Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wielding the knife?

David Miliband is a man who has, on paper at least, my ideal life. He got a first in PPE from an Oxbridge college. He went on to work in a think tank, and then became Tony Blair's head of policy. They liked him so much, that they parachuted him into a safe Labour seat so he could come sit with them on those plush green sofas they like so much. Within a year he was a junior minister and not too long thereafter he was promoted, to cabinet secretary and then minister for the environment. With the advent of Gordon Brown, he was made foreign secretary, in a move that was seen by many as a reward for holding off on his ambitions for the top job. Not bad going really. He even managed to get married and have a couple of kids along the way.

However, I think the man that Alastair Campbell once nicknamed "Brains" has today made a very large error of judgement. The just posted comment piece on the Guardian website, will be seen by all as the sound of the Guillotine swooping down on the head of the hapless Gordon Brown. Although he doesn't call directly for his ouster, any political observer knows that calls for 'clarity of leadership', and the need for Labour's case to be made 'afresh', with no mention of the current Prime Minister, is nothing other than a mutiny.

The article he's written reads like a manifesto, laying out the areas that he feels Labour should attack David Cameron on, such as his conservatism, faux environmentalism, and his exaggeration of the problems facing Britian's ''broken society''. The closing of the piece says it all really:

New Labour won three elections by offering real change, not just in policy but in the way we do politics. We must do so again. So let's stop feeling sorry for ourselves, enjoy a break, and then find the confidence to make our case afresh.

So why is it such a big mistake, d'apr├ęs moi? After all, Gordon Brown is about as popular as George Bush, but lacks even his meagre vestiges of personality. You certainly wouldn't call the dour Scot ''folksy'' or be intrigued enough to think that you might have a laugh over a pint. The Labour party's donors would be afraid of touching him wearing a HazMat suit His hapless leadership, the declining economy, feeble data security, by-election bumbling, problems with the NHS, the excrutiating back-track on the EU Constitutional referendum, an election that never was... it's not exactly a CV that you'd like to hand your employer when discussing your previous occupation (as he surely will be shortly).

Let's be clear, he's owed no loyalty either. The insidious way in which he operated from the treasury and forced Tony Blair from power means that he can expect no better from those he placed around him. No, the real reason that I don't think Miliband should be striking is that things are too bad for Labour at the moment.

They are almost absoloutely certain to lose the next election, they're almost 20% down in the polls, and managed to lose one of the safest seats in Britain last week. (To put it in perspective, the Conservative's hold no seat as statistically solid as Glasgow East.) David Cameron is in the ascendancy and most importantly, the electorate feel like straying from their regular menu item and trying something different. On paper, Miliband is the perfect opponent to Cameron. Both youthful, well bred, eager to tout their environmental commitments.

Which is why I think it would be a shame for one of Labour's brightest young stars to burn himself out. Much better to let someone like Jack Straw replace Brown, lose the election and be forced from the party leadership than to do so himself. By stiking now, he would be like a gormless cartoon character who chases a diamond that has been thrown in the air. For a fleeting moment he'd stare at it Gollum-like only to realise that in the process of catching it, he managed to jump off a cliff.

Photo: Nick Wheeler

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