How would you characterise Keir Starmer? What kind of animal is he? This sort of question is sometimes put to focus groups, to help us understand how ordinary people perceive politicians. A rough and ready technique I admit, but it does allow for some lateral thinking. Looking back at previous Labour leaders, I would hazard that Clem Attlee was like a giraffe, estimated to be somewhat ungainly but actually fleet of foot, and shall we say a cut above most others. Gaitskell is harder to pin down, but perhaps a cuckoo in the nest is apt enough for someone of my persuasion. Harold Wilson? What can one say but a wily fox, highly adept at outmanoeuvring a jealous field of incessantly baying hounds. Jim Callaghan I can’t quite identify in this categorisation, as ‘Sunny Jim’ I suppose people might have thought him an easy-going Labrador, but contra that he had his bite. For several years Neil Kinnock demonstrated, regrettably, that a dog can have a bark worse than its bite, and Thatcher’s ankles were left prettily (a la Alan Clark) scar free. I realise that I’m missing one or two leaders out here -Michael Foot and John Smith respectively. Both were highly personable, regardless of what you might have thought of their rather diametrically opposed politics. In their own ways, they would always have respected your territorial claims.
The modern era has been ushered in by Tony Blair. His period as leader in opposition was judged by the highly intuitive British press to be the coming of Bambi, the lightweight star of a 1942 Disney film, whose emergence is described by Wikipedia thus: “A doe gives birth to a fawn named Bambi, who will one day take over the position of Great Prince of the Forest, a title currently held by Bambi's father, who guards the woodland creatures against the dangers of hunters. The fawn is quickly befriended by an eager, energetic rabbit named Thumper, who helps to teach him to walk and speak.” Well, I wonder who Thumper was? Not somebody with a ‘Clunking Fist’ perhaps?
I need to remind readers that I am merely seeking to address a question which is often put to focus groups. Next comes Ed Miliband. I confess I quite like Ed, he is always prepared to listen and pay attention. So a Lemur comes to mind. Next up? Are we allowed to mention that name? Yes it’s [expletive deleted]. The cuddly human who has become a non-thing, airbrushed out of Labour’s history, just like Trotsky was never photographed standing shoulder to shoulder with Stalin. Or was it the other way round? Who knows, but we do know who got the ice pick. So for JC (make what you will of those initials) a Koala Bear comes to mind, a beast which despite or because of its furry, innocent cuddliness necessarily faces extinction.
Now we come to the point of this article. What kind of animal is our current top dog? I have in my mind an image of something you thought you saw but has since merged seamlessly into the bark of a tree, the fold in a leaf or the mud in the ground. Yes, a Chameleon. Very hard to pin down, unless of course you manage to pick it up and shake it around a bit. What will you find? It might make a squeak or two, something like ‘well the circumstances have changed so I’ve changed my mind.’ This is a surreptitiously respectable position which is almost scientific. “When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do, sir?” asked John Maynard Keynes. Einstein might have agreed. But neither of them technically were politicians. Politicians are supposed to change facts. In Labour’s case like changing or should I say demolishing the status quo of inequality in our society. But no, that’s not on the cards. ‘Better’ managerialism is on the cards.
Here, in the dutiful pursuit of the right metaphor, I’m looking at the magical beauty of an antheap, which grows so symmetrically it could be an Egyptian pyramid. One only needs to look at the latest Oxfam analysis of global wealth inequality to see how the filthy rich own most – and more - of the pyramid. But our Chameleon, appearing in Davos, tells Laura Kuenssberg he’d rather be there than in Westminster. His migratory habits must be watched. You can predict them but will you always spot them?