Ed Miliband

David Miliband decides not to be Gordon Brown

The days of speculation around the future of David Miliband, following the narrow defeat by his brother in the Labour Leadership election, must surely have done enough to convince any watcher of the party’s internal warfare that his decision to step back from frontline politics is the right one.

Ed has been making all the right noises, talking about how he desperately wants David to be in his Shadow Cabinet and so on, but it has become abundantly clear that the leadership contest has done lasting damage to the relationship of the two brothers. This is hardly difficult to understand. David must have assumed that the leadership was his for the taking, having been the favourite for so long, only to have the prize snatched from him at the very end by his own brother.

His disappointment and the resentment of those around him is perhaps an understandable human emotion but there does seem to be more than a touch of the ‘Michael Portillos’ about his failed bid. Miliband, like Portillo in the John Major government, had an opportunity to topple Gordon Brown at the depths of his unpopularity but chose instead to sit tight and wait. Both men missed their best chance and ended up as hugely disappointed bridesmaids.

Ed Miliband, for his part, should feel no guilt for standing in the same contest as his brother. He had every right to put himself forward for the leadership and can point to the result – in spite of Labour’s bizarre electoral college system – as justification for his boldness. Perhaps in time his older brother will come to terms with it, but for now the emotions are probably just too raw.

David’s simmering resentment was clearly demonstrated by his unguarded remarks to Harriet Harman during the new Leader’s speech this week (towards the end of the clip below) and there can be no doubt that, if he had accepted the rumoured offer of Shadow Chancellor, a less-than-friendly media would have had years of fun highlighting divisions between the two brothers, whether real or imagined. After sixteen years of warfare between the Blair and Brown camps, the last thing Labour needed was two new faces to carry the civil war into the future.

David Miliband has done the smart thing for himself, his brother and his party and, although much will be made of it in the news over the coming days, the discomfort of such scrutiny will be nothing compared to the long-term dysfunctionality which would surely have been unleashed had he stayed within Ed’s shiny new tent.

Advertisements

Ed gets the nod

All credit to the Labour Party for providing a touch of drama at the announcement of Ed Miliband’s victory in their leadership contest. After four rounds of recalculating, Miliband beat his brother David by 1.3% of Labour’s slightly quirky electoral college.

Miliband the Younger now faces the challenge of any Leader of the Opposition in the wake of a recent defeat: ensuring his party doesn’t descend into navel-gazing and grand theoretical gestures. Ed Miliband’s campaign has been presented as ‘of the left’ but he is surely too canny to allow his party to vacate the middle ground. As one of his predecessors, Tony Blair, would happily tell him – that way lies long-term opposition.

Miliband’s challenge is to draw his party away from much of the, perfectly natural, hurling of toys from prams which has gone on since defeat in May. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of the merits or otherwise of the Coalition, any administration needs strong, focussed opposition and I genuinely hope that the Labour Party will quickly find themselves in a position to hold the government to account.

Much will be made about the fact that Miliband only crept over the line as a result of union support – his brother carried a final round majority of MPs and ordinary members – but the truth is that all of that will be forgotten if he proves to have been the right choice for Labour.

What Ed Miliband will need to do quickly is decide where Labour now stand on the deficit and to build a constructive narrative around that. In the short-term he will also have to decide his party’s position on next year’s AV referendum, particularly in the light of the manifesto Labour ran on in May and the fact that he himself was elected by that process.

I wish him well, as a healthy opposition is a vital part of a healthy democracy. There are likely to be interesting times ahead.

The X Factor, Boring Politics and the August Blog Hiatus

The casual passer-by to this page might reasonably conclude that I have been terribly lazy throughout the month of August. It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and there are a number of reasons for this. First and foremost is the fact that my job (the one that pays the bills) is currently at full stretch with the height of the Cornish holiday season. I normally delight in telling people how easy my job is (loafing around behind the bar, making the odd sarcastic remark) but August is the month in which you could probably stretch it and say that I actually earn my money for once.

