A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Right content, wrong candidate, wrong timing

One of the advantages of blogging on holiday is that you get the time to think (whilst dismantling tents, building sandcastles and accompanying 2 year olds on steam trains) before responding to the latest coded moves in the unfolding political tragedy.

Yesterday, enter stage right David Miliband.

I've read his Guardian article and at face value there is nothing much for someone with my politics to disagree with.

Except that it clearly wasn't cleared by no10, which in the current circumstances is inexcusable. If Miliband didn't realise it would be interpreted as the opening shot in a leadership campaign then he hasn't got the political sense to be in his current job, let alone the top one. If he was aware of how it would be seen then he ought to do the decent thing and resign from the cabinet and call for a  leadership election, rather than further destabilise the PM just at the time when people should be rallying round him.

If Miliband is the answer to Labour's travails I'm not quite sure what the question is, because in many ways his faults are the very ones Brown is being attacked for, minus the experience, gravitas and strategic vision:
•Indecision: this is the guy who spent months in 2007 in a 'will he, won't he' game about running for Leader, then ducked it
•Poor communication skills: he was winner of my all time prize for woodenest platform speech for his effort at Spring Conference '06 - simply excruciating, whereas Brown can when necessary deliver a barnstormer. Worse still, the content is usually bland beyond belief. It's the other Miliband brother, Ed, who is the stunningly good communicator.
•Other-worldliness: I'm not in a great position to criticise anyone for being geeky but there's just something about Miliband that doesn't work in terms of use of language that chimes with ordinary people's experiences - which unfortunately Cameron is very good at. Too little experience outside the narrow confines of Oxford, policy wonkdom, Special Advisory and Ministerial office. If there was a vacancy for Leader, which there ain't, I'd prefer someone with experience as a councillor or trade unionist, or in a job outside politics somewhere on their CV.

Miliband clearly has many outstanding qualities: sound politics, competence and intelligence being not the least. But those aren't enough to qualify you as PM and Leader of a major political party. Indeed, academic intelligence as opposed to common sense and low cunning is an over-rated virtue in political leaders - an obvious example being Michael Foot.

I also worry that Miliband has been around quite a while now as a Minister, yet left very little record of concrete achievement. In fact the only policy I can think that I associate him with is the invitation for two-tier councils to go unitary, which split Labour in Durham and Northumberland and contributed to heavy losses in both counties this May. He hasn't had to front any flagship or controversial policies so we just don't know what he'd be like under extreme pressure. All I do know about his ministerial career is that some of his colleagues earlier in his career found him insufferably arrogant.

Finally, I am suspicious of anyone that you can't quite place on the political spectrum, and hasn't engaged with the organised right of the Party, for the simple reason that there is no form guide to how they will behave. I'd be more trusting of a predictable leftie.

Yesterday's Times said only Downing Street itself was trying to avert a leadership contest. Well me too. Where can I sign up for the keep Gordon campaign?

I leave you with the thougts of my partner Linda when asked what we should do if there was a straight fight between Miliband and a hard left candidate "Don't worry, the grown-ups in the Party will never allow that".


Anonymous Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Luke

You want to sign up to keep Gordon. Me too. Just get your pals in Downing Street to dust down the Rule Book re-read 4.2 B in particular (ii) and (iii) and get Ray Collins to send out the nomination papers.

Background here:


and here:


9:56 am, July 31, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right content, right timing and right candidate. Sorry Luke - I don't often disagree with you but on this I strongly do.

No 10 are reported to have been informed about the article. I am sure that David Miliband realised that some elements of the media would see his article as electioneering. So what - as a Senior Minister and someone devoted to the party he is entitled to express his quite sensible and inspiring views. Why should anyone be loyal to the PM. Where was his loyalty (and his cohorts) to the previous PM?

Again I disagree with your assessment of his abilities. I think he is most able and rather more appealing to the electorate than the current PM. I acknowledge that he did not stand against GB in the leadership race. However, GB had successfully cajoled (bullied)others over many years and no other candidate felt he/she had a chance to win against him at that time. I too would have resisted political suicide. I think DM's public speaking has improved and can only get better. I, unlike you find GB's performances arid and uninspiring. Have you read the reports of the Warwick Speech by the PM - a time when everyone needed rousing and he bombarded them with statistics. Anyone who has been successful at a young age will have upset colleagues. I too can remember my youth (40 years ago) and how precocious and "know it all" I must have sounded. He certainly does not come over as patronising nor arrogant to me. I cannot say the same for some current Ministers who are patronising and arrogant because they are in the PM's inner circle.

Your comparison with Michael Foot is absolute nonsense. I have met both men and am astonished that you can state that both are unworldly. Whilst I accept that it is always helpful to have had previous experience in the outside world - how many politicians really do have this? By the way I do not consider those with experience in academia (the PM as well as many others) as being worldly. That is my experience.

10:44 am, July 31, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Miliband certainly couldn't be worse than Brown, but the idea that he has not got a very long pedigree on the party (and indeed, within NL) is laughable.

