Saturday, June 05, 2010

Miliband Major has the Big Mo

The Con-Lib coalition overcame its first major crisis over the past week with the resignation of the Treasury Chief Secretary David Laws after what must be the shortest Cabinet career on record.

Doubtless it is a huge loss to the government. Mr Laws was easily the most popular Lib Dem on the Tory benches, and as such was a vital bridge between the two governing parties.

That said, it says a lot for the strength of David Cameron and Nick Clegg's alliance that Mr Laws' shock departure, after revelations about his expense claims and his private life, failed to sever it.

Although there do appear to have been some behind-the-scenes disagreements about how the resignation should be managed – and how Mr Laws should be replaced – in public at least the coalition managed to maintain a united front.

Debate will linger on over whether Mr Laws was right to resign, although my own feelings are that he made the right call in judging that he could not be the man to oversee expenditure cuts having claimed expenses he was not entitled to.

But after a month of writing mainly about the coalition, I'm going to focus instead this week at what is happening on the opposite side of the House.

Granted, Labour's leadership race hasn't exactly sprung into life yet, with most of the better-known contenders ruling themselves out on the grounds of age and the current front-runners a monochrome set of white, middle-class former policy wonks.

But with a swift return to power a real possibility for Labour if the coalition were to hit the buffers, the choice is certainly not without significance.

Many Labour activists in the North-East will doubtless be hoping South Shields MP David Miliband can emulate Tony Blair and Ramsay Macdonald and become the third party leader to hold a seat in the region.

History is certainly on his side. While the Tories are often inclined to favour the unexpected in their choice of leader, Labour almost invariably opts for the most 'obvious' candidate.

It usually pays off, too. Harold Wilson over George Brown in 1963, Jim Callaghan over Michael Foot in 1976, John Smith over Bryan Gould in 1992 and Tony Blair over Margaret Beckett in 1994 were all the right choices.

As if to prove the point, on the one occasion on which Labour passed over the obvious successor - choosing Mr Foot over Denis Healey in 1981 – it proved a disaster.

Support for the six candidates among the North-East's 25 Labour MPs is fairly evenly spread.

David Miliband currently has six nominations from the region, Ed Balls five, Ed Miliband four, and the other three candidates one each.

While left-wingers Diane Abbott and John McDonnell appear unlikely to get the 33 nominations necessary to join Mr Balls and the Milibands on the ballot paper, former health secretary Andy Burnham still might.

The one North-East MP backing him thus far is Durham North's Kevan Jones, who is not a bad person to have on your side in an internal party election.

Ed Miliband began the contest looking handily-placed, potentially the most open to fresh ideas and the least weighed-down by previous baggage. Mr Balls meanwhile is a proven campaigner who is sure to get big support from the unions.

But it is the elder Miliband who appears to have that crucial electoral asset: momentum.

Most of the heavyweights from the Brown Cabinet have lined-up behind him and as well as being the most experienced of the candidates, he both looks and sounds the most Prime Ministerial.

It is early days – but the Labour leadership is already looking like it is David Miliband's to lose.

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Anonymous said...

The banana-wielding nerd simply isn't PM material. But then, neither are the others.

I think, hope and pray that the next Labour PM (if we HAVE to have one) isn't even yet elected to Parliament. We need at least a generation to recover from the last one.

Anonymous said...

I hate to be pernickety, but I think you'll find the shortest cabinet career in history was that of the third Earl Temple. He was made Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the 19th December 1783 and resigned on the 21st after the House of Lords threatened to impeach him for siding with the King against Parliament.

I personally am far from certain Miliband can win it, because I think Ed Balls might prove a very tough opponent - but since none of them are really asking, never mind answering the two key questions ("why do people hate us?" and "what do we do about it?") for fear of frightening the horses, it probably doesn't actually matter very much.

Anonymous said...

At least now that Abbott has been nominated the choice of leader is not down to wonkers and balls.

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