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.