The European Elections Show What Happens to Smug Centrists

Watch out, Keir Starmer.

by Rivkah Brown

10 June 2024

Keir Starmer looks worried
Photo: Reuters/Maja Smiejkowska

Yesterday, voters in 27 states went to nominate their new representatives in the European parliament. The results were worse than even the gloomiest pollsters had predicted, showing there are elections out there even more depressing than our own. 

Preliminary results from the European elections suggest far-right parties have dominated, and not just in the countries we already knew were fash-coded like Italy and Poland.

In France, that bastion of liberté, egalité and fraternité, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (National Rally) party got more than double the votes of Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance (31.5% to his 14.5%). The French president swerved third place by just half a percentage point.

So humiliated was Macron – the self-appointed thought leader of Europe who has pinned his presidency on retrenching the far right – that he has called legislative elections later this month. Le Pen has welcomed the announcement.

Emmanuel Macron casts his ballot
French president Emmanuel Macron votes during the European parliament election, 9 June 2024. Photo: Reuters/Hannah McKay/Pool

Responding to the news, head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen – or Frau Genocide, as she will forever be remembered – insisted that “the centre is holding”. Meanwhile, in her own country, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) came second, beating chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic party. 

For us here on this sinking island, the more worrying news came not from Brussels but from Bloomberg. The financial platform – like the Financial Times, a more reliable gauge of British politics than the fanciful Guardian or thuggish Telegraph – predicted that Reform UK could soon overtake the Tories in election polls (YouGov puts them just two points behind). Among over-55s, it already has. Unlike in Europe, our first past the post system will mean Reform will win few seats, if any – but piddling parliamentary influence has never been the name of the game for Nigel Farage.

Instead Farage’s aim – one he has so far achieved quite successfully – is to leverage his popular appeal to push governing politicians rightwards until their positions become virtually indistinguishable from his own (this has already happened in France, where Le Pen is effectively writing Macron’s immigration laws).

Much like his European comrades, prime minister Keir Starmer will do little to allay the far right – in fact, he will inadvertently encourage it. Thrust into the limelight, his lack of charisma will become ever more glaring, as will Farage’s boundless supply of it, and not just to the old. Farage currently has three times as many TikTok followers as Labour and the Tories put together; neither Sunak nor Starmer have accounts on the platform, the most popular news source among 12-15-year-olds. 

Meanwhile, Farage will endlessly misdiagnose our nation’s ills: immigrants and anyone who looks like one. He will continue to paint in primary colours an irresistible narrative of Britain’s decline and how it can be reversed. Starmer, by contrast, will offer the public nothing. His manifesto, which launches on Thursday, is rumoured to be stunningly lightweight at just 30-odd pages. Labour’s 2017 offering, For the Many Not the Few, ran to 128.

It isn’t just that Labour is keeping schtum while the Tories dig their own grave. Bound to political minimalism by megarich donors whose stock portfolios feed on stasis rather than change and an ascendant far right ready to turn the merest hint of social democracy into a full-blown red scare, Labour will do its absolute best to do the absolute least in government. Faced with massive problems that require bold solutions – a housing crisis, a crumbling NHS, an ageing population – Starmer will offer small print-heavy, technocratic policy solutions dreamed up by consultants, bleating about “reform” while Reform proposes to shoot migrants out of cannons on D-day. Labour’s determined unambition, which it deludedly believes is its USP, will infuriate voters, deepening apathy on the left and extremism on the right.

Some in Labour realise its sorry predicament but will do little to fix it. Josh Simons – the Starrmerite “Super Pac” leader and MP parachutist I profiled last week – recently told the FT that “if you look at what is happening around the world, in the US, Germany, Australia, centre-left parties have won elections, benefiting from the implosion of the populist right. But they’ve struggled in government.” The truth is, Tony Blair had big ideas – Starmer’s Grey Labour, on the other hand, is all out of them.

The article was adapted from our newsletter The Cortado. For more general election analysis straight into your inbox, click here.

Rivkah Brown is a commissioning editor and reporter at Novara Media.

We’re up against huge power and influence. Our supporters keep us entirely free to access. We don’t have any ad partnerships or sponsored content.

Donate one hour’s wage per month—or whatever you can afford—today.

We’re up against huge power and influence. Our supporters keep us entirely free to access. We don’t have any ad partnerships or sponsored content.

Donate one hour’s wage per month—or whatever you can afford—today.