The most promising result for Labour

The long leadership campaign is over and the most promising candidate from Labour’s point of view has won.  The next significant events are next week’s elections by Labour MPs to the shadow cabinet and Ed Miliband’s allocation of shadow portfolios to those elected.  The biggest problems here will be Ed Balls and David Miliband, both certain to win shadow cabinet places (assuming that David decides to stand).

Ed Balls ran a splendid, pugnacious leadership campaign and was easily the most effective of the potentially electable candidates in exposing the coalition’s kamikaze economic policies, to the point where he seemed at times to have taken on the role of leader of the opposition.  He will desperately want to be shadow Chancellor and, if denied that key post, could be a smouldering threat in any other capacity to the new leader.  The problem is that he was the keenest and most aggressive Brownite, probably more so than Gordon, and his performance as Chancellor of the Exchequer if Labour wins the next election would risk replicating the worst features of Gordon Brown’s Chancellorship — the secretiveness, constant disloyal challenges to the prime minister’s authority, the apparent willingness to let his team brief against colleagues, the failure to work in a collegiate spirit with ministerial colleagues, the by-passing of officials whose advice might prove unwelcome: administration by exclusive coterie.  No doubt Balls is aware of these fears about the way he would behave as Chancellor in a Labour government and will try to avoid confirming such suspicions, if given the job. But can this oldish dog really learn new tricks now?

Another dimension of the potential problem is that if David does decide to stand for the shadow cabinet, the only position Ed can offer without humiliating him will be shadow Chancellor, and that further aggravates the Balls dilemma.  In the somewhat unlikely event of my being in Ed Miliband’s shoes, I would either appoint Ed Balls as shadow Chancellor (but secretly resolve not to appoint him as substantive Chancellor in a Labour government), or appoint brother David as shadow Chancellor on the understanding that after, say, two years he would move on to another shadow post (home secretary?  Minister of Justice?  even back to Foreign Secretary?) whereupon Balls would become shadow Chancellor.  In other words, Balls might well excel as shadow Chancellor in opposition, but to have him as the actual Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Labour government would be unacceptably risky, given the way he seems to have acted with Gordon Brown at the Treasury not very long ago.

The reaction of the Tory press, Tory loud-mouth MPs and Tory bloggers has been utterly predictable.  Because in the final round, after redistribution of preferences, David had a slim majority over Ed in the constituency and MPs sections, with Ed depending on an almost equally slim majority in the trade union section for his overall majority, the Tories are already baying about ‘Red Ed’ being a hostage of the unions and questioning his legitimacy as an elected leader.  This is juvenile rubbish.  The trade union movement created the Labour Party and has always been as much a part of it as the individual members:  the union element keeps the party’s feet on the ground.  Ed M will no more be a prisoner of the unions than any other Labour leader has been:  the unions are unlikely to withhold funding from Labour under Ed if his policies are not 100% to their liking, not least because they have nowhere else to go — just as big business and the City are unlikely to stop financing the Conservative party, whatever its policies, since they have nowhere else to go either.

As for the legitimacy of the election, Ed won more first preference votes overall than his brother, including solid backing in all three sections.  There are paradoxes and even perversities in the results, but so there are under all electoral systems.  As for the dire predictions in the media (and not just the Tory media) of the result sowing the seeds of renewed civil war in the party between Old Blairites (i.e. the Davidistas) and Old Brownites (i.e. the EdMilistas), there’s a good chance that all that’s in the past and that we shall now see a Labour party united behind its leader as rarely before — provided only that Ed has the good sense to tell the Blunketts, Mandelsons, Alan Johnsons, Blairs and Straws to shut up and concentrate on rewriting their memoirs for their paperback editions.

