Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mutually assured destruction

Behind all the brave talk of new generations, it is my fairly considered view that this Labour conference has been little short of a disaster for the party.

The outcome of the leadership election, via a flawed system that appears to have awarded the prize to the less popular, as well as the less experienced brother, has overshadowed the whole week in Manchester.

Had David Miliband won, as once seemed his appointed destiny, then the week would surely have been a breeze.

Labour would have elected an oven-ready Prime Minister who would instantly have struck fear into the coalition. Instead, the party has opted to do it the hard way.

As I have written before, I don't think Ed Miliband's politics are the problem. He was right yesterday to have distanced himself from some of the issues which caused Labour to suffer such a catastrophic loss of trust at the last two elections, and the 'Red Ed' jibs of the right-wing press will soon be shown to be self-evidently ludicrous.

Another of his nicknames, 'Forrest Gump', is perhaps nearer the mark. The trouble with Ed for me is that, for all his personal ruthlessness in fighting his elder brother for the party leadership and humiliating him in the process, he still comes across as rather well-meaning and naive.

To the Blarites, he was neither Red Ed, nor Forrest Gump, but 'The Emissary from the Planet Fuck' - apparently a reference to the fact that he was the only leading Brownite they could speak to without being told to "fuck off."

This too is revealing. Ed Miliband effectively won this contest by being the acceptable face of Brownism - by contrast with Ed Balls who was seen as its unacceptable face.

But the real problem Ed has faced this week is the psychological outworking of his brother's humiliation, culminating in today's announcement that he will not serve under him.

It undoubtedly leaves Ed weakened, and leaves Labour's already depleted top team looking even more bereft of experience, but it is merely the price he is now having to pay for upsetting the natural order of things.

Ed should perhaps have given more thought to this before he entered a contest which he did not really need to enter - that in destroying his brother, he risked ultimately destroying himself.

This self-destruction is not just a matter of whether Ed can look himself in the mirror at 3am in the morning, but whether, in laying bare the divisions within Labour in order to grab the top job, he has ultimately fatally hobbled his own election chances.

It was for all these reasons, and also partly because Ed's victory has left me feeling rather disconnected from Labour, that I posted a picture of Yvette Cooper on this blog last night under the headline "Labour's next Prime Minister."

Okay, so five years is a long time in politics, and Ed will doubtless grow in stature during that time, but in the increasingly presidential nature of our election contests, he doesn't look or sound to me like a man who could beat David Cameron.

So Dave is in for two (fixed) terms, Labour will turn to someone else for 2020, and Yvette - who in my view could have won this time and spared us this whole psychodrama - will surely make Chuka Umunna wait a while longer.

It is surprising in many ways that we have not yet had a second woman Prime Minister. The 30th anniversary of Thatcher's overthrow would seem an appopriate year in which to remedy that.

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