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Wednesday, July 30, 2008 

The Miliband tendency.

This was probably one of those days when the great British public, those who aren't sunning themselves or wisely ignoring the news completely, find themselves remarkably disengaged by just how insular and geeky political reporting and machinations are. The government's foreign minister writes an article for an national newspaper. Article is deeply average, but because there's not a lot of news around and because the media are desperately looking for evidence of a plot to unseat the Supreme Leader, article is bigged up until it is most certainly the setting out of a stall for a leadership bid. Pandemonium breaks out on the streets as the country tries to take in the massive implications of this latest development. The law lords ruling on the dropping of the SFO inquiry into the BAE slush fund for comparison, unless I missed it, didn't even make it onto the News at 10 on the BBC.

Admittedly, the said article doesn't so much as mention Gordon Brown, and the press conference this afternoon with Miliband himself fending off question after question about its provenance will have done nothing whatsoever to reassure Brown himself of Miliband's true intentions. Jeremy Corbyn probably accurately summed it up, saying:

"Look at the timing, and look at the article itself. We are right at the start of the holiday season, and it is hardly a deep and thoughtful essay."

To which you can only reply, quite. For if this is Miliband's unofficial start to his own leadership campaign, it's certainly a deeply underwhelming one. There is not that much that is startlingly wrong with it; there just isn't anything that's spectacularly brilliant about it.

In fact, its contents can be summed up thus: we [New Labour] must not assume that we've already lost, even if the polls show that we're going to be annihilated; we must stop boasting about how brilliant we've been, but nonetheless all our wonderful success occurred under our former leader, Mr Blair, who I just happened to advise until I became an MP; even though I've just said that we must stop boasting about how brilliant we are, that Mr Cameron's wrong about us being a broken society because look how crime's dropped and how all these other things for which I haven't provided evidence for have dropped since we entered power; now, that Thatcher, she was pretty good wasn't she, inspired Mr Blair, and both of them were radicals while Mr Cameron is just a lightweight; Cameron, he hasn't got any policies, except for ones fairly similar to our own, and highly reminiscent of how we won in 97, decontaminating his brand whilst being suitably vague; that's enough Tory bashing for the moment, now we have to prepare for the upturn even though the downturn still hasn't hit properly yet; something about the public services; The Tories just don't get it do they?; oh, and finally we won by offering real change, change which our current leader isn't offering, so get ready to vote for me instead!

It's hardly Kennedy, is it? Not sub-par Obama class, even. Miliband does, it must be said, deserve credit for finally saying something against Cameron and their broken society nonsense, but it's nowhere near strong enough, nowhere nearly powerfully argued enough, and without any real background to emphasise the point. He's also right that the Tory belief that everything can be magically solved by either involving the voluntary sector or the private sector is completely unrealistic, but it gets lost in the general weakness of the argument. If this is the best that Labour has to offer, it's hardly going to cause Cameron to lose any sleep.

In any case, Miliband isn't going to win the leadership through fighting the Tories, if that is of course what this is the opening salvo of. He'll do that only through making the case that he can learn the lessons of the Blair and Brown years, the mistakes and the successes, and at the moment he only seems to have taken the positives from the Blair era and the negatives from the Brown era. As undoubtedly a Blairite and not a Brownite, that isn't surprising, but if there is one thing that Labour needs, it's someone who can either unite both wings, or can tell one wing once and for all that they can go and swivel, and if they like being right-wing so much, they can join the Tories and reign in perpetuity if they so wish.

Also more than apparent is that Labour continue to underestimate both Cameron and the Conservative resurgence. As addressed previously, for a while you could call Cameron a shallow salesman without any policies, but it simply isn't accurate any longer and just won't wash. Miliband is wise enough to realise that the attack has to be harder, but he doesn't seem to have recognised yet exactly what the Conservatives are doing, which is bizarre, because it's exactly what Labour was doing in the run-up to 97, when Miliband was none other than Blair's head of policy. Despite my dismissal of it last year, I've been devouring the Alastair Campbell diaries (which sums up just how sad I am, really), and what you can instantly note is that either Coulson or someone in the Tory camp has been taking notes right from it. The difference is that unlike New Labour, the Tories, rather than being positive, as they were with "things can only get better," Britain deserves better and other vacuous soundbites which didn't do down the country but rather the party of government, has decided to be negative but still keep with the same overall message. Britian is broken, things are pretty grim, but the Conservatives, rather than the washed-up and out of ideas Labour party are the only ones that can fix it. The New Labour victory was built, exactly as Cameron is doing now, on "decontaminating the brand", which came through Clause 4 and removing almost anything truly out and out left-wing from the agenda. The Tories are doing the same, but are throwing out the right-wing message now because they're confident enough that they'll win in any case.

There, for all to see, is Labour's biggest failure, and also its betrayal. In being so desperate to win, they abandoned their core and are now reaping what they sowed. The Conservatives, realising what they did wrong, have learned from that mistake. First make yourself electable, but don't become so obsessed in doing so that you forget what you're actually for. Miliband is right in one thing, which is that it is still feasibly possible, if remote, that Labour can win the next election. It'll just take far more courage and real change, not just the phony change so far offered by both himself and Brown, for that to happen.

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