Of course, the traditional tourist rush isn’t the only reason I haven’t bothered to post here. As you will probably be aware, this blog is mostly (although not entirely) about politics, and the beauty of the free availability of blogging websites is that non-entities like me have every opportunity to vent spleen in a public forum about the poor misguided fools who aspire to run our lives.

The trouble is, after the General Election and the initial excitement of the first hung parliament in nearly forty years, politics has become rather dull again. The Coalition, while by its very nature containing some finely distilled elements of pure evil, is doing its best to be as insipid as possible. Pickles and Gideon only slither out infrequently, while even David Cameron seems to have temporarily parked the shrill, fat-faced toff act from the months leading up to the General Election. All of these things have served to keep my bile levels in a manageable state over these last few weeks. I can’t say this is a situation I entirely welcome.

The Labour Party haven’t helped matters much either. Their leadership election could have been a golden opportunity for a party, freed from the shackles of a long period in office, to capture the public imagination with an eye-catching and far-reaching debate over the future of the country and the role of the left. Fat chance. It’s been a bunch of dull people talking about dull things in a dull way. They could at least have organised some sort of nasty spat between a couple of the candidates but we haven’t even been given that pleasure. Deeply disappointing.

And so I find myself nearing the end of August with very little to write about. I can’t even summon any great sense of disgust about the return (tonight) of the single event that will over-shadow everything else for the next four months. I refer, of course, to the over-produced, overblown dung-polishing extravaganza that is the X-Factor. I wish it would make me mad, but I just don’t really care, to be honest. There’ll be bad auditions, heart-breaking back stories, manufactured spats between the judges, the annual assault on the Christmas Number One and the whole thing will be reported and tweeted about endlessly and watched by millions (although I won’t be one of them). But, to be honest, it’s part of the furniture now and Cowell’s dominance of the Christmas charts (Rage Against The Machine aside) at least spares us from Sir Cliff.

So I’m hoping that things will get back to normal before too long. Cameron, Gideon, Pickles et al will soon be back from their holidays (one pictures them all collectively attending some sort of giant reptile camp for the parliamentary recess) and my natural irritation levels will surely soar again. And who knows, the Labour Party might even do something hilarious and choose Ed Balls as their Leader. Here’s hoping…

The Winning Formula?

With the entry of Diane Abbott into the Labour leadership race, the choice before party members suddenly appears to be a wider and more diverse one than before – the other declared names are David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, John McDonnell and Andy Burnham. The fact that there is a contest at all makes this a more different scenario from the 2007 ‘shoo-in’ of Gordon Brown, and Abbott’s candidacy brings a welcome shot of diversity to the equation.

All credit to Labour for that but, realistically, the chances are that the next leader of their party is going to be called either ‘Ed’ or ‘Miliband’ or both, thus conforming to the current major party trend of electing a fresh-faced (perhaps not in Balls’ case) forty-something white male leader, with a full head of hair and an easy television manner. This is perhaps Tony Blair’s most lasting legacy to the political landscape of Britain.

When John Smith died so suddenly in 1994 politics was a very different place to the ‘New Politics’ of 2010. It was a post-Thatcher world where John Major had played the ‘safe pair of hands’ card and won the 1992 General Election in the process, Smith had used his substance and intellect to win the Labour leadership, and the fledgling Lib Dems were headed by the flamboyant Paddy Ashdown. 1994 changed everything. While most of the outside world assumed Gordon Brown would be next in line, Peter Mandelson and the New Labour Focus-Groupies had other ideas. Tony Blair won the – post-Granita – leadership election by a landslide (as a member of the party at that time, I must confess that I voted for him) and things were never the same again.

Blair was fresh-faced, energetic and non-threatening to Middle England. He looked like the sort of chap your average ‘soft Tory’ would be happy for their daughter to bring home. In policy terms, the programme was so light there was very little risk in ‘giving the guy a chance’, and the staged battle over Clause Four showed a man very much in charge of, what had previously seemed, an unleadable party. An historic landslide victory at the 1997 General Election confirmed the new leadership model as a winner.

