Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Could David Miliband be the new Neil Kinnock?

Mike Smithson makes the point this morning that it is exactly a year ago today that David Miliband made the biggest decision of his political career when he decided not to follow James Purnell over the top and to instead stand by Gordon Brown.

Mike goes on:

... looking back there was never a better chance for a rebellion against Mr. Brown to succeed but, not for the first time, Miliband held back and the rest, as they say, is history.

Given Labour’s polling performance since Brown’s departure then there’s a good argument for saying that the general election outcome could have been different if he had stepped aside a year ago.

It didn’t happen. Labour lost and now Mili-D is hot favourite for the leadership. Could, I wonder, his decision to back Brown a year ago become a leadership election issue? It certainly says a lot about the man because you wonder whether he’s got the killer instinct.

It probably should become a leadership election issue (it is certainly true that he has demonstrated time and again he does not have that killer instinct) but it won't for a number of reasons:

  • The question of "killer instinct" is not generally something that is openly debated. It is sometimes referred to obliquely in code (disguised as "decisiveness", "ability to take difficult decisions" etc.).
  • It is very unlikely that the narrative of the campaign will descend into "You should have stabbed our former leader in the back when you had the chance.". None of the other candidates are likely to pursue that line, not least because...
  • The two primary challengers to Miliband D are Ed Balls and Miliband E both of whom were very close to Gordon Brown. It would be bizarre to find either of them attacking David on these grounds, not least because they would likely have been in the bunker defending Brown even if David had have resigned!
  • Even though an honest appraisal of Brown's dreadful record would be to the long term advantage of the party they are just not ready for it yet. Observer the platitudes about "listening and learning" (were they not listening before the election!?) and how difficult it is for the main candidates to repudiate the record of a government that they were at the heart of until a few weeks ago.

So perhaps the decision that David Miliband took a year ago today to keep his powder dry will turn out to have been the correct one, for his own career at any rate. He has previously been heard talking about not wishing to be the Michael Heseltine of his political generation. It looks like he may well have avoided that fate.

The wider question is whether now is the right time to take the reins with the huge challenge the party faces to renew itself. Because whilst he may avoid the fate of Michael Heseltine, even if he wins the leadership he may instead find that he is this political generation's Neil Kinnock.

1 comment:

Millennium Dome said...

Depends what you mean by "this generation's Neil Kinnock".

I think of Kinnock as a man of the left who was able to row his party back towards the centre. He healed the divisions in a Party that looked annihilation in the face and recognised it. And he defeated Labour's extremists, but at the expense of his own credibility (and unfortunately left his party open to a take-over from the right, but that's another story!).

What is the next leader of Labour likely to do? Have they actually looked at their defeat – support falling to just 29% of the vote – and taken it as an urgent warning that they need to change, or are they like the Conservatives in 1997, believing that they've been defeated by time and media-undermining rather than by their own deep failures? All this blaming the election loss on "immigration" certainly seems to point to the latter interpretation.

Milliband (D) strikes me as a "keep the faith, we'll be back in a Parliament" candidate – much more of a William Hague character. The other boys are the same but less so. While Diane Abbott seems to be the "let us march boldly into the wilderness" option a la Michael Foot.

I don't think they've actually got a genuine breakthrough candidate in the frontline yet. They'd probably be better letting Harriet act as leader for a couple of years to allow the next generation of Parliamentarians to make their mark, and gather support based on performance, rather than having to shackle themselves to someone from a Cabinet that's just failed. Still, that's their look-out.