This weekend we have witnessed the latest in a seemingly endless succession of Blairite plots to recapture the leadership of the Labour party. That is how I interpret the flood of leaks and articles published this week whose obvious purpose has been to damage Ed Miliband and to call into question his leadership of the Labour party.
These Blairite plots extend back to the autumn of 2006, following Blair’s forced announcement of his resignation. They all have the same objective, which is to make David Miliband the leader of the Labour party. They exactly parallel the Thatcherite plots within the Conservative party in the decade following Thatcher’s fall in the autumn of 1990. As is the case with the Labour party now Thatcher’s successors then (John Major and William Hague) had to face a seemingly unending series of plots whose purpose was to make Michael Portillo leader of the Conservative party.
Both sets of plots share a common characteristic. On both occasions the plotters have been deluded on the subject of their champions’ public appeal. Far from being the sure fire election winners their supporters have supposed Michael Portillo and David Miliband are deeply unpopular with most voters. The irony is that this unpopularity is largely due to the way they have become identified in the public mind with the endless plotting undertaken on their behalf. In both cases this has meant that when Portillo and David Miliband have faced actual electors they have lost. Portillo unexpectedly lost his seat in the 1997 general election and came third in the party leadership election of 2001. David Miliband lost the party leadership election of 2010 because trade union voters, who share the sentiments of most voters, rejected him and voted for his brother. The plotting carried out on Michael Portillo’s and David Miliband’s behalf has therefore had a paradoxical result. By making them unpopular it has ensured that neither has become the leader of their respective party. Instead it has brought their respective careers to a premature end. Both have been forced into political retirement so that Portillo is now a guest on television programmes and David Miliband is a backbench MP.
The one big difference between Portillo and Miliband is that whilst there is no doubt that Portillo was party to the plots undertaken on his behalf I doubt that this has been the case with David Miliband. Throughout Gordon Brown’s troubled premiership David Miliband repeatedly refused to support the plots against Gordon Brown even though these plots had the declared objective of making him leader. David Miliband also refused invitations to stand against Gordon Brown in the party leadership election of 2007. His statement of support today backing his brother Ed Miliband’s leadership is so unequivocal that I find it impossible to believe that he has been engaged in any of the plotting that I have no doubt has been underway over the last few weeks. If I am right about this and if David Miliband has been innocent of the plotting carried out on his behalf then the plotters have destroyed his career and he is their victim. Had there been no plotting to make him leader it is very likely that he would be Labour’s leader now.
The Thatcherite plotting following her fall in 1990 and the Blairite plotting following the announcement of his resignation in 2006 were and are political cul de sacs for their respective parties. In neither case could such plotting succeed since in both cases it has amounted to an attempt to recreate a political environment (that of Britain in the early 1980s and of Britain in the mid 1990s) which no longer exists. Such plotting is therefore incapable of generating policies and ideas that are relevant to Britain’s contemporary problems. What such plotting does instead is distract attention away from the real issues. By doing so it impoverishes debate and fabricates divisions over issues that do not exist.