Mr Miliband should shut up – Mr Brown won’t ask him to put up

David Miliband should put an end to speculation that he is going to replace Gordon Brown. He can do so easily if he wishes. Instead of saying stories about his running for the Leadership are works of “fiction”, he should categorically rule out seeking the Prime Ministership or allowing his name to go forward. He should call in his supporters and tell them they are no friends of his if they insist on fuelling such press speculation. He should ask them to help him stamp out any idea that he is the Leader in waiting. Assuming he wishes to be loyal, his best career option is to offer full support up to a possible General Election defeat, and then run for the Leadership of the Opposition once Gordon resigns and a vacancy is called.

It is easy to do to stop speculation. I remember MPs approaching me in the 1990s when I was in the Cabinet asking me if I would stand or wanted to take over from the Prime Minister. I always stamped on such speculation at source as I had no intention of challenging an incumbent Prime Minister or doing anything in public that could make his task more difficult. No stories about me running for Leader ever appeared prior to the Leadership election of 1995 created by John Major’s resignation, although they did about other cabinet colleagues. The danger of Mr Miliband’s approach is that he comes over as weak, the man who is prepared to see others wound the incumbent Prime Minister on his behalf, but who lacks the instinct to finish off a Prime Minister at bay. He is coming over as a ditherer, as he did when he seemed to look at the possibility of standing last year when there was a vacancy and then finally ruled it out. He is making his potential opponent, Gordon Brown, look positively decisive in contrast.

The second useful thing Mr Miliband could do for the country is to propose an agenda from within Cabinet that could help his party and the rest of us get out of the mess. Unfortunately from what we know of Mr Miliband he lacks such an agenda. It does not appear that he has been arguing against the Pensions Tax, the hikes in fuel duty, the vehicle Excise Tax increases and the abolition of the 10p tax band which lie at the heart of this government’s unpopularity. I see no evidence that he has proposed better spending controls to cut waste and needless expenditure, which the public accounts require. He did not seem to have a distinctive view of how to run the financial system, handle Northern Rock, or sort out the war of the financial Regulators within the tripartite system. He does not seem to want to pull our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan more quickly than his boss.To the extent that he does have a different agenda to Gordon Brown, it comes down to wanting to be more up front about transferring power to the EU, hardly a popular cause, and maybe some more choice in public service provision which would be welcome but would be at the margins of the NHS and educational system.

When John Major held his extraordinary “Put Up or Shut Up” Leadership election in 1995 I found myself in a different position. I had consistently argued within Cabinet that Maastricht threatened to transfer too much power to Brussels, and that we needed to rule out membership of the Euro to show that the biggest part of that treaty did not apply to us. I had consistently argued for lower spending to keep our promise on taxes, and had sent some money back to the Treasury from the budget I supervised because the department had been able to deliver good services for less than the allocation. I hoped that I could persuade the Prime Minister that others could do the same and we could turn the tables on Labour’s very successful campaign against “Tory tax increases”. That was why I felt honour bound to take up the challenge when the Prime Minister said these arguments, which I had carefully kept from public view, should then be conducted in the open. There does not appear to be any real argument within the Labour Cabinet over how to manage the economy better, yet that is the cause of the present discontents.

In such circumstances Mr Miliband should keep his powder dry, and spend some more time on all those long-haul flights he has to make as Foreign Secretary thinking about what a post-Brown Labour party should stand for. Labour’s tax increases are destroying the government. How could Brown’s Labour critics offer something better?


  1. Neil Craig
    May 26, 2008

    Miliband is an idiot. At one stage there was discussion on the web about his blog which cost the taxpayer about £100,000 a year. I commented on it a couple of times but found no trace of anything more profound than "environmentalist" cliches. I think he would make a very good replacement for Gordon, from the Tory point of view, whether before or after the election.

  2. Freeborn John
    May 26, 2008

    David Milliband is a bright guy, but Brown has a reputation for economic competence (admittedly slightly tarnished of late) and has shown judgement on some important issues in the past. Labour can win the next election, but need to recover in the next 12 months. To do this they have to effect some 180 degree changes of direction that they would find hard to stomach, e.g. to curb public spending and the growth of EU power. Milliband may present a fresh image but he is too much the true believer in the old policies to lead the necessary change. Brown gives the impression of knowing what needs to be done, but lacking the confidence to do it.

    The challenge for the Conservatives is that a win in 2010 may be a one-off based on protest votes against Labour which will fade when you assume the responsibility of office. Conservatives currently do not present a coherent program of the change they wish to affect that might retain popular support through a decade or more in power. The party needs to imagine what it wants Britain and its role in the world to look like in 2020 and to view the 2010 manifesto as the first step in achieving a prosperous society that trades freely in a worldwide common market, improved democracy based on constitutional reform at home and a new (non-political) relationship with the Continent, strengthened links with the English-speaking world that deliver practical benefits such as the right to work in one another’s countries, and an efficient British state delivering quality services, such as an education system that equips Britons better than anyone else for the best jobs in the global marketplace. The challenges today are different from 1979 such that simply reapplying solutions to past problems may see a return of the ‘nasty party’ tag and one-term in office.

  3. mikestallard
    May 26, 2008

    The thing about David Miliband is that he is very photogenic on TV. He has impeccable Socialist credentials, too, having been born into a strongly left wing family. I can see why he is so popular with the Left.

    Your analysis, of course (as ever) is right!

    One other point though: in his desire to be pro Europe, how true is it that he is following the usual left wing line and gently rubbing out our relationship with the USA?
    I imagine this is especially important vis a vis our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in procurement for military stuff too.
    According to Christopher Booker, the worst thing Tony Blair did while PM was to join the European army and also the hopeless European arms provision where armaments do not get delivered and which cost about three times as much as the American ones (which actually work).
    And then there is the problem of Iran which nobody over here seems to mention any more……

    Reply: I think Miliband is trying to do the same straddle Blair did – be friends with the USA and be in hock to the EU takeover.

  4. Matthew Reynolds
    May 26, 2008

    What we need are further tax cuts ! Bin taxes & VED hikes need to be axed while fuel duty ought not to rise by 2p a litre rather given the VAT windfall from higher oil prices fuel tax could be slashed by 12p a litre .

    Tax credits have been an expensive disaster that ended up being a nightmare to administer while the poorest suffered . They should be replaced by a bigger basic personal allowance .

    One possible idea could be a basic personal allowance of say £10,000 p/a for all taxpayers & a 10p band on the first £10,000 a year of taxable income . Taxable income of say £10,001 to £60,000 p/a would be taxed at 20% and incomes exceeding £60,001 at 30%.

    The thing is if your income was say £20,000 a year or less you would only pay 10% income tax – £20,000 is not much these days is it ? A 40% tax rate on incomes exceeding £41,000 p/a is far too punitive – 30% on incomes over £60,001 sounds more economically competitive to me .

    This plan would boost productivity growth and reduce avoidence leading to more revenue for HM Treasury , a stronger economy and an end to the poverty trap . How would I fund this ? Simple my sunsetting clause on QUANGO’s that could save £100 billion within five years ! If even the Lib Dems now favour cutting taxes & spending then such policies must be popular as that lot jump on every bandwagon going……

    My question to David Milliband do you have the guts to move Labour rightward to win a fourth term in office by embracing the economic liberalism essential to a modern economic policy ?

  5. John
    May 26, 2008

    Dear John,
    I noted your comments about the way you scotched overtures to standing for leader in the past. I am not a conservative, but I would vote for you if you stood in my area. Conservatives that I favour besides yourself are, William Hague, and the best Prime Minister we never had, Norman Tebbitt.

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