Will the Milibands’ drama turn into a revenge tragedy?
f this was a play, David would come back in two years’ time and take the crown from Ed,’ one David Miliband supporter whispered to me moments after the Labour leadership result was announced. As we shuffled out of the hall together he chuckled at the thought, at how absurd it was. In real-life, this Miliband family drama was surely a one-act play.
Some David supporters, though, are refusing to accept that when the curtain falls, it is time to get off the stage. His supporters are on restless patrol throughout Westminster. The rage that made them so loquacious in the bar the night after the Labour leadership result was announced has not subsided. They tell those who will listen that they are being proven right, that the younger brother is demonstrably not up to it.
They have convinced themselves that Ed’s decision to run against his brother makes him a usurper, so it is not treason to scheme against him. Their other justification for their actions is that they are the only people in the party who know how to win elections. They, not those who are loyal to the leader, are the real party loyalists in this warped world view.
There is no plot, or anything like it yet. But they maintain that it will be David, not Ed, Miliband who will lead Labour into the next election.
David, as is his wont, is flirting with this drama. Newspaper editors are being thanked for their support during his leadership bid. There is the odd appearance in the atrium of Portcullis House, the new social heart of the Palace of Westminster, resplendent in his trademark black suit trousers and sharp white shirt to remind Labour MPs that he’s still around.
These actions might be entirely innocent. But a canny politician should know how they look. As the joke has it, the smile on David’s face is a far better guide to how Ed is doing than the polls: the more teeth you can see, the worse his younger brother is faring.
Two months into his leadership Ed Miliband is already being hunted by the media. They sense weakness and are moving in. Anything and everything is being used against him. The Times has even attacked him on its front page for not linking peerages to donations.
A below-par interview on Radio 4’s Today programme last Friday is rapidly being turned into the defining moment of
his leadership. Ed loyalists say that this is all Westminster village chatter and that with the next election four and a half years away it really doesn’t matter. But this ignores the fact that the chatter creates the prism through which his leadership is being seen. At the Fabian Society reception on Monday night, one of the big Labour gatherings of the festive season, there was no talk of a poll that night which had Labour four points ahead but lots about that Today programme interview. There was even, in a sign of just how febrile things are, muttering about whether or not he could survive.
Compounding Ed Miliband’s problems is his shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson, who
David Miliband’s supporters have convinced themselves that Ed is a usurper – so it isn’t treason to scheme against him keeps making him look weak. Johnson, a David Miliband supporter, was appointed to the job because he was presumed to be more malleable than either Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper, who are both hardline neo-Keynesians. His appointment was also meant to symbolise how the victor was reaching out across the party to assemble his top team. Indeed, in a demonstration that the age of faction had passed, the new leader’s team let it be known that he and the shadow chancellor were going to share staff and offices.
Johnson, though, has been less than helpful to his new office-mate. He has regularly reminded interviewers that he doesn’t agree with the leader about a graduate tax or making the 50p tax rate permanent. This has allowed the Tories to deride Miliband as
‘Bernard Matthews to see you, God.’
a leader whose writ does not even run in his own shadow Cabinet.
Colleagues stress that Johnson isn’t trying to cause trouble but that he has to balance loyalty and credibility. They say that it would look absurd for him suddenly to renounce his previous positions and that he is trying to toe the line as much as possible. But when he goes out of his way to tell the Financial Times that he prefers to work out of his own office and not the ones he shares with the leader, one really does wonder.
So, what is Ed Miliband to do? Some argue that he needs more definition, some policies to put meat on the bone. This would be a mistake. Any firm commitment now is likely to be either overtaken by events or co-opted by the coalition. Instead, Miliband should focus on introducing himself to the public. Labour MPs report that if voters know anything about Ed Miliband it is that he beat his brother. He needs to tell people who he is and what makes him tick.
In the leadership hustings, Ed Miliband always finished by talking about how his family had fled fascism to settle here in this country and that this experience had taught him about why politics matters and how special this country is. It is a heartwarming and inspiring tale which Miliband should take to every daytime TV sofa and lifestyle magazine that he can find. The public is much more likely to pay attention to someone with whom it can connect.
The next thing he needs to do is learn how to make holding statements interesting. On Saturday, he announced a whole series of policy review groups. But they are all to be led by Labour politicians. As David Cameron proved, dropping the odd celebrity and thinker into a policy review process makes it a far bigger story. It turns it from a boring but necessary internal process into an eyecatching initiative with which the leader can be personally associated.
But the most important thing for Ed Miliband to do is not to let his critics bounce him into action. Reacting to this media drama would turn it into a crisis.
