Alex Massie

The Rise of Newt Labour

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Labour's new leader "does human".

Over-estimating Ed Miliband is the new under-estimating Ed Miliband. That's why James, Iain Martin, Ben Brogan and, among others, David Skelton all warn against under-estimating Ed Miliband. This is the clever play. If Ed turns out to be a disaster no-one will recall warning that he might be surprisingly effective; should he actually be surprisingly effective then you can look sage and prescient.

Nevertheless, people, Ed Miliband is still Ed Miliband. The manner of his victory - no matter how much and how reasonably Hopi Sen manages to dress it up - is still the Union-forged thing it is. When the strikes come - and come they will - Ed will have some interesting choices to make, not least since I shall be pretty surprised if the Unions win much public support. 

Sure, some of the "Red Ed" stuff has been overblown. But no matter how intelligent or how pragmatic the junior Miliband is there's still no reason to suppose that he was the gravest danger to the coalition. No, sometimes your initial reaction is the correct one and, yes, Labour appear to have boobed in mighty style.

It's unkind to note this, but there's something of the slab about Ed Miliband. That is, you'd expect to find him under glass at the fishmonger's. Indeed one could go further: in appearance and manner (at least on television) young Miliband reminds one of none other than Gussie Fink-Nottle. Right down to the red tights of course. And admirable as GFN may be, he's no-one's idea of a sensible choice to deliver the school prizes at Market Snodsbury far less lead a great Labour revival. As Bertram Wooster put it, this is not a time for a Fink or any other kind of Nottle.

What with Red Ken in London and now Ed Miliband taking command of the party these are banner days for leftist newts. Nevertheless, here's a leading indicator for you: the fact that Ed was supported by a majority of Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament should give even his staunchest admirers some pause for thought. If that's the calibre of your fellow-travellers there's every chance you've headed off in the wrong direction.

Perhaps style and presence and manner ought not to matter as much as they do. Nevertheless that's the way it is. Nevermind policy, I'm not sure I - or many others - look at Brother Ed and think Yup, that's the man with a Prime Ministerial air about him. Whatever it is, Ed doesn't have it.

Caught between David Miliband and Ed Balls, it seems as though Labour have decided upon a happy-medium: Ed's not as likely to be as good in opposition as Balls but he might be better than his brother. And while he's not as likely as David to lead the party back to power he's probably less disastrous in electoral terms than Ed Balls.

Perhaps he will surprise us all. These things cannot be ruled out. However if pressed I should bet against it. The modern political world is rarely kind to poor, if intelligent, chaps who look like Gussie Fink-Nottle. This is unfair but an iron law nonetheless.

And a reminder to the new leader: if someone hands you a glass of orange juice tomorrow - don't drink it.

PS: David Cameron is too efficient to be a member of the Drones Club and too wealthy to be a Steggles or a Baxter.

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 articlePoliticsed milibandlabour party