Mind you, your scepticism makes me think he may have more to him than the Blairite clone he can on occasion appear.

How someone comes over in a conference isn't important. Remember Neil Kinnock? What matters is how they appear on the telly. I tend to agree that he can appear a little detached and I would also be concerned that he hasn't worked outside the political bubble. Having said that, he is aware of that deficiency, and unfortunately, it is becoming more and more the case that professional politicians are the norm.

The real point is, though, that Brown has to go. He will never be able to turn things round. People just don't like him. His communication skills are dreadful - he comes over as stressed and tired and, frankly, viewing the job as some sort of penance which he has to carry out. In this sort of situation his entire demeanour just make people feel worse! He is entirely incapable of inspiring an audience in any situation. In some ways its a shame, because he waited so long for the job, but its Brown who is the wrong PM for the current time. If he is really bothered about what is going on, then he will return from his holiday and walk the plank.

11:11 am, July 31, 2008

Anonymous David Floyd said...

"I leave you with the thougts of my partner Linda when asked what we should do if there was a straight fight between Miliband and a hard left candidate 'Don't worry, the grown-ups in the Party will never allow that'."

I'm not sure how the arithmetic of the PLP would allow this.

This question seems more about what you would you do if Miliband runs as the Blairite candidate.

I'd be surprised if there's enough Blairites to put up both Miliband and James Purnell.

Jack Straw is apparently poised to reinvent himself as some sort of centre-left candidate. That should be amusing. I suppose it will involve avoiding any discussion of his entire career in government apart from his sacking as Foreign Secretary for being soft on Iran, while talking at great length about how closely he worked with Barbara Castle.

And I expect Compass would attempt to back Cruddas.

11:22 am, July 31, 2008

Anonymous Alexander said...

Gravitas and strategic vision - are you really talking about Gordon Brown? The man has bugger all of either - having pledged to change politics after the spin of the Blair years he's done anything but. As you know I've never been a Labour supporter, but having endured the hell of the late 1990s and early 2000s in the Tory Party it's very obvious what's happening.

You've run out of ideas and drive and are now far more concerned about internal party ructions and plotting that trying to run the country when it really needs a strong hand on the tiller. The economy is in serious trouble and I regret to say that it's only going to get a dman site worse before we turn the corner. In 1997 no-one would deny that the Labour Party inherited an economy that was in good shape, should we win in 2010 I get the impression that we're going to spend the first four years trying to dig the country out of the mess it's been left in.

11:27 am, July 31, 2008

Anonymous Dirty euro said...

The main threat to the PM is oddly enough the left wing media the guardian and the independent seem to be intent on topplling the PM. I do not know why this is maybe because the PM does not work closely with them.
In my view the english left wing media are very very weak. After a few bad months they call for ther PM to go.

12:17 pm, July 31, 2008

Anonymous Dirty euro said...

How do we know it is not straw and harmans people who are spinning this up. Are they lining up milliband as the patsy.

12:25 pm, July 31, 2008

Anonymous MPs call for Milliband ti be fired said...

Two backbench mps jhave called on the pm to sack milliband.
Marahll andrews is one of my politcal heroes but I think that would go a bit too far. My view is for consensus appoint Milliband as chancellor and on the bais he increases taxes on the rich and cuts taxes on the poor.

2:22 pm, July 31, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to see Luke admitting there is an 'organised right of the party'.

You should give up referring to 'lefts' and 'moderates'. Don't be shy about your politics.

2:31 pm, July 31, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

During his press conference I think Milliband knew what he was up to which makes this a disgraceful act of disloyalty to the leadership.

The fact Brown can't sack him shows how weak he is.

On what your partner said about the "grown ups" in the party. Would these be the same people in the span of one year switching from supporting Brown's coronation to demanding his dismissal?

2:37 pm, July 31, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke - I'm glad DM said what he said.

The party needs a clear narrative setting out definitively what we are for and what we are against, backed up by a progressive policy agenda along the lines he set out (localist, green, socially just, an empowering enabling state not a tory walk on by on the other side state)

We have three options at the moment.

1. Carry on as we are - no narrative, a mass of unconnected micro initiatives, indecisive leadership and poor communication. This coupled with the economic situation means wipe out.

2. Change leader - ok risk of introspection and division, but in my view the outcome will be a better leader who can put across our message in a clear and intelligible way and really expose the tories for the charlatans that they are.

3. Gordon comes back in september and sets out a convincing narrative about where we are taking the country - and starts communicating this effectively to the public, backed up by a series of bold policy decisions (windfall tax, major push on child poverty)

I have always respected and admired GB and wanted him to be leader. But over the last year I have slowly and regrettably (against my own instincts) come to the conclusion he is not capable of turning this around.

