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.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Fantasy/nightmare cabinets

Today's Daily Telegraph reports that "David Miliband has lined up Alan Milburn to be Chancellor of the Exchequer if he replaces Gordon Brown as Prime Minister".

This is interesting in that I had assumed that Miliband was going to try to position himself as slightly to the left of Brown. The highlighting of Milburn as Chancellor-candidate suggests actually he is running on an ultra New Labour ticket.

Miliband must know something about the maths of Labour's electoral college that the rest of the Party don't. I can't see how this kind of a ticket could win. The votes just aren't there.

To win the Labour leadership from the right you need not just a popular candidate but to construct a coalition that includes the whole of the right of the Party - New Labour and the "old Labour" trade union right; Brownites and Blairites - and extends deep into the soft left. For instance, when Blair won in '94 he had John Prescott as his de facto running mate, Brown clearly as part of the package and Robin Cook running the campaign. "Miliband plus Milburn" doesn't really have that broad coalition feel to it, does it? None of these elements by themselves can stack up more than about 20% of the electoral college.

If a Leadership election was precipitated, and it is difficult to see how this could happen without the support of the major unions, who I don't think are really ready for a Miliband/Milburn ticket, it is difficult to see who this kind of line-up could beat other than a straight fight with John McDonnell or another Hard Left candidate.

You could end up with Brown being replaced with someone not disimilar in their political positioning such as Johnson or Straw. But the results of last year's Deputy Leadership election suggest there would be as good a chance of ending up with a candidate from the centre of the Party and offside on some major issues like the already proven winner of internal Labour ballots Harriet Harman, or even an overtly soft left candidate like Jon Cruddas.

Thus the Miliband/Milburn ticket seems to me to offer the possibility of self-liquidation for the Blairites, taking themselves down with Brown.

This is daft politics. At the moment Brown needs the support of former Blairites. He has been extremely generous in promoting them - more generous than he has been to his own people, and more generous than Blair was to Blairites! All the reshuffle gossip points to promotions for the likes of Jim Murphy, Caroline Flint and Liam Byrne and maybe even for a comeback for Milburn in a Brown Cabinet. And in policy terms Brown has since the New Year embraced a clearly modernising policy agenda and given former Blairite ministers like James Purnell and John Hutton the space to pursue aggressively New Labour policies.

Destabilising the current balance of power in the Party is the equivalent of a double or quits gamble, quite apart from the churlishness of it as a response to Brown's considerable efforts to draw a line under past divisions. It's most likely outcome is to weaken everyone on the moderate wing of the Party and strengthen those who would move the Party to a more leftwing and less electable stance.  It's cutting off your nose to spite your face and I hope I am not the only person who was proud to call myself a Blairite for 13 years to be counselling against this kamikaze strategy.


Anonymous hughes views said...

Silly season column filling for the Telegraph I feel...

12:23 pm, August 06, 2008

Anonymous Labour Matters said...

Yes I have to agree. Having declared "Labour at war" the Torygraph is determined to give the impression that it wasn't wrong. It was.

12:42 pm, August 06, 2008

Anonymous John said...

The Milburn gossip is surely strategically placed by Miliband's enemies to make him look silly? I mean, Milburn would be a big risk, and he was spending more time with his family, I thought?

Nonetheless, I never thought Miliband was running from the left, though arguably from outside "the machine", but do you think the party votes stack up the same way now as they did in 1994?

2:06 pm, August 06, 2008

Anonymous David Floyd said...

Well, Brown in No.10 has yet to successfully position himself anywhere so Miliband doesn't necessarily need to run to the left or right.

I agree that the Milburn as Chancellor sounds like something being spun by opponent rather than something a real challenge would consider himself.

I think a Miliband/Johnson ticket is the most likely.

4:24 pm, August 06, 2008

Blogger Newmania said...

You have not asked .Cui bono? Think about it Luke , think about it .

5:04 pm, August 06, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Kamikaze tendency mate. That's what I've called these folks for a long time.

Have you really always been proud to call yourself blairite? I thought you went for more of a sort of 'hard right of the trade union right' line?

On the unions:

"I don't think are really ready for a Miliband/Milburn ticket"

I don't think organised workers are ever going to be 'ready' to back leaders whose primary concern is to attack organised workers, primarily as 'vested interests', but also as organisers.

The Unions already find a Miliband premiership difficult enough to stomach (partly because of the reasons around his non-committal to any sort of particular policy agenda or faction which you mentioned a while back).

If we were talking about a Milburn chancellorship I'd be into open warfare with the party leadership. And if it was a war myself and those like me failed to win, I'd be straight out of the party, possibly with the GMB.

7:57 pm, August 06, 2008

Blogger Graham Day said...

And in policy terms Brown has since the New Year embraced a clearly modernising policy agenda and given former Blairite ministers like James Purnell and John Hutton the space to pursue aggressively New Labour policies.

The results of this are plain to see... and they're not good.

8:33 pm, August 06, 2008

Anonymous David Floyd said...

"I don't think organised workers are ever going to be 'ready' to back leaders whose primary concern is to attack organised workers, primarily as 'vested interests', but also as organisers."

Well, for the uber-Blairite project that doesn't really matter because the ultimate aim is to create a 'liberal' party that apes the US Democrats.

Byers has long been keen to end the union link. Denis MacShane wrote an article fairly recently celebrating the formation of the Italian Democrats and suggesting a similar formation might be worth considering here.

There's a signification grouplet who want to ditch labourism entirely and probably end up signing-up to a centre-left international.

I doubt Miliband's heading down that route.

8:37 pm, August 06, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Thing is, Milburn hates Brown (that's no secret) so it does sound somewhat mischievous all told.