The course of politics over the next few years is, for Labour, thrillingly uncertain. Miliband’s aim must be to maintain maximum room for manoeuvre. But his ability to do that will depend on how patient the Labour party is prepared to be with its new leader.
the spectator | 4 December 2010 | www.spectator.co.uk Charles Moore
Part of the pleasure of the WikiLeaks revelations is that they confirm the view now universally reviled as ‘neocon’. It emerges that whereas the public pronouncements of the Arab world all concentrate on Israel as the villain of everything, what really worries the Arabs is Iran. The Arab regimes share Israel’s view that Iran is an ‘existential threat’. They also turn instinctively to America to sort out the problem. While President Obama has tried unsuccessfully to pursue a doveish policy, real, live Muslims want Ahmedinejad’s nuclear ambitions stopped, if necessary by violence. The leaks expose clearly the way our media, most notably the BBC, ‘privilege’ the Palestinian question, failing to report countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and even Iran itself, in any depth. Of course, Palestine is important. It is a running sore. But it is not the key to the politics of the Middle East or the main explanation for Muslim rage. The situation is rather like the late Thirties, in which idealistic people expended their passion on the Spanish Civil War, and didn’t do nearly enough to stop Hitler.
Sir John Major is a subtle man. As he will surely have calculated, the suggestion contained in his recent lecture at Churchill College, Cambridge, that the coalition should, if possible, be prolonged beyond this Parliament, made the news. This meant that less attention was paid to the historical element of his remarks. Speaking of his early years as Prime Minister, he said, ‘As we returned to growth, I wished to exit the Exchange Rate Mechanism. . . It was time to leave.’ It is almost as if Margaret Thatcher were suddenly to reveal that she’d never thought much of the poll tax. Again and again, over that punitive summer of 1992, Mr Major (as he then was) furiously rejected the idea that we should leave, warning that the consequent devaluation would be ‘fool’s gold’. He was almost the same in private. In his memoirs, Norman Lamont, who was Major’s Chancellor, records that in the summer of 1992 he set up a meeting with Major to propose that Britain leave the ERM. The subject of the meeting was agreed but, when it took place, Major said, without explanation, ‘I don’t want to discuss leaving the ERM’ and turned instead to a speech which he was making the following week. If you never discuss a key economic possibility with your Chancellor, it must be assumed that you are not actively working to bring it about. Our membership of the ERM was a failure that had many fathers (and one mother — as Sir John was at pains to remind us), but he was one of them and he must not be allowed to make the policy an orphan. This matters because membership was an error of economics and politics brought about by a delusion about what produces stability. That delusion persists, and is currently bringing several European countries to their knees.
James Viane has been the chef at the British embassy in Paris for 40 years. Recently, the present ambassador, Sir Peter Westmacott, gave a dinner at the embassy in Mr Viane’s honour, attended by five former ambassadors, and including Lady Soames, Churchill’s daughter, whose husband Christopher was Mr Viane’s first. It proves that all is not lost with French civilisation that the French prime minister, François Fillon, attended the dinner, investing Mr Viane with the Legion d’Honneur. M. Fillon had just survived an attempt to throw him out. Imagine the idiotic row which would happen here if David Cameron took an evening off from cutting public expenditure to honour the cook at the French embassy — the six-course menu execrated in the Daily Mail, the cant, the bile.
Last year, in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit, Gordon Brown said that we had only ‘50 days to save the world’. The summit failed to achieve his goals, but the world has not ended, and Copenhagen’s successor, in
Cancun this week, excites little interest. No government has yet recanted its climate-change alarmism publicly, but most have gone rather quiet. This does not mean, however, that governments are about to get rid of the taxes, regulations and extra costs which have been imposed in the name of the environment. Quite soon, this will explode politically. Outside London, I find that the main subject of public policy conversation is wind farms, and almost every single person who is not getting money out of them is against them. How long before a mainstream political party sees the votes in this?
As the chairman of the think-tank Policy Exchange, I follow closely how we are reported on the BBC. It has three descriptions of think-tanks. One is ‘respected’. This is only ever applied to a think-tank which tends to the left and represents the producer interest, such as the King’s Fund. The second is ‘independent’. The third is ‘right-leaning’ (the phrase ‘left-leaning’ is never used). If a report by Policy Exchange finds favour with the BBC, we are called ‘independent’ (never ‘respected’). If it is disapproved of, it is ‘right-leaning’. One is not allowed to be respected, independent and right-leaning.
Last week, we visited the white cattle of Chillingham, in Northumberland. Although I had seen pictures, nothing had prepared me for their primeval strangeness and beauty. Being completely undomesticated, the beasts are thin and fierce. They can run at you at 30mph, and gore you. Before the bulls fight, they paw the ground and spray their hairy heads with mud and dung as a sort of war-paint. These are the beasts which Julius Caesar saw. There are 94 of them now (and a much smaller herd looked after secretly somewhere else in the British Isles). The warden told us that they have been so long inbred that their DNA bears no relation to any other cattle currently living on the planet, and they have come out the other side of genetic malformation, and now have no known hereditary defects. They are like a great, ancient monarchical family, with no modern nonsense about refreshing the bloodlines.
the spectator | 4 December 2010 | www.spectator.co.uk