Is David Miliband the biggest loser from attempted coup?


by Sunny Hundal    
9:05 am - January 8th 2010

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This morning’s Times cartoon puts it quite starkly

And the media narrative also seems to have turned against him.

Financial Times: Slow response weakens Miliband
Daily Mail (John Kampfner): David Miliband – the pretender who is a serial bottler
Daily Mail: (comment): The real loser of this pathetic plot
Independent (Steve Richards): Miliband needs a lesson in political warfare
Independent (Andrew Grice): Inquest held — but no dead body
Economist (Bagehot): After the snowstorm

Steve Richards is right in saying there are only two options for Cabinet ministers in a coup: wholehearted declarations of support or insurrection. Miliband took so long, and the statement was so convoluted, that the charge of being a ‘ditherer’ like Brown is starting to stick.

I’m not that fussed.

Unlike his brother Ed, who I’ve been talking up as leader for over a year, David rarely gets passionate about any issue. He comes across as a stunted technocrat. About the only time he got passionate was his (admirable) attack on the Tories regarding Michal Kaminski and other European nasties. Ed at least is an easy communicator and gets passionate about his brief (the environment). Sure, he’s not really managed to extract major concessions on that front (and he backed the Third Runway) but he’s passionate.

The problem with Ed is that it seems to fancy his chances as a leader even less than David – who makes it quite clear. Or perhaps he’s a better politics player. Either way, his remarkable unwillingness to even look vaguely ambitious makes me doubt his abilities.

At which point you may ask: hold on, what about policies? You’re just talking personality. Let’s be clear – there is little policy difference at the top end of New Labour. Apart from the War, they’re all basically agreed on most issues. Which means the only issue here is that of presentation. So while Hoon & Hewitt were right to question Brown’s abilities in that area, what they lacked was any popular support from the Labour party or the left in their challenge.

It seems some monitoring was going on:

There was also anger among local party activists in Nottingham at the role of Hoon, who is MP for Ashfield. The backlash is a local illustration of what is happening in Labour ranks nationally. Downing Street on Wednesday monitored the Labour grassroots response to Hoon and Hewitt through Twitter, finding little or no support for their push.

I find that amusing but entirely unsurprising. The coup faced an overwhelmingly negative reaction across the only medium politicians could check quickly: blogs and Twitter. Political Scrapbook and then LabourList publishing those emails sealed the narrative and it was over. A sign of things to come.

Coming back to the main point: Miliband has to find a way to change the narrative about him, or when the real opportunity comes the potential allies may have moved on to someone else.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Realpolitik ,Westminster

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Reader comments


The party is falling to bits, people are showing themselves for what they are cowards. But in the end this is Majors last year all over again.

2. Alisdair Cameron

Let’s be clear – there is little policy difference at the top end of New Labour

And, by goodness, isn’t that a massive problem for the rest of us. A party whose hierarchy is still so blinkered and disconnected from the real liberal and left thinking not only of the grass roots, but which is to the right in many ways of the general populace. The NewLab ‘project’ has been instrumental in enshrining the sickening witless neo-liberal corporatist duopoly that British politics has become, disgracefully eroding civil liberties while overseeing an expansion in inequalities and a more divided,fractured society. The dreadful betrayal of the grass-roots and core Labour voters (taking folk for granted is unforgivably insulting when you proceed to sell them down the river), and the illiberal,undemocratic control-freakery of the NewLab machine, rank-and-file MPs have been filleted of any awkward-squadders and compliant (unprincipled,careerist) permanently on-message drones have been parachuted in (occasionally in nepotistic ways, but almost always to the dismay of local activists). That’s the problem right there: the party was eviscerated by the ‘project’ and the lobby-fodder couldn’t show backbone or demonstrate principle if they tried (not that many seem inclined to do so), while those at the top were all complicit in (if not architects of) the bloody ‘project’..

Yes he prob is, but that is largely based on unwarranted assumptions. Neither Hoon nor Hewitt spoke to any cabinet minister, and the list of 6 which Tory Robinson decided to use to prolong the half day coup was a joke. Bit like 6 almost random Shadow cabinet Ministers who may have said something rude about Gordon in the tea room sometime.

Doesn’t feel, nor is it much like John Major’s final year when Labour sometimes had 50% in the polls and the governing party had massive policy differences, as the Tories still do.

But they will troll on, in various guises, and in as many places as they can . . . Some of them are actually paid and called journalists y’know?

Sunny – I notice you didn’t mention Martin Kettle in the Guardian: he somehow manages to contrive a defeat for Brown even though the attempted coup was smaller than the one in June – but then he’s still pining for Mr Tony as well as tearing his hair out over D. Miliband’s inability to grow a pair and run against Brown.

5. gastro george

I can’t imagine that the plotters and their acolytes are making many friends by continually blaming the supposed contenders for a lack of cojones.

But then I suspect Kettle and the like are just setting themselves up for a new battery of complaints when the new leader is not Blairite enough.

David Miliband is damaged but still in the game.

He’s the only plausible alternative to Ed Balls.

Brown will try to fix the succession for Balls after the election.
(I’d guess Charlie Whelan’s already on the case part-time now).

Quite a few senior and talented people would rather flip hamburgers for Macdonalds than serve in a shadow cabinet under Balls.

I do not know who will win the leadership once labour is out of power, it might take many years before we have another labour government, lets hope whom ever takes over does not end up as a carbon copy of Blair or Brown.

Sunny, original post: “Unlike his brother Ed, who I’ve been talking up as leader for over a year, David rarely gets passionate about any issue. He comes across as a stunted technocrat.”

I am a bit uncomfortable about what follows. It may sound a bit like the Staines/Fawkes attacks on “autistic” Gordon Brown, which is far from my intent. I am struggling for the right words.

But David Milliband, the politician, is a bit weird and awkward. He frequently comes across badly on TV, lacking social grace. He is an intellectual rather than a gut instinct responder; Prime Ministers require a quota of both attributes. His sluggish response to this week’s attempted coup confirms that he should never be PM.

he make a perfect Tory though.

I wouldn’t underestimate David Miliband, the guy grown into his role at the FCO, he’s even developed some steely statesman like characteristics, he’s well known globally and adored by the US. As is his mentor Blair. His time will come, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d make a better leader than Ed.


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