Saturday, January 15, 2011

Relief for Ed...but just what will David do next?

And so after all the hoo-ha, a relatively easy win for Labour and a creditable second place for the Liberal Democrats, with Nick Clegg's party staving off the post-tuition fees meltdown some had feared.

Both Mr Clegg and Labour's Ed Miliband went into Thursday's Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election on something of a hiding to nothing - but both appear to have got away with it.

Instead, it is Prime Minister David Cameron who may have the most difficult questions to answer after appearing to soft-pedal the party's campaign in the final week.

After their party's share of the vote was more than halved while the Lib Dems' went up, Tory backbenchers already unhappy about the direction of the government will want to know why their coalition partners were given such an easy ride.

For Mr Miliband, a result which saw Labour's majority increase from 103 to 3,558 will take the pressure off – for now.

After a decidedly lacklustre start to his leadership, Mr Miliband moved to sharpen up his press operation in the weeks before Christmas and this appears to have had pretty instantaneous results.

Victory in what was already a Labour-held seat should leave little room for complacency, however.

His appointment of the economically sub-literate Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor appears to be unravelling, while his own appearance on a Radio 2 show a couple of weeks back ended in embarrassment, with Middle England listeners quizzing him over his unconventional private life.

The by-election also saw a fleeting return to the political fray for elder brother David Miliband, one of 40 Labour MPs who travelled to the constituency on Thursday for some frantic last-minute door-knocking.

It concluded what to say the least has been an eventful week for the South Shields MP, with his surprise appointment as vice-chairman of Sunderland Football Club.

At the same time, reports emerged that he was being lined-up a possible new role as a TV presenter with the BBC.

Cynics might be tempted to pose the question: What next? An appearance on 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here' maybe?

In fairness to David, he has made clear his intention to continue as a constituency MP at least until the next election, while in an interview with this newspaper before Christmas, he signalled that he has still not given up hope of leading the Labour Party one day.

He has also appeared to set out his stall as a backbench 'Voice of the North' – although his new role at the Stadium of Light scarcely seems designed to endear him to all corners of the region!

But taken together, the two stories highlight the difficulties which can face politicians when they lose their main raison d'etre – climbing the greasy pole.

And while he is not about to join the 'Z-list' of those who are famous for being famous, Mr Miliband needs to give careful thought to what he does next if he is to remain a serious political player.

The prospect of him becoming a TV presenter inevitably drew comparisons with Michael Portillo – and not for the first time.

Mr Miliband's somewhat cack-handed attempts to unseat Gordon Brown in autumn 2008 echoed Mr Portillo's botched coup against John Major in the summer of 1995 when his supporters were caught installing phonelines for a leadership campaign HQ.

Mr Portillo was regarded by many in the Conservative Party as its natural leader, but partly through circumstance and partly through lack of judgement, he ultimately became its lost leader.

There are many still hoping that David Miliband, so long seen as the 'heir to Blair,' can avoid a similar fate.

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1 comment:

Harry Barnes said...

Imagine my problems as a lefty and a Sunderland supporter.