Keir Starmer is grappling with a chronic case of NDS* (that’s nightmare deputy syndrome)

·2-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

It should be written in the job description. The first rule of being a deputy is simple: you are not supposed to shine. Your chief purpose is to loyally support your boss. But, as Sir Keir Starmer has realised, not all deputies play by the rules. The sadness is writ large on the Labour leader’s face — as his deputy Angela Rayner whispered coquettishly into his ear at Labour party conference on Sunday it had clearly dawned on him. He has fallen victim to a chronic case of NDS — Nightmare Deputy Syndrome.

While Sir Keir struggles to show the electorate what he stands for, Rayner’s values are crystalline. She’s upstaging him and she doesn’t care one iota. It is as if she has heard of the concept of a work wife and decided to be the antithesis of it, giving a blockbuster soul-bearing interview right before his big moment and calling the Tories scum then lighting a defiant cigarette instead of apologising. Sir Keir may well have been working under the assumption that it was his deputy’s job to do the hard lifting, but Rayner has other plans. Yes, Labour party conference has felt like two rival events, hosted by people who hate each other but that’s not her problem.

The nightmare deputy has no time for making you look better (on that note, have you seen how shiny Rayner’s hair is?) They also benefit from the unspoken rule that leaders should be kind to their number twos. Sir Keir is deploying considerable energy trying to appear relaxed about Rayner even though he does not seem like a laid-back kind of man. He will know that, as Machiavelli put it, “the first thing one does to evaluate a ruler’s prudence is to look at the men he has around him”.

Increasingly, deputies are opting to have titles such as “executive”, rather than take all the doormat-like associations that come with being the company’s equivalent of always being the bridesmaid and never the bride. Rayner too is defying this stereotype, one explosive statement at a time. She might be Starmer’s deputy now but he will be acutely aware that one day it might be the other way round.

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