Finally, the Red Ed issue.  The Tory press and their feral bloggers have evidently noticed Ed Miliband’s campaign promises to scrap Britain’s nuclear deterrent, cancel the orders for aircraft carriers and fighter aircraft, bring our troops home from Afghanistan as soon as transport for them can be arranged, place a copy of the United Nations Charter in every office of the MoD and the FCO, re-nationalise the railways and the utilities, split up the banks and start regulating them decisively, raise the top rate of income tax to 60% and promise a referendum on the future of the monarchy[1].  To that limited extent, Ed’s position might fairly be described as somewhat to the left of centre.   A candidate who promised not a single one of those things — for each of which a perfectly solid and sensible case can be made, and indeed Diane Abbott made a strong case for most of them — would be difficult to categorise as a dangerous lefty, even if he is brave enough to give up the hallowed practice of authorising the Daily Mail to determine his policies.  Red Ed!  Such is the fantasy world inhabited by our right-wing leaders and commentators that they are happy to use this absurd tag in the hope of discrediting Milibrother Jnr.  For some of us, the major worry about him is that he isn’t nearly red enough.

I think time will show that the party made the right choice.  Both brothers are exceptionally able: either would have made a very good party leader and ultimately prime minister.  There is more evidence of David’s strengths and weaknesses from his longer time in high ministerial office than there is of Ed’s:  David carries more baggage.  But on such evidence as there is, Ed seems to me to be the stronger and more innovative character, probably more decisive, more prepared to think outside the box and less inhibited by conventional orthodoxies, braver and less risk-averse.  (Almost as importantly, he seems to have a sense of humour;   as far as anyone knows, David doesn’t do funny.)  With luck that judgement will turn out to have been a good guess.

Meanwhile we must hope that next week Labour MPs will elect a shadow cabinet full of daisy-fresh faces in Ed Miliband’s mould, not a gaggle of clapped-out members of the old guard, chanting their tedious mantras on automatic pilot.  They served us well in their time — some of them, anyway.  Ed’s and the party’s message to them now must be to ‘kindly leave the stage’.

PS:  When Ed Miliband receives his invitation to fly out for a chat with Rupert Murdoch on some Australian Barrier Reef island or Californian sea-side retreat, with a private plane at his disposal for the trip, please, please, Ed, tell him, in the blunt terms that a one-time Australian can understand, where he can put it.

[1] No, he didn’t promise any of those things.  I’m being ironical — geddit?


5 Responses

  1. Phil says:

    he seems to have a sense of humour;   as far as anyone knows, David doesn’t do funny

    I’m suddenly reminded of something I read a long time ago (written some time before I was born) about “the young princesses”, Elizabeth and Margaret. The young Margaret was always game for a laugh, but the young Elizabeth was proper and rather stern – she never forgot that she was going to be Queen, and never let anyone else forget it. I wonder if David M. has been nursing a smaller-scale version of this sense of entitlement.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this highly perceptive comment. I think it’s quite a common phenomenon — not just in the royal family — that the older or oldest of two or more siblings is the most sober, serious, risk-averse and ‘responsible’ of the brood, while the younger or youngest is often the most care-free and amusing. I suspect that this reflects two factors: the tendency of parents to be more anxious and protective in the way they bring up their first-born, and more blasé and relaxed with their subsequent children; and the tendency of the oldest to be put in charge of the safety of his or her younger siblings and thus to be burdened with a sense of responsibility for them, causing excessive conscientiousness and anxiety. The royal princesses and the Milibrothers seem, as you point out, to be excellent examples of this syndrome.

    The psychologists also suggest that the penultimate child in a family of three or more children tends to be more prone to anxiety and neurosis than the others, through having her privileged position as the special baby of the family cut short by the arrival of the new baby, while not enjoying the special status of being the oldest either, thus being hit by a double whammy. This doesn’t apply exactly to the Milibrothers, since there are only two of them, but David had the trauma of being supplanted by the arrival of the new baby (Ed) and this has now been compounded by the experience of being robbed by his kid brother of the prize for which his whole political life has been dedicated to winning. You have to feel sorry for the guy. (I’m an only child with no experience of sibling rivalry — until I became a parent of three….)

