As new Labour leader, Keir Starmer, receives his first criticism, what does it take to be Labour leader and win an election?
(We might as well say he – there’s never been a female leader of Labour and it doesn’t look to be happening soon.)
First of all, he must be socialist. Though most people would prefer he isn’t because that’s too much of an idea and therefore just not British. (Even, if the country has officially jettisoned reason and pragmatism in pursuit of some bizarre ideas.)
He must be solid working class. He can’t display a single sliver of middle class acquisition or faintest flash of luxury. That would be hypocritical.
He must be middle class. What kind of oddball doesn’t own something, or aspire to a bit of luxury? Besides, who will speak for (Middle) England? And someone too working class is just a little too disconcerting.
He must be a visionary radical.
He must be pragmatic.
He must breathe fire and brimstone in standing up for the poor, the dispossessed and the homeless. But he mustn’t frighten the horses, those timid creatures of the shires. Nor, in standing up for the poor, must he accidentally echo that other well-known socialist, Jesus Christ. That would be sanctimonious. It might also make religious people uncomfortable.
There’s no point in standing up for the poor. They don’t vote in enough numbers. Besides, who will speak for (Middle) England?
In fact, he has to solve the problems of the poor, without troubling the lives of the rich.
He must not hang around with extremists. Unless of course they are the right kind of extremists who are friends of this country. Then that’s just realpolitik.
He must do what every single thinkpiece article or campaign pledge hysterically demand. For it shall come to pass that if everything is not done, hands will be wrung with delight, as the excited scribes declare failure and “I told you so” in the next article. And that’s just the left-wing ones.
He must appease the insatiable demands of both the unions and the City money men.
It is unclear if a Labour leader is allowed to have sex. He’s probably allowed to be gay but he almost certainly can’t be polyamorous or pansexual or any other kind of weirdness best left to the Liberal Democrats or the Greens. He will absolutely have to know how many children he has.
He has to be patriotic. He must take the blue pill of English exceptionalism whilst charming mad troublesome Scots.
He must oppose war until there is a war whereupon he must then support that war even if he previously opposed it. It’s something to do with backing our boys. Or is that football?
He must have principles and they can’t be sacrificed.
He must be prepared to sacrifice his principles to be a winner. Or else, he will be a loser.
As a loser, his policies will be decried as red madness, totalitarian and dangerous by the opposition and the media acting on behalf of the Conservative Party. But it would be jolly decent of him if those same policies could be used by the Tories to retain power. These policies will then receive great acclaim from the media.
Similarly, his policies will be attractive when presented anonymously to focus groups of voters until they are revealed to belong to Labour, at which point they are no longer deemed trustworthy.
No matter how talented they are or how good their policies, no Labour leader can run a country if he:
- fails to eat a bacon sandwich with proper decorum
- makes jam or grows things in allotments
- falls down on a beach whilst walking with his wife
- buys a piece of land for a donkey sanctuary
- doesn’t wear a suit or straighten his tie (for suits – see provisions on class)
If he fails in any of this, prepare for the insults and ridicule. A champagne socialist. Out of Touch. A centrist. Blairite. A sellout. A cultural Marxist. A neoliberal. An extremist. Red [ insert name ]. Linked with some kind of vegetable (or is that fate only reserved for hapless English football managers).
Whatever the insult, the messenger will be shot to ignore the message. And then we can turn our backs to him.
So he solves all the riddles, chomps down on the paradoxes and overcomes all the inherent disadvantages of the British political system. He’s calmed those nervous horses and hushed the Fourth Estate. He’s achieved all this and he is a great leader. But he is only the Leader of the Opposition.
So imagine after all that, how he must feel when he looks across the floor and sees the Prime Minister of this country is Boris Johnson.
Full disclosure – I don’t vote Labour as I’m a Green. If it’s hard being Labour leader, imagine being leader of the Green Party where your ideas are ridiculed for wanting to save the planet and then everyone agrees they were right after all. And still don’t carry them out.