01 August 2008

Dave-2 gears up to making a move - "Hit It"

Unless you are in the political braindeath category (and who can blame you, given the shit we've all had to put up with over the last year, indeed the last thirty years or more?) you won't have missed David Miliband's bid for the leadership of the Labour party. As my previous nickname for Miliband, 'microBlair', is somewhat old hat now, I've switched to 'Dave-2' to distinguish him from everyone's favourite politician 'Dave-1' on the other side of the House.

OK, I'm exaggerating a bit. But only a bit. Can anybody imagine a senior cabinet minister publishing an article calling for a complete overhaul of political strategy - making no reference at all to the current PM - at any point under ANY previous post-war Prime Minister? Excepting the 1975 referendum on EU membership (when collective cabinet reponsibility was suspended) and maybe Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech in the late eighties, I can't think of anything along these lines. This is as near as a direct and open challenge to Prime Ministerial authority as you will ever see in the UK.

Miliband's article was actually bland as hell, really. He's hit on a good strategy of attacking Dave Cameron as 'New Labour Mark 1', ten years too late - which is a line that the government should be pushing a lot more - but he had no positive vision to offer beyond the extremely vague rhetoric of 'giving more power to communities' etc. - which seems to ignore the huge centralising forces of the UK state machine on one hand, and multinational corporations on the other. The aim of 'power to the people' is laudable but you're gonna have to do better than what you've outlined so far to get there, Dave. Maybe worth ringing up Tony Benn or Zac Goldsmith for some sage advice.

But Miliband is out there and on the line - possibly indeed "over the line" and "entering a world of pain", as the hapless bowler did in The Big Lebowski. This is a tough one for Brown. How to respond? Demotion seems most likely, but would make him seem vindictive (which he is) and paranoid (which he is, even more.) Various commentators have come up with reasons for Miliband not to stand in a leadership contest, all of which are pretty spurious to my mind: let's go through them one by one.

  • The public doesn't like back-stabbers. Says who? If Gordon Brown is as unpopular as polls suggest, then getting rid of him should help quite a lot - a necessary (though hardly a sufficient) condition for a recovery.
  • There would need to be an immediate general election if Brown were deposed. Says who? A change of prime minister hasn't precipitated a general election for decades in British politics.
  • Miliband would lose the next election. Possibly true (even Miliband seems to think so - he says "the odds are stacked against us" in the Guardian article. Where's your fighting spirit, Dave-2?) But as an argument against standing it misses the point. Even if Miliband only gains (say) 5% in the polls, he could make the difference between a crushing, landslide defeat for Labour, and a narrow defeat - or even a hung parliament. That puts Labour in a far better position to beat the Tories next time out, and makes it far less likely that Miliband will be the next William Hague. Even if Labour loses fairly heavily, Miliband will be safe as leader of the opposition as he can very reasonably argue that the defeat isn't his fault.
So I would say to Dave-2 "go for it". Even though he is not the best choice to take over from Gordon. The best choice is Alan Johnson - but current reports suggest Alan doesn't want the job. Please reconsider, Al - if John Major could do it for 7 years then surely it can't be that difficult. You'd probably prefer it to being health secretary. Miliband is probably the second best option but he's a long way behind. He looks too nerdy and too out of touch with voters. He might be able to at least beat Cameron on number of seats in an election (given the bias in the system even after boundary changes) but I would not put money on it. I think Johnson is an experienced politician who would see Cameron off fairly easily provided that the voters can see that he's prepared to make genuine policy changes and drop most of the New Labour crap. There is also the small matter of the impending economic collapse, but oddly enough, Johnson might just be able to turn that around in Labour's favour. The Cameron-Osborne team is inexperienced and lacking any real substantive ideas on economic policy. Whereas even now, Labour can make a case that it's done well on the economy overall and that the current slowdown is largely driven by the US. Dave Miliband would be a good choice for Chancellor under a Johnson administration.

This is all still highly speculative, but the post-Brown era is about to come upon us, if we're lucky. And thank f*** for that.

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