  2. Hooky Walker says:

    As you probably know, I am not a Labour Party supporter: indeed, I am a paid up member of the Conservative Party. But as a citizen I should like to see an effective Opposition. There is a point I don’t follow in your analysis. I agree that the ghastly Balls would make the most effective shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. But why could David Miliband not be offered the post of Home Secretary? Do you perhaps consider that the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice having been created, is no longer a Top Department?

    Brian writes: Thanks, Hooky. It’s refreshing to have a contribution from a paid-up Tory! I wrote as I did because I don’t regard the home secretary job as being equal in prestige to that of either the foreign secretary or the chancellor of the exchequer, especially (as you suggest) since the home secretary lost such a large chunk of her job to the new Ministry of Justice. For this reason I believe that for David Milibrand to be offered appointment as shadow home secretary would be seen by himself and more widely as a demotion, after he has served not only as shadow foreign secretary since May but actually as the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary for real before then. I’m not sure how he would feel about an offer of continuing as shadow foreign secretary: the problem then might be that he would feel outgunned by Ed Balls, his old rival in the Brown camp and rival for the leadership, assuming that Balls would be shadow Chancellor. If I’m right, he might be tempted to say that he would stand for the shadow cabinet only if promised appointment as shadow Chancellor. But this is a highly subjective area, and you may well be right in assuming that the prestige of the shadow home secretary is as high as that of the shadow foreign secretary and that David M would see no problem about accepting the shadow home secretary job if he can’t be shadow chancellor. (From brother Ed’s point of view the best solution would presumably be for David to continue as shadow foreign secretary.)

  3. ObiterJ says:

    Out of a pretty hopeless bunch the better candidate has probably emerged.
    With David Miliband there are too many unanswered foreign policy questions – particularly his role in authorising “interrogations” provided that the U.K. did not do the dirty deed itself.  David now seems to be sulking and considering whether to stand for the shadow cabinet.  Personally, I think that the best thing would be if he did not.  In office he would be an albatross around the neck of Ed.
    By the way Brian, I don’t think David could be Minister of Justice since, as things stand, the role is also Lord Chancellor.  Whilst the latter post is not what it was before the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 it nevertheless still really requires a lawyer given the relationship at that level with the higher judiciary.
    I agree with what you said here:-
    ” …. provided only that Ed has the good sense to tell the Blunketts, Mandelsons, Alan Johnsons, Blairs and Straws to shut up and concentrate on rewriting their memoirs for their paperback editions.”
    Of course, he can tell them to shut up but they would take no notice.   Nevertheless I agree that a very long period of silence from the lot of them would be more than welcome.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. It hadn’t occurred to me that the Minister of Justice has to be a lawyer, but you’re obviously right — although how long is it since Jack Straw or Ken Clarke practised at the bar?
    As to shutting up the Blunketts and the rest of that gang, I think the only way to silence them is for the party, including its new leader, to be pretty ruthless in declining to listen to their advice or to take them seriously any more. You paraphrase of Attlee’s famous put-down of Laski is entirely apt.

  4. ObiterJ says:

    The post of Lord Chancellor need not, legally speaking be a lawyer.  The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 requries that the person appointed be qualified by experience.

    Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how a non-lawyer might be suitable.
    I don’t think that either Straw or Clarke had particularly busy practices when the were in law.  So perhaps this might eventually point to a non-lawyer taking on the role.  We shall see and I would not actually rule it out.  As for the Secretary of State for Justice position, I think that also requires someone with a legal background.

  5. ObiterJ says:

    As I thought – DM did not wish to be an albatross so he is not to stand for the shadow cabinet.  I am not too unhappy to see the back of him.  I think he made a promising start in politics but became corrupted by the “war on terror” agenda.  Too many unanswered questions remain about DM’s actions.
    However, I warmed a little to DM when he asked Harperson why she was clapping Ed when she had actually voted for the Iraq war.