OPINION - Do Labour realise they're in their honeymoon period already? It won't last

 (Danny Lawson/PA Wire)
(Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

Screw the Ming vase, Keir. If you can’t enjoy 20-point leads — and that’s on a bad day — then you have no business being in politics. We get it, power is the point (a concept that must be patiently re-explained to Labour Party members every general election defeat). Yes, you remember 1951, 1970 and 1992. But cheer up.

Not least because, in case you haven’t noticed, this is your imperial phase. Think Led Zeppelin in the early-Seventies, Oasis in the mid-Nineties or Taylor Swift from the mid-2010s to present (though the jury is still out on The Tortured Poets Department).

The Economist’s Duncan Robinson recently wrote an astute column on how the media “bootlicking” has begun. That is, the ways in which the media is already treating Labour figures as ministers-in-waiting, with all the benefits that entails. But it goes further than that.

Labour today occupies the rarefied position (a third way, if you will), perhaps only rivalled by the Scottish National Party from 2007 until pretty much the moment Nicola Sturgeon stood down. For nearly two decades, the SNP was able to frame itself as both in office (able to hand out goodies) but also opposition (standing up to a UK government impervious to Scotland’s needs). A smoother electoral sweet spot there may never again be.

Sir Keir Starmer displays a pained expression in the face of political triumph

Labour is not yet in government, but it is enjoying many of the trappings. The dullest of Sir Keir Starmer’s speeches generate glowing write-ups. Following spending announcements — including those made on Tory benches — all eyes turn to the (shadow) chancellor. Even the difficult things — Angela Rayner and her tax affairs — are instructive. Labour’s deputy leader is being scrutinised as if she were already deputy prime minister.

Post-election, things will only grow harder. Grim choices on tax-and-spend await a Labour government entering office in a high-interest rate world with several hot wars waging and a cold one brewing. The Left of the party is itching to cry “betrayal” at any hint of compromise with reality. The over-promoted, never-promoted and the soon-to-be sacked will suddenly discover their principles and gleefully vote against the Government.

Next, the media will grow bored of covering Labour policy stories. If the Conservatives are reduced to a small enough rump, then even prime-rib Tory splits will no longer be of much interest. Who cares about disagreements in a party at least a decade away from regaining power? Instead, an increasingly hostile media will start taking potshots, while the still-sympathetic outlets run more opinion pieces about Labour disappointments, the dilution of policy ambition, the lack of new housing starts, the slow decline in NHS waiting lists. Once the first Category A prisoner escapes, we’ll be in business.

Then there are the voters. The coalition so painstakingly reassembled after Brexit blew it up may survive a few side deals on goods checks and youth visas, but Starmer will soon face a harsh reality when it becomes his turn to negotiate with the hegemony next door. Real talk: there isn’t all that much closer Britain can inch towards the EU without rejoining the single market and/or customs union. To pretend otherwise, as the heavily pro-EU Labour membership often does, is something of the cakeism of the Remainers.

So these are the moments to lean into. The final year of university before real life begins. The last sip of wine until the switch to tap water. The fleeting six months of parenthood when the kids can finally entertain themselves but are yet to start calling you a w***er (as you chauffeur them to the train station). For goodness sake, enjoy it.

Starmer’s pained expressions in the face of political triumph recall the advice Frank Sinatra, by then in his mid-seventies, gave to a mid-career George Michael who was quite publicly wrestling with the excesses of fame and refusing to make the music videos the MTV generation demanded of their stars. Sinatra wrote: “Come on, George. Loosen up. Swing, man. Dust off those gossamer wings and fly yourself to the moon of your choice and be grateful to carry the baggage we’ve all had to carry since those lean nights of sleeping on buses and helping the driver unload the instruments.”

“Those who have talent,” Sinatra concludes, though he may equally have been referring to prime ministers in waiting, “must hug it, embrace it, nurture it, and share it, lest it be taken away from you as fast as it was loaned to you.”

Jack Kessler is chief leader writer and author of the West End Final newsletter