Saturday, September 04, 2010

For PM, it has to be DM

No leadership election occurs in a political vacuum. For good or ill, the current race for the leadership of the Labour Party will invariably be shaped in part by the context in which it is taking place.

Like it or not, it is the Blair-Brown years, and their ultimately shattering denouement in the general election defeat of 6 May, which provide the inescapable backdrop to this contest.

For at least one of the candidates, Ed Balls, that defeat already looks likely to have dealt a terminal blow to his leadership aspirations.

For all his pugnacious qualities - none of the candidates have landed as many blows on the Lib-Con coalition as he has - the party was never going to replace the defeated Gordon Brown with, well, Gordon Brown Mark II.

But if this has been a difficult election in which to be a Brownite - all the candidates have been anxious to distance themselves to a greater or lesser degree from the former Prime Minister - being seen as a Blairite is not much of a recommendation either.

If by publishing his memoirs in the week the leadership ballot papers went out, Tony Blair hoped to influence the contest in favour of his protege David Miliband, it only goes to show how delusional he has become.

Mr Blair's account of his 'Journey' is already a bestseller, but many Labour members will be aghast at his decision to kick Mr Brown when he is down while simultaneously refusing to criticise Prime Minister David Cameron.

Then again, why would he, since he too clearly believes that the coalition is a Blairite continuity administration, doing exactly the things he would have done had he not been thwarted by nasty old Gordon.

So far from boosting the elder Miliband's candidature, the book looks likely to provoke a backlash against Mr Blair which could well harm the Shadow Foreign Secretary.

But in my view, that would be a shame, because, aside from all the factionalism, David Miliband is the best qualified candidate to take Labour back into government.

I have to confess that at the outset of this contest, I was leaning more towards Andy Burnham, which would have been the first time Durham North MP Kevan Jones and I had agreed about anything.

But while Mr Burnham is clearly the candidate most attuned to the needs of the North, his oddly tribal, Old Labour-ish campaign has seemed at odds with the 'new politics' of co-operation and coalition.

Of the other candidates, Ed Balls has already been dealt with, Diane Abbot would clearly take Labour back to irrelevance, while I wonder whether Ed Miliband is really ready for the top job.

I like a lot of what he has had to say about the need for Labour to regain its values before it can think of regaining power, and the 'Red Ed' jibes from the Blairite camp are self-evidently ludicrous.

For me, Ed's problem is not his politics, but the fact that he comes across as rather well-meaning and naive - a nice guy, an original thinker even, but not quite tough enough to be leader - and maybe PM - just yet.

By contrast, the one quality his elder brother possesses above all is that, having already held a major office of state, you can easily imagine him as Prime Minister now.

Mr Blair was at pains in his TV interview with Andrew Marr on Wednesday to stress that the South Shields MP is his own man, and that is one thing he was right about.

As a North-East Blairite, he could easily have got sucked into the silly tribalism that affected some of his former parliamentary colleagues in the region who saw any criticism of their beloved leader as a betrayal, but to his credit he never did.

I have no doubt at all that if he wins, David's first priority will be to unite the party and draw a line under the feuding once and for all.

But will he win? That is the question to which I will turn my attentions in next week's column.

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Jane Threakton said...

This article reads like a "lit study" of recent newspaper clippings. Is there any foundation for the arguments presented in this article other than a cursory amble through politics TV?

I wonder.

Jane Threakston

skipper said...

I agree David M. is the most prime-ministerial but I cannot get out of my mind trhe fact that he must have known Brown was a liability yet refused to help ease him out on at least two and possibly three occasions, the last, when James Purnell bravely took his stand and then was left exposed. I wonder if senior Mili has the steel to be PM or even, if he really wants it. Really wants it I mean.

I've aleady voted for ED; I agree he is a bit naive seeming but he is a better communicator than David and is more radical. But, in the end, it's a gamble, is it n ot? We vote with hope as we have nothing else right now.

chat said...

thanks for publishing:)

white sam said...

I cannot get out of my mind trhe fact that he must have known Brown was a liability yet refused to help ease him out on at least two and possibly three occasions, the last, when James Purnell bravely took his stand and then was left exposed
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