I don't actually think you are completely Blairite, Luke - more right-wing workerist, a bit like the old electricians union apparatchiks. Miliband strikes me as being more liberal and less easy to pigeon hole, which I approve of on both counts.

I would actually prefer a non-labourist party - a proper social democratic party!

11:12 pm, August 06, 2008

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1:07 am, August 07, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

I find all this talk of leadership contention rather juvenile. We have a leader, so we should all stop bickering (both left and right) and get on with the job the people elected us to do in the first place. I find myself agreeing with Luke on this one.

Normally I agree with Mike on many issues, but on ditching labourism (i.e. the ditching of the TU link) is a step too far, so I can't agree. If the trade unions used their influence properly they could promote democratic socialist (social democratic) policies to the leadership.
Besides all that the party has been an intrinsic part of the Labour movement, to lose that history of solidarity with the trade unions would be rather sad I think.

I suppose you could say the SNP don't have a link to the trade unions, but I don't think that has stopped them looking for their support. You've got to remember in Scotland they're main opposition is Labour, so keeping to the left of us makes them popular.

9:52 am, August 07, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Ravi: I suppose I'm not altogether happy with such a strong institutional link, but I think there would have to be major clamps placed on political funding before it could be reassessed fairly. The Tories will probably do it for us, unfairly.

I think the problems of the LP are far deeper than Brown, but seriously, I think that he is an absolute disaster as party leader. I do think he will be forced out given the rumblings I have heard locally.

1:05 pm, August 07, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

I'm sure Labour are at war if they aren't then surely that is very worrying.

The likes of A Scargill probably doesn't even recognize the Labour party these days and I'd be shocked if there still isnt' a couple of true working socialists left in the Labour party. But if there isn't then maybe that is why Labour have lost touch with working people in this country.

Miliband strikes me as an immature toff and I wouldn't vote for him even if I agreed with all his policies...which I don't. Browns best quality is that he is genuinely not up for the job as PM and a pretty useless politician.

4:37 pm, August 07, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Bloody hell, what's this, Socialist Labour Party time?

I oppose the idea of a 'proper social-democratic party'. There can be no social democracy while you have contempt for how workers choose to organise themselves and which opinions they choose to hold.

That contempt was represented by blairism, but it was represented far more strongly by the SDP and the resultant Lib Dems.

Labour needs a Labour Party.

12:04 am, August 08, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

And that's where we differ. I don't want a workerist party, but a party which advocates social democratic values. Which have nothing in themselves to do with trade unions. The Christian Democrats on the Continent have always had ties to unions.

I don't think that institutional concerns of any sort should be able to make huge donations to political parties. That certainly includes business, but unless a level playing field is accepted than I think attempts to control Ashcroft's activities have no credibility.

12:11 am, August 08, 2008

Anonymous Albert Shanker said...

The origins of this story, where it was placed and who it was palced with are deeply sus, while much of your argument I agree with I think there is a cui bono consideration here.

11:50 am, August 08, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

I agree mike but the only way that will happen is if we pay for our political parties via taxation. Then it all gets very complicated as you then have to decide who gets what etc.....

4:51 pm, August 08, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

The Germans seem to have got the formula right.
However, my main aim would be to drastically cut the amount spent on electioneering

10:44 pm, August 08, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

Agreed, I think lower funding will in turn clean up politics and create an even playing field which is a lot fairer than our current system.

The reality is though this probably won't happen in the UK. We have been trying to reform our political system for a long while the problem is that it is only the opposition that wants it. Once in power their attitudes towards it changes.

8:49 am, August 09, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Yes: probably it will take a hung parliament to see real change on that score. Also, because the two main parties have such strong institutional links, they are reluctant to move away from them

12:55 pm, August 09, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

A hung parliament is looking very unlikely at the next election. Same old problem in the UK we seem to put up with an administration and it's failings for too long. We then end up literally kicking them out of office and off the political map for 10 years as we get sick of them.

I voted Labour in the two previous elections and I would never have guessed they will end up this bad. Never again and if the conservatives don't deliver then they won't have my vote for more 5 years.

4:00 pm, August 09, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

I tend to agree that this has become a common pattern, and of course, the FPTP system encourages it.

I don't know who I will vote for next time: certainly not Tory, and neither Labour not the LibDems appeal as things stand. Of the smaller parties, Green is a possibility but I doubt there will be a candidate here.

3:42 pm, August 10, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

We don't have a green candidate either and once thought about standing. But although I would like a green agenda I sometimes feel the Greens policies could not be applied in the real world.

I do like Camerons ideas of getting saving energy and getting people more involved in energy production, whether he will deliver though is another question.

I'm not convinced on Labours green agenda, it seems to be very fragmented. The Carbon Credits system is a bit of a con but we have been given the opportunity to save Rain Forests using that system. A couple of south american countries under increasing pressure from logging companies have approached Brown to trade carbon credits in turn they will preserve their forests. What a brilliant idea but so far no response from the government???????

6:16 pm, August 10, 2008

Anonymous dirty european socialist said...

Why do so many people want to take over from the PM. Why do you want to be in a hurry to lead the party to our biggest defeat? We should keep thwe current leader. Does Milliband want to be the UK Kim Campbell?

8:30 pm, August 11, 2008

Anonymous Dirty Euro said...

I still think the present leader can win the election but none of the other candidates for the leadership seem to have much charisma so are they just setting themslf up for a fall if they replace him.
We should just stop the infighting. If we see in a years time the present leader cannot win I am sure like LBJ he will resign. But i still doubnt a new leader would make any difference. We will win or lose because of the economy. not the leader.

9:09 pm, August 11, 2008


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