Could A Starmer Win Boost Biden’s Hopes? – OpEd


By Christopher Phillips

Things are not looking good for Joe Biden. The latest polls for November’s US presidential election have him neck and neck with his rival and predecessor Donald Trump. However, the latest analysis by The Economist — using the same statistical model that predicted Biden’s win in 2020 — suggests Trump is now in pole position. Given the concentration of Trump’s support in key swing states, the magazine gives him a two-in-three chance of victory. Neither Trump’s recent conviction nor positive economic figures seem to be shifting the dial in Biden’s favor.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the picture is quite different for fellow progressive Keir Starmer. The Labour leader has a seemingly unassailable lead in the polls and is likely to become the UK’s next prime minister when elections are held on July 4. Not only is he forecast to win, but the latest Ipsos poll has Labour obliterating Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. If accurate, Starmer will take 453 seats in Parliament, leaving Sunak’s Conservatives with 115 — their worst defeat since the modern party was founded in 1834.

This raises the question whether a Starmer landslide in July might offer a boost to Biden’s beleaguered reelection campaign. US elections often feature “October surprises” — unexpected events, often from abroad, that dramatically influence the outcome of the election. Though Starmer’s victory has long been forecast, might a landslide win serve as a fillip to Biden?

Firstly, it is possible that a significant Starmer win could influence some US voters to favor Biden over Trump. While most American voters pay little attention to British politics, there is some evidence to suggest Britain’s decision to vote to leave the EU in 2016 had a positive impact on Trump’s election later that year. Trump sought to connect his campaign to the UK’s “liberation” from the EU, stating his victory would be “Brexit plus, plus, plus.”

Many of the same demographic of voter — disproportionately white, older and without a university education — backed Brexit in the UK and Trump in the US. Perhaps because of this, in November 2016, the Trump camp replicated some of the successful strategies the “Leave” campaign had used.

Though history never repeats itself exactly, it is plausible that the Biden campaign in 2024 might benefit in a similar way from Starmer’s election. If Starmer’s election is greeted positively by Biden’s base and floating voters, he could also connect his campaign to Labour’s in the way that Trump did to Brexit. Similarly, there is already close cooperation between the Labour and Democratic electoral machines, with Politico reporting that the US centrist think tank Third Way has advised Starmer on election messaging. It is plausible to think that Biden’s team will be eager to learn lessons from any Labour landslide that they can import back to the US for November.

Secondly, as prime minister, Starmer may be able to take policy positions in the four months before the November election to aid the White House’s current incumbent. It will be a delicate line for Labour to walk. Starmer has insisted he “will work with whoever is elected” in November and will not want to be seen to be working against Trump. Indeed, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy has been expanding his connections with Republicans and the Trump camp to prepare for such a possibility. But at the same time, Starmer’s Labour are ideological fellow travelers of the Democrats and will privately have a strong preference for a Biden victory.

One opportunity to indirectly aid Biden comes soon after the UK election: NATO’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington from July 9. In opposition, Starmer pitched to have a high-profile meeting with Biden, without success. At the summit, in contrast, it might be the president who is keen to have his picture taken with the victorious Labour leader. Beyond the public pleasantries, Starmer could also help Biden at the summit by emphasizing the UK’s commitment to NATO.

Trump, a NATO skeptic, has long claimed that the US’ allies do not pay their way. Labour has already pledged to raise defense spending to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, matching a current Conservative commitment. Starmer could make much of this in Washington, enabling Biden to reassure US voters that, unlike Trump, he has been able to persuade allies to increase their NATO burden.

Beyond NATO, Starmer will have other opportunities to support Biden’s initiatives. Labour is committed to the war in Ukraine and has largely agreed with the Conservatives’ line of backing US positions on the Middle East. Should Biden’s flailing Gaza ceasefire plan gain traction in the coming weeks and months, Starmer will be well positioned to offer the White House high-profile support.

That said, Labour and the Democrats are not fully aligned on all aspects of foreign policy. China is one notable area of divergence. While Biden (and Trump) characterize China as an adversary, Lammy has stated he wants ties with Beijing to “endure and evolve.” A more nuanced approach from London toward China, recognizing both the threat Beijing poses but also possible areas of collaboration, particularly in the economic sphere, may prove a point of contention with Washington. Starmer could therefore further assist Biden by playing down any potential disagreements on China until after the US elections.

The impact of Starmer’s likely landslide victory in the UK on the US elections could ultimately prove very limited. Domestic issues tend to decide elections first and foremost and, if Biden cannot make a strong enough case against Trump at home, then he may be doomed irrespective of events on the other side of the Atlantic. However, if the race remains close or narrows to a knife-edge, then every vote will count. In such a scenario, the few voters that might be persuaded to back the incumbent because of the factors listed above could make the difference. If so, Biden may have Starmer to thank.

• Christopher Phillips is professor of international relations at Queen Mary University of London and author of “Battleground: Ten Conflicts that Explain the New Middle East.” X: @cjophillips

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