Sunday 12 June 2011

Why David wouldn't succeed if Ed failed

My hope is that Labour will next choose a party leader closer to 2020, or beyond, than immediately after the 2015 general election, or even before it.

Whenever that happens, I can predict that Ed Miliband’s successor as leader will almost certainly be called neither Ed nor Miliband.

It could well prove as difficult to guess the identity of the next Labour leader as it would have been to, in 2001, spot David Cameron as the coming man, or Ed Miliband in 2005. The next leader of the Labour Party could well be Yvette Cooper or Jim Murphy, or perhaps in time Stella Creasy, Rachel Reeves or Chris Leslie, or any number of the other potential talents who have only just got into Parliament, such as Labour's newest recruit Dan Jarvis.

But it almost certainly won’t now be David Miliband who is next.

If the leader fell out of a helicopter tomorrow, I think it most likely that Yvette Cooper would emerge as the winner of a snap contest, her chances immeasurably boosted by acres of media coverage salivating over another stand-off between David Miliband and Ed Balls. (Our top commentators and reporters may panickedly realise that it could prove their very last chance to share any remaining TB-GB memories with the grateful readers).

I am not a great believer in theories that David Miliband had his chance in 2007 (when he was really being offered the chance to be a gallant runner-up to the Gordon Brown juggernaut), or around the leadership crises of 2008 and 2009 provoked first by the rather public non-resignation of David Miliband himself and then the actual resignation of James Purnell. (Alan Johnson would have been seen as a more plausible emergency replacement for an imminent election by many of those who would have supported David Miliband as a longer-term prospect).

But David Miliband certainly had the clearest of chances to secure the leadership in the open contest during the summer of 2010 and he is unlikely to get another one now.

There are two reasons for that.

The more foundational is that, in the sad circumstances that the Labour party were to decide that Ed Miliband wasn’t up to it, then the answer is not going to be a second Miliband.

(Perhaps there is an element of fraternal unfairness here, though it would still be somewhat difficult for the defeated candidate to again run as ‘the future, not the past’ if, say, he had lost the race to Andy Burnham. But it is Westminster bubble thinking to think that “sorry, we got the wrong brother” makes any sense. The political classes often fail to see the wood for the trees, or to understand how the electorate sees things. It is almost always forgotten that, out there in the real world, very few people yet have anything beyond a sketchy idea of who Ed Balls is, despite his having been a political power for 15 years. Public knowledge of comparative Milibandism is much narrower still).

But, secondly, let’s imagine it were still a likely prospect that one Miliband could succeed another. The problem for those who still hanker after this is that “friends of David” seem to this weekend be badly damaging his reputation within the party.

Whoever released the text of the David Miliband leadership speech that never was for yesterday's Guardian front-page seems to be following the playbook used by the David Miliband camp with the Guardian op-ed and non-strike against Gordon Brown of August 2008. Very little is gained, politically, from developing a reputation for plotting without then having a plot.

Much more damagingly, briefings like that for today’s Independent on Sunday front page, about how he is “waiting for his brother to fail” are toxic and would surely badly weaken his prospects were we ever to enter the scenario that David Miliband’s so-called friend is publicly fantasising about, because they look primarily like a refusal to accept the result of the leadership election.

But nobody would want to become New Labour's answer to Ted Heath.

These briefings so often sound as though they are coming from that section of David Miliband support which lies to his right, which sees itself as savvily plugged in to media connections in playing the game, and yet which does not seem to have had even five minutes reflection since last Autumn as to how a period of silence on their part may have been all that was necessary to secure their man the prize in the first place.

So which do we prefer? Contests or Coronations?

It is now often argued, firstly, that a leadership election would have been better for Tony Blair than the ambiguous Granita pact in 1994, and secondly, that it would have been much better for the party to have a leadership contest, and not a Coronation, in 2007.

Both of these are certainly articles of Blairite faith, though it is pretty difficult to find anybody from any wing of the party who now seriously dissents from at least the second.

It is inconsistent for anybody articulating those views to argue that Ed Miliband should have stood aside for his elder brother in 2010.

It was clear to most of the Labour Party by the party conference of 2009 that the two brothers were the likely frontrunners, and that it was quite probable that both would run (as Next Left's history of the pre-contest has shown).

If contests are better than coronations, then all David Miliband’s campaign needed to do was to win an election in which he began as the favourite. The problem for David Miliband supporters is not that Ed Miliband ran; it is that the frontrunner’s strategy failed to secure victory.

Here, it is missing the point to complain about being defeated in the electoral college, since the task was surely for the favourite to organise a campaign which could win the electoral college.

If Tony Blair could win 55% of the union and affiliate vote in 1995, David Miliband supporters simply needed a plan which would reach and mobilise these voters. (No candidate succeeded in securing a decent turnout, among less political affiliate members, and this problem was exacerbated for David Miliband because too many prominent supporters were making noisy interventions which repelled support by caricaturing their own candidate, somewhat against Douglas Alexander’s official ‘unity candidate’ campaign script).

It is also the case that the leadership contest rules also give a very significant advantage to favourites – a candidate who can persuasively show that they are likely to win has an important opportunity to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy early in the race, because of the nomination rules (20% of MPs) and the weight of the Parliamentarians (33%) in the electoral college itself.

There are strong incentives for MPs to both nominate and vote for a winner – with their votes made public afterwards – as we saw with the scale of the Brownite Coronation at nomination stage in 2007.

Affiliate voting couldn’t have mattered at all if David Miliband had got the type of share of MPs that appeared easily within his grasp when the contest began.

That is how the leadership was lost.

Sharing lost leader fantasies with the newspapers only going to confirm that there won't be a chance to reverse it.


T.N.T. said...

I think I've sussed out what the game plan is for the ultra-Blairite faction now. As Dan Hodges (rightly, for once) has pointed out, a leadership election before 2015 is most unlikely - maybe because of cost.

But they might be able to parachute David Miliband into the top job if they can convince Ed to fall on his sword.

So we can expect several months of briefing, rumours and dirty tricks from the Ultras to this effect. The idea being to demoralise Ed to the extent that he becomes Labour's IDS and gives up the ghost.

I should make clear that no way is that going to happen. Ed's a tough cookie - he wouldn't have stood for leader if he wasn't - and he will ride this out. Labour is ahead in the polls and I can't ever remember a leader being ditched in a situation like that. But Ed would do himself a huge favour if he got out there and started articulating a political vision for the second half of the 2010s. It's not necessary to wait for the detail of 23 policy reviews to do that. The weird thing is, he made a very good start on articulating a vision in his 2010 Labour conference speech. He basically needs to take that and build on it.

Robert said...

Next leader of Labour, if Miliband loses the next election and if Cameron is still in power and wins well, labour will look for somebody who has the same style as cameron, somebody who looks the same sounds the same, lets see who can that be. Shit Tony Blair, or the son of Blair.

No ok lets see, hang on who the hell cares.