He is scared of his own intuitions and so has confused the electorate (the standrad bearer for social justice taking away the 10p tax rate, the father of the nation with the moral compass engaging in silly and transparent positioning over inheritance tax and visitng the troops in Iraq during the tory conference)

Every time he is told he has a problem - no narrative, too focused on detail - what happens? he disappears into No10, we dont see him for 2 weeks and he comes back with yet another blizzard of incoherent micro-initiatives that no one understands and that change nothing. I would prefer GB making a go of this and succeeding but I'm sorry Luke looking at the evidence of the last year I just dont believe it will happen.

There are two things that are going wrong for us at the moment - 1) the economy over which we have limited control
2)leadership and communication - which we can do something about.

I am sick of seeing the party I love being dragged to the point of oblivion by poor communication and, in some instances, incompetence

A leadership change is risky and we may look divided - but as things currenlty stand its the only thing that keeps us in the game. option 1 is unpalatable - and option 3 (gordon turning things round) just wont happen.

2:43 pm, July 31, 2008

Anonymous amused and confused said...

Love the entry on DM. This isn't the miserable, boring, sexless Akehurst blog we've come to love, is it?

3:47 pm, July 31, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

"Why should anyone be loyal to the PM. Where was his loyalty (and his cohorts) to the previous PM?"

Because not showing loyalty will leave such people in an equally hypocritical position.

3:56 pm, July 31, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Anon said

"The party needs a clear narrative setting out definitively what we are for and what we are against, backed up by a progressive policy agenda along the lines he set out..."

Who is Milliband to say this? This sort of thing should be said by the PM and not his Foreign Secretary.

We either support Brown or we face an early election under Milliband or someone similar where we will lose, and it will be the careerist New Labourites fault.

4:10 pm, July 31, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Ravi: Brown is toast. Its just a matter of when he goes, not if - he simply has gone too far past the point of ever being able to turn things around, in my view.

4:16 pm, July 31, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marshall-Andrews calling a Labour Party Member disloyal ?

Well I never.


4:19 pm, July 31, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Mike, a change of leader now is suicide. We are now 18% behind the Tories. We get rid of Brown and replace him with the Tony clone Milliband (or some other NL non entity) and we lose the next GE anyway.

I appreciate what you are saying, sack Brown to save the party not the government but who do we replace him with?

All other contenders supported Brown's coronation, all supported the same New Labour pro market policies we both despise, and change at the top without a change in policy is pointless. We on left of New Labour (i.e. yourself and I)are so few in number and influence at this time there can be no candidate from the Left to mount a challenge (especially if the "Grown ups" in the party have their way).

From the empty suits on show there is only one man for the job and that is Brown.

4:48 pm, July 31, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke said - "If he was aware of how it would be seen then he ought to do the decent thing and resign from the cabinet ..."

Well it looks like he's about to do just that.


5:36 pm, July 31, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Perhaps I'm just always on the look-out for conspiracies but I think Luke has spotted that his backing doesn't tend to be a political boon... Could this be Luke's way to give a boost to Miliband?


7:00 pm, July 31, 2008

Blogger The Daily Pundit said...

There's another advantage to blogging on holiday, Luke - the font size is bigger and easier to read.

8:45 pm, July 31, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Ravi: whilst I tend to agree with a lot of what you say, I think that Brown has become so unpopular that there may be no choice to change to someone else. It just seems that every time Brown opens his mouth, he makes it worse.

Strangely enough I'd actually prefer Miliband to some on offer, and certainly to Brown - those opposing him and preferring Brown all seem to be from the workerist right and left (homophobic Geraldine Smith and maverick Marshall-Andrews)

9:21 pm, July 31, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke, your loyality is admirable, but as Neil Kinnock said that quality, in excess, fills politicial graveyards.

The battle now is for the very survival of the Labour Party. With Gordon at the head of the government we are going to be so badly defeated that we will face the real prospect of break up or political eclipse.

Therefore we have to be bold and do what is required for the greater good.

If you have a beter candidate than David M then say so. But in the meantime the world will be run by those who turn up.

11:16 am, August 01, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Mike, I suppose that must make me the maverick (certainly better than being a bigot)!!

Seriously though, I doubt Miliband can count on much party membership support, especially if he wields the knife.

Tony Blair announced he was going before the last election. He created the atmosphere for debate on the leadership and direction of the party.

Love him or loathe him, Brown is the leader by popular acclimation of the PLP and CLPs.

Was it wrong there was no election of him as leader? You bet it was. Has he moved the party to the right making us unelectable in our heartlands? Damn right he has. So why do I want him to remain?
We are not in any shape ready to fight an election. We have fewer activists on the ground than the Tories, less money than them, probably after an election battle between whatever cheeks of the same backside decides to run we will come across as divided and the most important fact of all we would be slaughtered at a GE.
Mike, you’re a smart man, don’t delude yourself thinking Miliband would be any different to Brown policy wise. According to a poll mentioned on Newsnight , Miliaband is no more popular than Brown.

11:26 am, August 01, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Oh, he may not be, Ravi, but I'm afraid that Brown is simply as appealing as a wet weekend. And I'd rather the Tories had some sort of opposition left should they win next time...Brown is simply the wrong person to turn things around.

1:06 am, August 05, 2008


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