Updated: May 19, 2021
Sir Keir Starmer always strikes me as a sensible chap. Rather too sensible and safe, many would say. As someone who re-joined the Labour Party so I could vote for him as leader, I actually found myself underwhelmed by his dull hustings and ended up backing the less experience, but infinitely more charismatic and empathetic Lisa Nandy.
With Labour trailing the Conservatives heavily in the polls, Sir Kier and his team have come up with an idea to show the real Keir to the electorate – a fly-on-the-wall documentary. The media has already dubbed “Keeping up with the Keirdashians” or “Starmer of the Show.”
I’ve an alternate name – it’s a Keir Crash Waiting to Happen.
Let me explain why it’s a bad idea in general, a bad idea for Sir Kier in particular, and some alternative strategies.
1. Why to just say no to fly-on-the-wall documentaries
Good TV needs conflict. BBC2’s Newsnight does not invite guests who agree with each other, Andrew Neil and Andrew Marr do not offer up gentle questions for politicians to smack out of the park and fly-on-the-wall documentaries do not exist to show people’s good side.
I know this from experience, having worked at The Independent where a fly on the wall documentary agreed to by the then editor Rosie Boycott, to show her taking charge of the paper, led to accusations that she was bullying staffers and to some ill advised interviews with senior staff who’d had a ginger ale or two before appearing on screen. Baroness Boycott, as she is now, didn’t last long in the role.
2. Why Sir Keir is not going to come out of this well
Team Starmer doesn’t have to look very far to see what can go wrong – as the previous Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed to allow Vice Media film a fly-on-the-wall documentary – seduced by the supposedly friendliness of Corbynista producer Ben Ferguson. The problem is hagiography doesn’t make good telly, and Ferguson was soon finding nuggets of discord which ended up being catnip for the anti-Corbyn media, while the viewership figures for the show on Vice barely registered.
If Sir Keir thinks a similar show will go well then it’s a triumph of hope over expectation.
3. What he could do as an alternative
The question is how does Sir Keir create a vehicle that will show his personality – or show that he has a personality. He might look at how Boris Johnson used the media to give himself credibility – through presenting Have I Got News For You and his documentary on the Roman empire. Maybe Sir Keir could present a show about Five-A-Side football, which he regularly plays, or about Stills disease, which his mother suffered from, or even about the law, which he clearly is an expert on from his time as a QC and Director of Public Prosecutions.
He needs a defined subject, with clear points for him to make, not an open ended documentary with numerous opportunities to go wrong. Such a calamity could be the End of the Keir show.