It will be fun watching Labour getting crushed for a change

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Deputy leader, Angela Rayner
Sitwell: 'I do not relish a Labour agenda being implemented... but then think of the fun we'll have' - Getty

The big beasts have gone. The only member of the Cabinet who enjoys a tussle on the BBC’s Today programme and escapes with just flesh wounds and a spring in his step is Michael Gove. The rest have gone or are going and that makes it tough for those of us on the touchline. We are like the parents of pupils at a little school that managed to raise a rugby team and are watching the poor sods being thrashed left, right and centre. We wince as some big brute, who looks far too tall for his age, cuts down and tackles wee Perkins minor. We can’t wait for the game to be over and we know there won’t even be a decent tea at the end.

That’s how it felt listening to Gillian Keegan being mauled by Emma Barnett on the Today programme on Thursday. This was Barnett’s sterling first week and she was doing her level best to out-Humphrys Amol Rajan. Keegan, Secretary of State for Education, does have a straight-talking honesty about her, which I admire. And she was on, launching, defending or attempting to rescue a few of her policies, including her ban on the teaching of gender identity.

Except that it’s a bit like that ban she announced on mobile phones in schools earlier this year. It’s actually guidance, not a ban, so it doesn’t really mean anything. She was calling for it on the strength of a report from her department that mentioned incidents of such teaching. Barnett asked her for some stats about this, was it widespread across the country? “I don’t know,” replied honest Keegan. Barnett said she and the listeners would find this lack of knowledge “staggering”. The knife was plunged in, the poor lady was skewered and, writhing on the ground, she waffled about the report. What she didn’t say was, “I don’t know and I don’t care. I couldn’t give a monkey’s whether it’s one incident or a thousand. It’s wrong: gender identity should never be taught, though all teachers must be free to offer private counsel on the subject – as all good teachers should with any issue – but this should not, and under my watch it will not, happen.”

But they don’t do that anymore. Perhaps they’re terrified of the No 10 press office, or they’ve just grown weary of the political roller-coaster. It’s a ride with no upside. The money’s terrible, the hours are gruelling and they have to answer to some child in the Tory comms office who says they need to post things on Twitter.

The Thatcher era feels like a distant planet. Those years, while I was at school and university, when the likes of Michael Heseltine would duel with Tony Benn on Robin Day’s Question Time. I knew every member of the Thatcher then Major cabinets, their names and jobs. Just ponder on the towering figures of Nigel Lawson, Kenneth Clarke, Douglas Hurd, Peter Brooke, Norman Tebbit or Portillo, Lamont, Howard and Currie. Not to mention some extraordinary backbenchers like Teresa Gorman, Richard Shepherd or Nicholas Fairbairn.

Now the team is diminished, I can barely put a face to a name to a job and I’m wincing as the poor blighters get savaged by Nick Ferrari on LBC or the coterie of hosts on Today. And don’t say I’ve missed out David Cameron. He doesn’t count, I’m afraid. However decent a foreign secretary – and I think he is very decent – being hoisted in via a peerage is unseemly. Indeed, I have long thought it demeaned Gordon Brown when he pulled a similar trick with Peter Mandelson. It would be like bringing in an old boy as a ringer for that pathetic rugby team. He’d score a few tries, but we’d still lose the match and have to suffer the raised eyebrows of the opposition’s parents whose gaze we would try to avoid as we made a hasty retreat to the car park.

Actually, we all know what we now need: a breather. The team needs a good rest and if they’re exhausted, tired, frustrated and scratching their heads about how to make a move forward, they should spare a thought for their supporters. This election won’t be much fun on the doorstep, we’re running out of steam defending, let along championing, this lot.

And I’m not looking forward to it. I’ve actually canvassed, specifically, in every relevant general election; that is in every seat that Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg has ever fought, be it Central Fife, The Wrekin or North East Somerset. It’s more about friendship than politics and in recent years it feels a bit odd. I knock on a door, ask the inhabitant if I can count on their support for Jacob in the forthcoming election and they look at me puzzled and wonder if I’d like to come in and judge the cake they’ve just baked.

Perhaps Jacob will spare me the agony this time and retire to spend more time with GB News. And this year’s election night might not make for very pretty viewing. So let’s look on the bright side: yes, a spell in opposition will be tough and desperate (no power, no point) and I do not relish a Labour agenda being implemented.

But then think of the fun we’ll have. Actually I had a taste of it, just before the bludgeoning of Gillian Keegan, as Amol Rajan was having marvellous time with Pat McFadden, Labour’s campaign coordinator. Rajan was adept at pointing out that McFadden (like his boss Sir Keir Starmer) is great at spelling out ambition but offers no yardstick with which to measure it. I felt a serious spring in my step. Much more of this and I’ll feel very perky. And there will be a lot more.

You only had to watch Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, launching the new six-pledge card thing in Essex on Thursday. She bounced onto the stage with that expression politicians have the morning after a huge victory. Her face was one big soporific smile and she’s clearly been away attending a John Prescott word-mangling masterclass. “We aren’t,” she said, although she actually said “we are”, “promising the world,” which she quickly corrected to “the earth”, before adding: “But we are promising that what we are confident on we can deliver on.” Which I had to listen back to about six times to check I had it word for word.

Rachel Reeves then promised to “never play fast and loose with the public finances”. Let’s see how her VAT on private schools policy works out – indications are that already parents are eyeing up state-school alternatives for this September. Ed Miliband is going to “take back control of our destiny”, Yvette Cooper is “giving young people their future back”, while Sir Keir Starmer walked into that room filled with people in suits, tie-less in white shirt sleeves so you could notice him.

For once, a new lot will be in the firing line and there will be embarrassing revelations and scandals and missed policy targets and Ed Miliband will be photographed eating more bacon sandwiches.

They won’t deliver on 40,000 new NHS appointments each week or recruit 6,500 more teachers, get clean power by 2030 or get trains to run on time. Barnett and Rajan will go softer on the Tories, skewer the government and Labour will moan about BBC bias. Then what could then be more fun than some good old canvassing at the subsequent election? I’ll bang on doors for Jacob and judge cake ’til the cows come home. Happy days!

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