01 November 2009

Miliband’s decision is one for the Labour party to make

Before we get to the column that does matter this Sunday morning, let us deal with with the latest poll:

CON 42%(-2), LAB 25%(-2), LDEM 21%(+3)

Mike Smithson points out that Labour are now in a far worse position than the Tories were in 1996.  He goes on:

We hear repeatedly that the Tories are not performing anything like as well as Labour were at the same stage. There is an element of truth in that but there is no parallel in a comparable poll from the period to Labour’s dire current position in the mid-20s.

You get the feeling that just like 96/97 voters have made their minds up. They might not like the Tories but they just want the election to happen so they can boot Brown out.

On one hand that is true.  On the other hand, it will not take much for the polls to move back into hung parliament territory.  Remember, Cameron needs a swing to secure a working majority that has only been achieved twice since the end of the war, by Atlee in 1945 and by Blair 1997.

We go to the polls in a little over six months.  The election will be called in early April, which gives only five months for Labour to do what has to be done and for the new leader to become established.  Two names are very much still in the frame, Alan Johnson and David Miliband, with brother Ed as an outside bet.

This bring us neatly to John Rentoul’s column.  After considering the options John concludes (Matthew d'Ancona makes the same point) that Miliband will, if the deal can be done, take the job as Europe’s foreign minister.  Although this is good news for us few AJ supporters left, it does raise a number of issues.

Firstly, the comrades may not take this news that well.  What the Labour party doesn't need, certainly not at the moment, is a row over Europe when it should be exposing Cameron’s weakness and his failure to show leadership over the treaty.

Secondly, there is the problem of a by-election.  Assuming Vaclav Klaus, the Czech President, signs this week the treaty will come into force on 1st January.  Miliband, having been appointed later this month, would then have to resign his seat.  With the public not in favour of either Blair or Miliband taking the Eurostar to Brussels, an unnecessary by-election could well cause an upset so close to an election, even though Miliband has a safe seat.

Thirdly, John suggests that Mandy may replace Miliband as Foreign Secretary.  There is no logic to this.  Removing Mandy from the domestic scene before the election is hardly a sensible way forward, no matter how much he wants the job.

However, there is the more substantial question to deal with.  David Miliband’s chosen career path is one thing, but is his decision in the best interests of the Labour party?

Rentoul correctly dismisses Ed Miliband as a person “not likely to give Cameron sleepless nights”.  Then he turns his attention to Alan Johnson:

For reasons that are still slightly mysterious to me, many of those closest to Tony Blair tend to favour Miliband as the next leader and to be dismissive of Johnson. Perhaps Miliband would shine in a way that Johnson failed to do in the deputy leadership campaign two years ago. So Miliband could still be prime minister – not for long, but possibly earning the party's gratitude for avoiding oblivion and possibly even with some role to play in a hung parliament.

This is an important point.  If various factions within the Labour party have decided that Miliband is the better option than Alan Johnson, then, so close to an election, he should do what the party wants.  Miliband has the capabilities to be leader, even though his communication skills are lacking and he comes across as rather arrogant at times.

Although Brown has to formally nominate Miliband, the other key player in this is Mandy.  What he decides is crucial.  If the rumours are true and he has given up on Brown, then he has to make the choice of who will lead Labour into the election.  At this stage it is not clear if he favours Johnson or Miliband.

Finally, Rentoul has this to say:

There would probably have to be a leadership election this time, even in the short time remaining, in which anything can happen.

John is going to have answer this point.  If Labour decide not remove Brown until January, just how is a leadership contest going to be organised just three months  before the election campaign starts?  More to the point, anything can’t be allowed to happen.  The process must be quick, well executed with little blood left on the carpet.

So, the choice that Miliband has to make in a matter of days is not one for him alone.  The Labour party has to decide, possibly this week, which candidate is best suited to lead it into the next election, even if Brown is not replaced until January.

As discussed, the dithering of Vaclav Klaus could well have implications for both major parties in the run up to the election.

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  1. EDB,E
    On the issue of the (Labour) problem of David Milliband causing a by-election; well Labour have left Glasgow North East without an MP for over 5 months to suit their needs, why not with this case?

  2. That is a valid point. However, Labour got away with this due the long summer recess. If Miliband does depart, Labour will not have any reason or excuse not to hold a by-election.

  3. I think a by-election in a Northern safe seat is the least of Labour's worries.
    I'd be surprised if Miliband went to Europe, but I may yet be proved wrong on that. It seems likely that Gordy will be gone be the election, though it is far from certain due to the Labour party constitution.
    If there is a hung parliament or a small Labour majority, Miliband could prove to be a powerful player at home, so I don't see why he'd want to disappear into the European mire