The Thick of It


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Labour: a family party. Part two (of many?)

As David Miliband prepares to tell the world what he plans to do after losing out to his brother, Ed, in the Labour leadership contest there are a plethora of views about the benefits to the party of him staying or not. 

What is clear after David yesterday rebuked Harriet Harman for applauding Ed's denouncement of the Iraq war (she voted for the war remember) is that were he to hang around he would likely be a focus for the media, keen to spot any division and dissent. Blair versus Brown becomes The Miliband Brothers. The Times ran a poll yesterday suggesting that more people in the country feel that David has leadership qualities than Ed. This reminded me of the poll before the 1992 election that showed voters preferred John Smith to Neil Kinnock. We could do without these distractions. 

The key question is whether Labour can do without its (arguably) biggest hitter on the front bench? I'd argue not as does Mary Riddell, among others; though David himself and many others disagree. If he did stay there would need to be some convincing rubbishing of any split between the Milibands. How to do that? Ed can show that he wants to lead a strong team and to give his brother the profile and portfolio he deserves. The media might continue to show up the differences between the two but Ed can counter that by being a strong leader. This wouldn't be the first and won't be the last time that a heavy hitter has been beaten to a party leadership but has carried on in a significant post. That is what politics is all about. 

And so to Ed. What should he do? He would do well to heed Alistair Darling's advice on tackling the deficit. Darling as Chancellor took the deficit seriously, he wanted to go further than Brown to tackle it, but in order to protect the fragile recovery, understands that the Tories are going too far, too fast. Ed Miliband says he wants to move on from New Labour but he should heed to key lesson of the Blair/Brown years: that to win an election Labour must occupy the centre ground. 

Ed's first leader's speech yesterday shows that he can forge his own agenda. Having overcome the formidable barrier of his brother and the party he now needs to start talking language that will appeal to the country. The early signs are encouraging. His brother is feared by the Tories because he most closely resembled David Cameron but would have faced a divided party from his proximity to Blair. Ed will be more likely to take Labour to the centre ground precisely because of his distance from Blair/Brown which will mean he will lead a united party.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ed Miliband's opportunity

One of Ed Miliband's undoubted strengths is that he isn't as closely associated by the public with the Blair-Brown years as his brother or Ed Balls. He worked closely with Gordon Brown for a number of years but is seen as a "new man" and his focus on a "new generation" leading Labour is right. He needs to draw a careful line under the previous regime(s) in today's conference speech.

Ed Miliband also needs to be very careful. Several times during the hustings for the leadership other candidates Ed Balls and Andy Burnham were forthright in criticising other candidates for "rubbishing the record" of Labour in government. Miliband needs to tread a careful path between presenting a vision for the future but not trashing New Labour's achievements. If he goes too far in criticising the past I fear he will give credibility to Tory attacks that Labour's years in government were a failure. If that narrative wins then it will be very difficult for him to claw Labour back into power.

He has a tremendous opportunity demonstrated by today's YouGov poll showing that Labour has overtaken the Tories in opinion polls for the first time in over two years. His speech needs to win more gruond on the Tories to ensure that his lead isn't gobbled up by the Tory conference next week. The perfect start? We'll wait and see...

Monday, September 27, 2010

A family party?

David Miliband's speech to Labour Party conference today was excellent and showed why his brother needs him. Ed needs to build a strong team and to let that team share the limelight. Gordon Brown would have been better off letting others take more of the media spotlight and Ed would do well to learn from that mistake, starting with his brother.

It is also vital for Labour that David doesn't become a spurned thorn in his brother's side. Labour doesn't need a replay of the rivalry and bitterness the beset Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Playing a central role might be difficult for David to stomach right now. The party needs him. He can still be a star. His family could also do with staying united I'm sure.

If David walks away that would be understandable but would make life very difficult for Ed. It would keep the story of the 'wrong' Miliband running in the background.

I expect David to stay on and show us all that we haven't missed out on much at all after this weekend's knife-edge vote.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband beat his brother by the narrowest of margins. If you read the early comments of some this means that Labour is lurching to the left with "Red Ed" at the vanguard. I admit that I didn't vote for him as I felt David might present himself better to the media and to the country. I would have been happy had any other candidates won with the exception of Diane Abbott. Interestingly he is Labour's first English born full time leader since Michael Foot.

I watched the new leader's interview with Andrew Marr this morning and was impressed. He came across better than many have given him credit for and also showed that he understands the pressures faced by many in the country. He also has decent credentials and will contrast sharply with David Cameron, whose actions in government are likely to be unpopular. Perhaps the Tories should stop gloating and take him seriously. To have got this far and beaten the favourite shows that this he is no fluke.

What is clear is that Ed will face questions unlikely to have been asked of his brother, had the result been slightly different. Gaining victory through the trade union section was unfortunate, making it easy for detractors to claim that he is some sort of 1970s Jack Jones. Ed was right to point out that he was voted for my more individuals than any other candidate. The union block vote was abolished almost 20 years ago.

Ed also has as much experience as Tony Blair or David Cameron did when taking their respective leaderships. What he now needs to do is show that he can talk centre-ground policy to ensure that he broadens Labour's appeal. I hope this starts immediately, with Tuesday's leader's speech to conference. He had the guts to talk about Labour's lost votes repeatedly during his leadership campaign. I hope this conference shows he knows where to find them.

