I don’t often contribute to the intra-party debates. Political activism is full of very unpleasant and boring men, it is all very time consuming and I try to stay out of it. But I have come to feel that the case against Ed Miliband as Labour leader has little or no validity.
The case against Ed is this:
1) That he stabbed his brother in the back
I felt that there were few policy differences between the two brothers, and voted for David because he seemed more internationalist. True, David was the expected successor, but you’d think we’d learn the lesson of coronation after Gordon Brown. Should you give up your dream just because your brother wants it as well?
After Ed won, Blairites complained that the Labour Party electoral system was undemocratic. They have a point, but they didn’t complain when this same system delivered Tony Blair.
Which brings us to:
2) Ed is controlled by the unions
This is a common attack from Conservatives who wish, or even actually believe, that it is still the 1980s. But if Ed is a union placeman then he has a strange way of showing it. He flat-out refused to back the one-day pension strikes last year and is not going to support more ridiculous inflated final salary schemes for civil servants. He understands that too much of the union movement speaks now for the public sector management class rather than workers.
3) He cannot do PMQs
I have to say, I love David Cameron as a politician. He is a great speaker and debater, a real pleasure to watch.
But if this government were led by anyone other than Cameron it would collapse. It has no plan, no ideas and a front bench full of relics and zombies. It’s Cameron’s political genius that holds the coalition together.
John Rentoul summarises PMQs: ‘Ed Miliband asks earnest questions in the Commons that Cameron can’t answer and finds himself crushed by a swashbuckling manner and cynical misrepresentation.’
PMQs is a knockabout cartoon watched mainly by news junkies and political fiends, who complain that PMQs isn’t serious enough while at the same time cheering Cameron’s rehearsed jokes. Cameron has the additional advantage of a House of Commons packed with more plants than an episode of Gardener’s World, and a Westminster lobby pack full of sycophants and courtiers. The Prime Minister, as I’ve said, has wit and charm. He knows the difference between Flashman the man and Flashman the boy.
But when he did that ‘at least we’re not brothers’ crack, people acted as if he was Oscar Wilde or Clarence Darrow. There is something unattractive about this clubbable complacency that will eventually turn voters against him. Yes, we may be approaching three million unemployed, but ra-ra, yip-yip, everything’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds. It won’t do.
4) Ed has taken us into a left-wing wilderness
As political junkies tend to confuse the chamber with the country, so they also confuse Westminster lobby perception with voter perception. After Ed’s conference speech this year, Polly Toynbee reported:
‘Lurching to the left’ and ‘Red Ed’ were the inevitable responses of the mostly rightwing press convening in an instant huddle after the speech. If you want to see the herd mentality in action, stand right there and watch them gather to agree this is a plunge back to Labour’s dark days [.]
Of course, Ed also has his critics in the Labour press (or what’s left of it). None was more harsh than Dan Hodges, a pompous union blowhard and Blairite Ed critic. Hodges used to write acute and trenchant critiques of Ed for the New Statesman – until its editors, naturally, forced him out for deviationism. Now he’s at the Telegraph Blogs site, where he tells the right what it wants to hear. You read his pieces and you get the idea that Ed is going in the wrong direction. But where would Dan Hodges have us go?
He wrote recently that: ‘On a range of major issues, including Europe, the economy, immigration, welfare reform and law and order, Labour’s instincts are increasingly taking the party away from, not towards, the political centre.’ Asked on Twitter ‘if you were in charge, what would Labour be running on, exactly?’ Hodges expanded: ‘Match deficit timetable, tough crime, welfare, borders. Basically everything you hate.’
Owen Jones has pointed out the problem with this. The Tories do hang-flog-deport so much better than we do. We cannot satisfy the silo nation percentage of the public on this – and in the long term the Tories can’t either, because we are dealing here with a collection of inchoate hatreds and curdled resentments, not rational policy demands. And the idea that the Labour Party should simply follow Dave and Gideon off the economic cliff is clearly lunacy.
5) Ed cannot win the next election
This one I can’t answer. I’m not a Labour strategist and you never know what’s going to happen. But a new leadership election or palace coup would make us look ridiculous, divided and irrelevant. As Angela Eagle said, we need to stop mourning for our lost leader. We lost the support of most newspapers before the last election. Do not imagine that David in Ed’s chair would be taking any less of the shit than Ed is now.
I want to be able to vote for a leader who’s not afraid to take risks and say something new, and a programme that will give the monied and property-owning classes a good kick up the arse. For me, Ed is that leader. I like his policies, particularly the living wage, he took a risk over the phone hack issue and he seems to genuinely get what people are going through in a way that Cameron does not.
Sack Ed Balls, and we’re there.
Update: An alternative view from Shuggy.
Ed Miliband: a hero for our times?