Friday, 1 October 2010

1 October 2010

I’m beginning to ask myself if perhaps Ed Miliband isn’t a very nice man.

I confess he’s always been perfectly charming when I’ve interviewed him – and he does have a reputation among his colleagues of being a lot easier to get on with than his brother David. (“A real human being” is what some of them call him.)

But, m’lud, the prosecution case is as follows:

Political fratricide: he stood for the party leadership knowing that if he won, he would destroy his older brother’s political ambitions. (Declaration of interest: I am an older brother.)

Ruthlessness: he disavowed large chunks of his colleagues’ work in government, including that of Gordon Brown, the man in whose orbit he circled for so many years. (Naïve about the markets? Wrong to claim he could end boom and bust? Over-influenced by focus groups? Ouch, and ouch again.)

More ruthlessness: he was rude about the Blair/Mandelson love of wealthy men (Silvio Berlusconi, Cliff Richard, Oleg Deripaska) – I quote from his speech on Tuesday: “We came to look like a new establishment in the company we kept …” Oh yes, and he has already summarily sacked the Labour chief whip, Nick Brown.

The case for the defence, m’lud, is this:

Ed Miliband knows that to most voters, he was, until last weekend, almost completely unknown. He also knows that to many of his own party members, he’s the wrong Miliband.

So he needs to demonstrate who he is, what he believes, and that he has the political courage to be a party leader.

Anyway, all this stuff about “fratricide”: would David have faced the same charge if he’d won? If not, why not? What law of politics says older brothers always have to have what they want? Does primogeniture feature in the Labour party constitution?

And members of the jury, I ask you to look at the findings of the latest YouGov opinion poll for The Sun: after less than a week since he was elected, half of the people asked said they already thought Ed Miliband would do well as Labour leader.

Seventy-one per cent said he was right to say that Labour had made mistakes in government; 56 per cent agreed with him on Iraq; 65 per cent agreed with what he said about not supporting “irresponsible strikes”; and clear majorities backed him on a higher bank levy, higher taxes for the well-off, and a higher minimum wage.

But Mr Miliband has already made himself plenty of enemies at the top of his own party. Many of his former ministerial colleagues must have been inwardly seething as he ripped in to their legacy. What did Alan Johnson or Jack Straw think, for example, when he spoke of how Labour had sometimes “seemed casual” about civil liberties?

And what did Gordon Brown think when he claimed to lead a new generation “not bound by the fear or the ghosts of the past”? (Unlike whom, do you think? The Blairs and the Browns, maybe, who entered parliament in the 1980s and lived through a decade of opposition?)

I’ve been to a great many Labour party conferences over the years – and this week’s was definitely one of the strangest. It took a while for me to realise why: for the first time in more than 15 years, it wasn’t dominated by the TB/GBs. (TB = Tony Blair; GB = Gordon Brown)

That war is over. And David Miliband’s withdrawal from the front line means it won’t be continued by proxy. But Ed Miliband will now have to persuade his party that he can win elections (watch out for the local polls next May), and then the country that he has what it takes to be prime minister.

I’m going to be taking a break from domestic politics next week – Ritula will be in Birmingham with the Conservatives, while I’ll be overseas to report on … well, tune in next week to find out.

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