The early signs are that he does. He chose to begin his leadership by writing for the Sunday Telegraph, with a hostile Tory audience. He used that article to stake a claim for the centre of British politics, the right move. I'm impressed and suprised by him so far, though he will face a hostile media and will need to convince many more people than just myself to make a difference.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

This blog is going on holiday

I'm off to catch some sun in Cyprus for a couple of weeks. In between watching turtles hatching, seeing wild donkeys and former Leyton Orient 'legend' Jason Demetriou play I'll try to keep up to date with Labour politics. I can't promise though.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Blair book breaks records in first week

Tony Blair's A Journey sold almost 100,000 copies in its first week making it one of the fastest selling autobiographies since records began.

Over £1.2m was spent on the book in four days, the profits of which Blair is donating to an army charity. The Bookseller reports that four pence of every pound spent in UK bookshops last week went on his book. I have mentioned before that this book has brought Blair back into the public eye and shows what a big drawer he still is. I'm currently reading both his and Peter Mandelson's books and shows that the doubters were wrong to suggest his book wouldn't be of interest.

Whatever your view on Blair, the British public seemingly still haven't had enough of Tony.

My Labour Party ballot papers have finally arrived

Just two days before I am off on holiday my Labour Party ballot payers have finally arrived.

I joined Labour in 1996. This is the first time in those 14 years that I will have voted for the leader. I'm looking forward to it. I will also be voting for the London mayoral candidate,NEC and NPF.

If you are not a Labour member you have today and tomorrow to join at a very cheap rate and will get to cast your vote. Go to This is the chance for all those who have commented from outside the party to influence it by taking part. I heartedly encourage you.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Tony Blair's Richard Bacon interview

I've been following the media reaction to the launch of Tony Blair's book with interest and some incredulity. According to today's Telegraph the "revelations" in his book have caused a "war" in the Labour Party. I'm sure the Telegraph would like there to be a war, though I've not seen any evidence of it (this story is no longer on the Telegraph site otherwise I'd link to it).

Blair is still big news and the book has been selling fast. I'm looking forward to receiving my own copy shortly. Not because I expect to learn anything new from it, most of the highlights have been heavily covered in the media already or have appeared in other books, such as those by Andrew Rawnsley, Chris Mullin and Peter Mandelson. I'm looking forward to understanding more about Blair and to remind myself, for sentimental reasons, what Labour in power achieved.

I listened to his interview today with Five Live's Richard Bacon. The focus was predictable: Iraq, Northern Ireland and Gordon Brown. On Iraq Blair expressed a human regret for the bloodshed but stood by his decision to go to war. Nobody could expect anything else. He also reminded us of how dreadful Iraq was when Saddam was in power. That is often overlooked in the revisionist analysis of the chaos in the aftermath. Listening also took me back to 9-11 and 7-7. When thinking about Afghanistan is is also often forgotten about the context and terrifying events that led to that war. Northern Ireland is undoubtedly Blair's biggest and most lasting achievement domestically. Iraq often buries it as the focus of this interview showed.

Much of the media coverage has focused on Gordon Brown. Today Blair said:

  • "Gordon could be extremely difficult"
  • "He was also somebody who made an enormous contribution to government" 
  • "He is also brilliant" 
  • "His personality is out of line with 21st century politics" 

The media has focused on the negatives, but in the book and in his interviews Blair should be credited for admitting his troubles on working with Brown but also for painting a balanced picture. He was careful to meet every negative with a positive.

What I thought was very telling and quite revealing was that he strongly felt that Brown and his team didn't have the right answers to govern. He said to Bacon that he had no problem with people who think their plans are the right thing for the country to seek power. He had a problem with these ideas in the first place. I find that a little harsh because to suggest that Brown added nothing of value when PM would be wrong. The criticism that there was no clear agenda for reforming public services is valid.

Rather than focus on the negatives, which should be left to the media to fight over, Labour needs to remember how much progress was made with Blair as leader. While it is wrong to apply the same tactics and arguments that were successful in 1997 to 2010, it would also be wrong to forget what worked too. Listening to Blair and reading his book should provide support and guidance. He shouldn't be forgotten.

What does this mean for his legacy? It should serve as a reminder, as Alistair Campbell said today far better than I ever could:

How do you think that history will judge him? More kindly than most of the commentary in the UK. He was a winner, serving longer in office than any Labour leader by far … he presided over a decade of growth and prosperity, turned round investment in public services, got crime down, delivered on a major programme of devolution, the minimum wage … I could go on and on … and whilst many people like to pretend Iraq is his only legacy, don’t forget Kosovo, Sierra Leone, the leadership he showed after 9/11, Northern Ireland. He was without doubt one of the major reforming Prime Ministers in our history.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Big day for Labour

Being in opposition means Labour has no power other than to influence political debate. That means today is the start of Labour being important for a few weeks. Tony Blair's book id out today, the leadership ballot papers are being sent out with those to choose Labour's next candidate for London Mayor.

I'm excited about reading Blair's book. The first extracts were released on the book's website last night. These have been pored over in this morning's breakfast shows and newspapers. Is any of it surprising? Probably not, we all know Blair and Brown didn't get on. The heavy media coverage shows that Blair is still big news. it also shows that with a good leader Labour can be important again.