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Quite…

j watson
j watson
18 days ago

Having made such a hash of things the poor Right needs some solace hence Article. Nice comfort-blanket stuff.
Come 27 Trump a year away from 28 Presidential elections and a lame duck. If Le Pen wins she’ll tact rapidly in the way Meloni has. With power comes responsibility and realties where rhetoric only takes you so far. Hasn’t the Right learnt that yet?
However we’ll all be lucky if there aren’t some much harder jolts to world geopolitics before then – CCP and the South China sea being the most worrying because it’s impact would be massive. Is Xi going to give it another 3 years? He will if deterred and deterrence going to be big thing next 5 years. Once Europe grasps that the more isolationist twaddle that can emanate from politicians not in any position of responsibility will abate. China and Russia have vested interest in destabilising Europe and one way will be to keep nudging and supporting the migration of people’s from war strewn areas in Middle East and the Sahel. They remain encouraged at our ability to fight amongst ourselves rather than see it for what it is.

Carmel Shortall
Carmel Shortall
18 days ago

Keir Starmer a liberal?

Clive Green
Clive Green
18 days ago

“Bolting Dave”?
“Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton”
“OH PLEEZE “

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
17 days ago

David Cameron?! I simply don’t get this even if you are much more of a political centrist than I am. Cameron undertook some truly disastrous forays into foreign policy. We had the Libya debacle, and if he had had his way we would have become heavily involved in Syria – which would have been Iraq squared.

One thing that better governance requires is a far more evidence-based and hard-nosed policy, closely time tied to actual fundamental British interests. (And is very much time to strongly appraise these, if they sometimes currently amount to spreading the virtues of diversity or converting Afghanistan into a liberal democracy!

Let’s look at foreign policy outcomes and achievements, not just submit to virtue signaling “we must do something” hand-wringing. I’m no Trump fanboy, but he seems to have achieved a great deal more in the Middle East than the progressive Biden administration has, not to mention actually acknowledging who our enemies are i.e expansionist Iran. Do Dales even cynical deals when we can but it isn’t always possible, as Iran demonstrates. At least, that’s the increasing position of practically all iran’s neighbours who ought to know!

One thing that we can all acknowledge, across the political spectrum, is that the West’s era of dominance is coming to an end. We are finally starting to live in the much talked about multi-polar world. We simply do not have the capacity to carry out these liberal interventionist policies in most cases. It would be a very good sign that British politicians could actually acknowledge this, rather than assuming that we should get involved in wars, remote to our immediate interests, all over the globe.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
17 days ago

Trump and Meloni should prepare a blanc manger enema for Starmer and tell him that it will help growing back a spine. With this article pantomime season has started early this year.

Martin M
Martin M
17 days ago

I can cope with him being a “liberal”. I am just concerned he will become a “socialist”. Before anyone points this out, I do appreciate that Americans use those terms differently than the British do.