Alex Massie

Miliband’s Moment?

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No, I don't think so. Do you? Really? On the other hand, Danny Finkelstein thinks that David Miliband's piece in the Guardian this morning signals his determination to be a candidate to succeed Gordon Brown. Rosa Prince agrees.

And there was me thinking that Miliband is the intelligent one. Doesn't he remember William Hague's example, doomed to become party leader too young and at the worst possible moment. There's precious little upside in being the next Labour leader, whether the changeover takes place this year or next. Better by far to back a caretaker such as Jack Straw - the only politician named by Miliband in his piece - and succeed him once some of the shine has been knocked off the new Tory government and once, of course, Labour has begun its penance in opposition.

Right now, however, the danger for Miliband, surely, is that he may be seen as Labour's Portillo: wanting the crown but being afraid to strike, brought down by a curious indecision and lack of real judgement. In other words, he is forcing himself into having to run even if doing so may not be in his own best interests. If he doesn't run he will look weak. There's risk in not running of course: if he backed Straw and Straw lost then Miliband might be finished. But unless he possesses an Obama-sized ego, surely he can recognise that this is not the most propitious time to become Labour leader: you'll have to call and election and you'll almost certainly lose.

Brown must be furious with the Foreign Secretary, however. Miliband's article is a stunning indictment of Gordon Brown's ministry and, for all that he aims a few pot shots at David Cameron, an admission that it is the Tories, not the government who are framing the political agenda.

Consider this passage:

The public service challenge is new, too. The task of government after 1997 was a rescue mission. Now we need the imagination to distribute more power and control to citizens over the education, healthcare and social services they receive. So is the challenge to society — to build a genuine sense of belonging and responsibility on the back of greater protection from outside risks and greater control of local issues.

Well, yes. But this is (or should be) Toryism, not Labour's out-dated command-and-control philosophy in which producers always know more than consumers and Whitehall knows more than producers. Miliband is right to recognise that Gordon Brown's control-freakery is yesterday's stale toast, but why should voters believe that Labour are the party to relinquish control when the party has spent the last decade on an entirely different course. In any case, Miliband is moving to engage the Tories on their own turf which rather suggests the Foreign Secretary realises his government has run out of ideas.

For all that, Miliband asks:

What is on Cameron's party card? What is his vision for Britain? He doesn't have one. His project is "decontaminating the Tory party", not changing the country. He is stuck, reconciling himself to New Labour Mark I at just the time when the times demand a radical new phase.

Perhaps. But change Cameron to Brown and Tory to Labour and you have a wincingly brutal  - and accurate - assessment of Gordon Brown's ministry. It's almost as though Miliband wants one to respond: well, what about Labour's vision? Is there one? Aren't you chaps stuck too? Apparently so, since he continues...

New Labour won three elections by offering real change, not just in policy but in the way we do politics. We must do so again. So let's stop feeling sorry for ourselves, enjoy a break, and then find the confidence to make our case afresh.

Does anyone think Gordon Brown can achieve this? Of course not. Nor does David Miliband. But why would he want to be leader now?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticslabour party