Starmer’s Cult of Personality: What Can He Do to Win Over the Disenfranchised Youth?

Marcus Cameron makes the case for Keir Starmer to make greater efforts to appeal to younger voters.

Poised to be the next Labour Prime Minister of the UK, Keir Starmer is not perhaps the knight in shining armour most young people in the UK were expecting to rescue them from the damage to their prospects and hopes caused by over a decade of Tory rule. He is, for lack of a better term, an unlikely hero. However, multiple factors are holding Starmer back from fulfilling this roleNot least of these is the way he comes across to the public. 

Labour leaders in recent times, from Blair to Corbyn, have significantly impacted public perceptions (for better or for worse). Putting the differing politics of all of Labour’s leaders aside, the main thing holding Starmer back is his public personality. On this there is broad agreement across the political spectrum, with many media outlets interviewing Starmer inferring that he is seen that way by the public. 

It is laughable at the number of posts on various social media platforms of Labour moderates pushing Starmer into a very trying fandom, which seems to have become a trend with post-2010 Labour leaders. But, unlike his predecessors, Starmer seemingly has nothing going for him in this regard. Miliband was, and remains, an incredibly quirky figure in the Party, almost like a mascot of sorts. Whatever the current consensus of opinion of him is, Corbyn truly incentivised a new generation of people to be involved in the Party. It is doubtful that you would see Starmer have his own successful fandom, let alone get up on a stage at Glastonbury and make a speech to a crowd of thousands. Some rightly argue that the public does not need this. They need a strong, credible leader who won’t cause a huge scandal or be subjected to embarrassing memes. And while that’s all fair as a lesson that can be taken from the experiences of previous leaders,  we’re still left with the issue that Starmer is the least interesting leader of the Labour Party  since George Lansbury.

But we as Party members know that Starmer was elected leader for a reason. He has brought some unity to the Party, although many on the Labour Left would like to feel less ostracised.e pledged to rid the Party of the drama, scandal and, in some cases, illegal aspects that had become the norm in the Party in the years prior, and has had success in this regard. So, how come many young people, particularly those who identify somewhere on the centre-left of politics, feel uninspired by Starmer? 

Labour cannot go into the next election with the level of complacency it did in 1992. This battle will be fought and won with the new generation of voters who sat helplessly from 2015 onwards, when they couldn’t vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum or when they couldn’t vote in either the 2017 or 2019 General Elections. And it’s a fair point to say that the way Starmer conducts himself may be an issue with a fair amount of many new, radical young voters. Labour risks this imperative demographic’s vote either not turning out or drifting to other parties like the Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and even the Liberal Democrats because of this.

What can Starmer do? Politically, not much. His policies are sound and resonate well with the general public. However, the young voters do want more focus on certain issues they’re passionate about (i.e., trans rights and better access to education). Personality is where Starmer’s challenge lies, and the biggest issue is not with him but with those trying desperately hard to construct a new fandom around him. It’s time that the Labour moderates stop attempting to emulate the same cult of personality efforts the Labour Left used when Corbyn was leader. Starmer will never live up to that particular level of hype. And he doesn’t really need to. Starmer needs to focus on how he comes across to the public. At the moment, people generally see the leaders of the two main parties as out-of-touch millionaires with no foundation in the working class. The Party knows that this is not completely true with Starmer. Starmer needs to present himself as a success story of ambition, rising from near poverty to become a successful barrister and subsequent Director of Public Prosecutions, before finally becoming the next Prime Minister. He also needs to dictate this performatively, but factually (as a barrister would). He is falling flat in this regard, but nobody can question him on this if presented correctly.

Although the radical youth of today (and the country as a whole of course) desperately need a Labour government, many don't necessarily want Starmer as leader for the very reasons outlined in this article. If Starmer cannot prove to the country that he is charismatic and personable enough to relate to the public, Labour risks missing a big open goal at the next election, one that would make even Harry Kane tut in disapproval. However, there is still hope. The Tories are in disarray and Labour are set to win at the next General Election. But, in order to ensure this positive trend keeps going, Starmer needs to present himself in a better light for young voters. Positivity, ambition and hope is how Labour wins. And it starts with better representation of these qualities by its leader.

Marcus Cameron is an actor, singer and activist based in Warrington, Cheshire. He is studying Law at University of Law, Manchester. He tweets at @MCLabActivist.

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