I won’t win a Pulitzer for pointing out that the question following the Labour blood-bath on Thursday’s elections is: can Keir Starmer continue as party leader? I am not the only one asking this, as you may have noticed, though perhaps I come at it slightly differently. I have been in the entertainment industry for my entire working life. I find it hard not to think in terms of showbusiness when approaching other problems, so please don’t think me flippant when I make the following analogy. I simply don’t know any different – I’m like Shirley Temple, but with more alcohol.
If you don’t mind indulging me for a moment, can we please imagine the Labour leadership in terms I understand. Sir Keir’s show is called "Starmer" – it’s a bit like Frasier but without the jokes. Series one of "Starmer" started well, then went a bit flabby in the middle, followed by a strong penultimate episode. And then the finale was an absolute flop.
So, will "Starmer" now get a second series? Let’s call the staggering Hartlepool by-election loss Labour suffered at the hands of the Tories the ‘Starmer’ Series 1 finale. The ratings were disappointing. The numbers were very bad. ‘Overnights’ we call them. In any TV series, the big wigs like to see steady progression upwards. If you are going to be in with a chance of going again, the final episode needs to have attracted more viewers than the first.
It feels safe to say that the final episode of "Starmer" Series one has not ended on a high note and the numbers were not good. He has a fight on his hands for Series two. But what would I say, in the re-commissioning meeting, if I were him?
Well, I might point to a difficult terrain – we live in a multi-channel world now, there are lots of smaller shows launching all the time, taking viewers away from mainstream channels and so it’s hard to predict where the numbers might go.
I might say that the atmosphere in the country is one of underlying anxiety still, and therefore people are tending to watch old favourites, rather than giving something new a go. There are a lot of repeats out there – comfort food TV. The appetite for risk is low. Anything familiar, no matter how awful, feels good right now.
And lastly I might argue that one series is not enough to see if something has bedded in or not. Nowadays the speed of reaction to everything is lightning fast. Though most people are not on social media, those that are, are noisy, opinionated and often have platforms elsewhere that can amplify the impact beyond the internet (I include myself in this slightly unflattering description).
So if the "socials" don’t like something, it’s hard not to hear about it. It feels unavoidable. And it sets the tone. In TV we have all now learned that how Twitter reacts to your first series will play a large part in how it continues.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is a moot point – it certainly keeps everyone on their toes – but it is undeniably a new thing. It wasn’t always like this. In the recent past, new TV shows were given a bit of time and space to breathe especially if they were starting from scratch. The Labour Party result in the 2019 General Election was so bad that Sir Keir was effectively launching a new show from nothing.
Series one of Only Fools and Horses was not considered a sucess, but now it is one of the most beloved shows of all time, a symbol of the great British sense of humour, spanning decades with spin-offs and specials and a hit West End show. If it had launched now, based on the early reaction to it at the time, it would probably have been cancelled after episode four. And yet back then, agent Vivienne Clore who worked on those early Only Fools and Horses contracts told me, a new show was sometimes given three series right off the bat, so they could get it right. Three series! Guaranteed! Incredible.
Show business moves fast but politics moves faster, and I’m not suggesting that "Starmer" should be given all the time in the world, and not three series up front. That said, one series, just one - a year to build something new, and the past year of all years, seems too fast to me. But I’m as uncertain at this point as anyone. Because that final episode was as controversial as the Line of Duty conclusion, and rather less popular.
So, is Keir Starmer the Only Fools and Horses of the Labour Party? Or are we only fools to trust him.