Let the Real Battle Commence
Our Mole inside the Labour Party says Ed Miliband and his gang from the metropolis are already showing them who’s boss
What is strange about the new Labour leader are the dogs that are not barking. There are only three times in the last century when an opposition party with the number of seats Labour has failed to win the next election. So unlike no-hopers such as Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock there must be a reasonable chance that Ed Miliband, just 40, could be a future Prime Minister.
If so, he will be the first PM who is a Jew, an avowed atheist and an unmarried father. Disraeli was born Jewish but his father had him baptised and he was able to enter the Commons because he was nominally a Christian. David Cameron’s Anglicanism is the lazy hatch, match and dispatch churchgoing of the English upper class. There have been goatish Prime Ministers seeding unacknowledged children but so far, other than the odd bachelor Edward Heath, our PMs have always been properly married parents.
In the Commons, Ed is Edward Miliband. Each MP can choose how to be designated on the monitors in the Chamber that say who is speaking. Self-important politicians with PhDs like John Reid or Brian Mawhinney insist on being called “Dr” when their name appears. Gordon Brown, a proper intellectual, discarded his doctorate title long ago. When Miliband junior appears, it is as “Edward” not “Ed.” No one ever dared call the aloof elder brother Dave, but Edward had always been Ed — until now.
One reason he won the leadership was that Labour MPs just felt comfortable with him in a way that his cleverer, more authoritative brother could not match. There were audible gasps in the Labour Party conference when Ed denounced the Iraq invasion. Lucky him. He did not have to take a decision on whether to topple Saddam Hussein or keep him in power. Telling the majority of Labour MPs that they were wrong was the moment when Ed shed his Prince Hal charm and dumped the Brown-Blair era of Falstaffs in the dustbin of history. In their first exchange at Prime Minister’s Questions, poor Cameron was reduced to praying in aid Alan Milburn, now so forgotten that most Labour MPs wonder if he ever existed. Ed has ruthlessly disposed of Blair and Brown protégés such as Pat McFadden, Nick Brown and David Lammy, leaving them on the back benches.
David Miliband dutifully sat at the very back of the first Parliamentary Labour Party meeting his brother addressed, as if anxious to be present but careful to say nothing. Like Bobby Kennedy running against Jack, or Teddy running against Bobby, the sheer chutzpah of Ed’s displacement of his older, more stellar brother is regarded with shock and awe in Parliament. Just as brutal was the sidelining of Labour’s other golden couple, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper. The latter was made Shadow Foreign Secretary, virtually a non-job as foreign policy questions never matter for the Opposition. In the last Parliament, the Tories went into an alliance in Brussels with what Nick Clegg called at the time “nutters, anti-Semites and homophobes”. Yet despite negative publicity in the left-liberal press, no voter gave a toss. Ed Balls, who was handed the Home Office brief by Miliband, is naturally combative, overbearing and intellectually cocky. Coalition cuts to the police will allow Labour some room, but Ed knows he cannot simply promise to restore every cut. Blair cleverly used the position of Shadow Home Secretary to rebrand Labour as the party of law and order, with his famous slogan “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Balls has never uttered a pithy phrase in his life. When he barks at Teresa May across the Dispatch Box, few will listen.
The shadow cabinet elections were irrelevant as no one has any idea which of the better-known Labour MPs is any good in opposition. The real shadow cabinet elections will take place in October 2012. Miliband has picked loads of bright young things who won seats in May. Some will be stars, but no one knows. What they all have in common is that they are Ed clones — special advisers and policy wonks. The women all look like Ed’s first big political girlfriend, Liz Lloyd, who still works for Blair. Ed likes glam, as the long-legged, TV-friendly Gloria de Piero and Luciana Berger testify.
The shadow cabinet elections threw up ten Yorkshire Labour MPs. Despite appearances, this is not a return to gritty Northern reality. These MPs — Caroline Flint, Mary Creagh, Hilary Benn or Alan Johnson — are not Tykes but nearly all Londoners who were awarded safe seats in Labour’s 1997 de-proletarianisation. The London dominance of Ed’s Labour Party is remarkable. The leader is a pure-bred North London intellectual. His deputy, Harriet Harman, is St Paul’s and Peckham, and her hubby Jack Dromey, despite his Birmingham seat, is another Londoner. Ken Livingstone came top of the poll for the National Executive Committee. The Labour NEC has been moribund since Blair took over, but in opposition it comes back to life. Livingstone is also the party’s candidate for the London mayoral contest in 2012, the biggest Labour-Tory fight ahead of the next general election.
Labour has become Londonised at the expense of the Scots and Welsh. The de-tartanisation of Labour has not been noticed by the Westminster bubble commentators. The long hegemony of clever Scots — John Smith, Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, John Reid, Donald Dewar — is over. David Miliband placed his faith in a Brownite Scot, Douglas Alexander, and a Blairite Scot, Jim Murphy, to win the leadership. Disastrously, they failed to get more than 50 per cent of Labour MPs to sign up and were so contaminated by New Labour disdain for trade unions they had no idea how to deliver just a few union votes for their man.
So Scots are sidelined. Meanwhile, the Welsh Labour gang failed to get a single one of their once influential tribe into the shadow cabinet. Neil Kinnock may have boasted that Ed’s victory meant “We have got our party back” but no one seems to want the windbag tendency to be back at the top of Labour.
Alan Johnson is the one non-graduate in Ed’s line-up. He is no more an economist than George Osborne is. But he has a feline, thinking man’s populist style. He is the closest Labour has to Ken Clarke. And unlike Clarke, who disappeared into clouds of cigar smoke as he made a fortune working for British American Tobacco after 1997, Johnson is enjoying his politics as never before.
Cameron, Clegg and Osborne represent the rich men’s effortless climb to the top style of modern centre-right politics. Ed is edgier and not yet defined. He has been an apprentice in the school of two masters, Blair and Brown, who taught all their pupils that power is the only thing worth aiming for in politics. The rest is a Guardian op-ed.
No one knows exactly the contours of politics over the next period. The cuts may work or cause real social and economic trouble. But Ed has cleared the decks and ditched old New Labour with ruthless efficiency. He may be a much more formidable opponent for Cameron and a much more attractive future partner for the Lib Dems when they tire of being Tory fig-leaves than people imagine. A real political contest is about to begin.