It comes as no surprise today to see a poll telling us that David Miliband would be no more successful against David Cameron than Gordon Brown. The problem is primarily economic. Mr Miliband has not put forward an alternative, is not a critic of the PM’s over his poor handling of the economy, and offers no reassurance to the British public that a government under his leadership would change things for the better.
When John Major was in a similar position to Gordon Brown, with the two Michaels (Heseltine and Portillo) widely tipped for his crown and endless speculation about their possible leadership bids, John Major told all of us in Cabinet to put up or shut up. I felt obliged to resign and take the argument to the country that I had been waging for years against his economic stewardship – as a fierce opponent of the ERM, the higher taxes he imposed and the failure to curb public spending. I had been putting (in confidence within government) a consistent alternative and felt I could not “shut up”. Major’s device stopped the two Michaels from prosecuting their leadership ambitions at that stage, and sealed their fate never to lead the party. Unfortunately John Major did not listen to the need for an alternative economic strategy, so that also sealed his.
Gordon Brown would be less at risk of a challenge if he tried what John Major successfully executed as a personal survival strategy as Leader. David Milliband would not run. He would not be able to show he had consistently opposed the mistaken economic policy the government has pursued. I find myself in agreement with both the government spin machine and the official Conservative one that David Miliband is neither the answer to Labour’s problems nor to the country’s. It shows a complete lack of political judgement to allow the story to emerge that Alan Milburn would be his Chancellor. That is no way to win more hearts and minds for a Leadership bid in the left inclining Labour party. It shows a lack of political maturity for someone to be counting so many chickens so soon.