There have been numerous exceptions to this trend of ‘natural’ selection, of course: William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith & Michael Howard for the Tories, Ming Campbell for the Lib Dems, and indeed, Gordon Brown for the Labour Party. Unfortunately the one common strand between these party leaders is that they were all deemed to be failures. Contrast their fortunes with those of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the Daddy of them all, Tony Blair, and it starts to look like there really is a winning formula for the selection of a leader: as long as the policies (where they exist) don’t frighten the horses, go for the young-looking guy with the nice suit.

I’m not saying that any of these men are idiots. To lead a major political party you need intelligence, determination and an extremely thick skin, and all the successful leaders have had these qualities in abundance. Indeed, I’ve often thought that history will be kinder to Tony Blair than any of his contemporaries were. I believe that, despite his many policy failures, he will come to be seen as the great politician of his era, a communicator without equal in the early part of the 21st century. I just think that there may well be women, ethnic minority politicians and people over 60 who have all of these qualities and more.

Will a woman lead a major political party again any time soon? Will the job fall to anyone over 60? Will the chances of any baldies (like me) be forever ruined by association with Hague, Duncan Smith and Kinnock? And what chance have we of following America’s inspirational presidential lead and electing a black Prime Minister? The ‘New Politics’ is all very well, but perhaps there are still a few things to be learned from the old.

Thanks Gordon, but it’s time to go

Judging from the invective-specialists in the press and the comments of a number of the more strident people I come across, it would appear that I’m one of the few non-Labour people who doesn’t feel a little bit of sick rise whenever Gordon Brown’s name is mentioned.

I happen to think that he is an individual of no small intellect, and I applaud many of the difficult decisions he took on the economy when the banking crisis hit (regardless of where one thinks the blame for that state of affairs should be apportioned). I tend to think that Brown has been treated rather poorly by the media, the Conservatives and even some within his own party over the past two or three years. But the sad fact is that the only thing that can save us from the Tories now is if he goes, and goes quickly.

The first thing to say is that Gordon Brown’s observation of the constitutional position, largely unwritten as it is, has been impeccable. He has provided stability in the uncertain days following Thursday’s election and given Civil Service support to other political parties as they attempt to thrash out a deal to replace him.

But he and his advisers must surely come to recognise that the only clear message the electorate gave on Thursday was that they weren’t really sure who should be running the country, but they knew it shouldn’t be Gordon Brown.

Because the Labour Party is not the Tory Party, and ruthlessly butchering their leaders is not their preferred way of responding to electoral setbacks, there have so far only been three backbench Labour MPs willing to go on record and call for Brown to go. Perhaps the others know something we don’t. Perhaps a succession plan is in place and Gordon will go of his own volition within the next day or two.

But the longer he stays, the longer Labour will be excluded from coalition talks with the other parties, and the more distant the prospect of a “Progressive Alliance” will become. Brown is the stumbling block that currently makes the Tories look like the only show in town. His alleged angry phone rant at Nick Clegg the other night is probably neither here nor there, the real problem for Clegg is Brown’s electoral toxicity. The Lib Dem Leader knows full well that if he comes to any kind of arrangement with Gordon Brown a bit of the Prime Minister’s three-year bad luck curse is likely to rub off on him.

I don’t know how realistic the speculation about a “Progressive Alliance” is (a minority Conservative administration still looks most likely when the Tory and Lib Dem negotiators realise with horror what their counterparts are actually supposed to believe in) but I know it has no chance at all as long as Brown is the man at the top. It may be that Labour would simply prefer to go into Opposition and rebuild while the Tories are doing all the nasty stuff. But if they do want to stay engaged and be part of what could be one of the great reforming eras in British political history then Gordon will have to go.

David Miliband, his brother Ed, Alan Johnson, Harriet Harman – all of these are names thrown about as a successor. Labour’s choice of Leader is none of my business, but some sort of change will be necessary if they genuinely want to rescue that last, faint hope of genuine reform, as opposed to the ushering in of a new age of intolerance (whether moderated by the Lib Dems or not) if the Tories grasp power once again.

So I hope that Gordon Brown is making the most of a quiet weekend with his family, and that he will reflect on his options and decide to leave now, on his own terms. The longer he stays the harder it will be for parliament to grab the once-in-a-generation opportunity that lies before it.