Today Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn have launched a website, which is “our attempt to help promote the necessary discussion and to focus that discussion upon the hard issues of the future”. I’m all for debating issues. If this turns out to be an ‘ultra-Blairite’/’über-Blairite’ (terms I’ve never quite understood) version of Compass, then they’ll produce some interesting ideas plus some daft and awkward sniping, and that’ll be a mixed blessing. If so, fair enough.
But if it’s an attempt to get David Miliband to be the ‘stop Gordon’ candidate, then it’s pathetic and he’d be well advised to avoid association with them – whether he ends up standing or not.
Clarke and Milburn, along with Stephen Byers and Frank Field, are widely known to be Brownophobes, and the tone of many of their remarks about him has been pretty hostile. Miliband has a lot going for him, but if he came to be seen as a front man for a gang of ex-ministers with frustrated ambitions then it would do him no end of damage. It would turn the leadership issue into one of personal rivalries and create more division than it resolves.
If they – along with John Reid – can’t muster a credible leadership candidate from among themselves, with all their Cabinet experience and political skills, then it suggests that their agenda, whatever precisely it is, just doesn’t have legs.
In a leadership election right now, I’d vote for Brown against anybody; and I don’t think anybody could beat him. Possibly things will change in the next few months, but I see no sign that anyone else would do better electorally. Miliband will certainly have a major part to play in Labour’s revival, but given that (I think) the most promising line of attack against David Cameron is that he’s an inexperienced lightweight not up to taking tough decisions, I doubt that Miliband is yet the most credible figure to lead such a charge.
By far the biggest ‘non-Brown’ political view within Labour is on the old left: those who either never liked or have now become sick of new Labour. A contest between Brown and, say, Michael Meacher, would be more representative of differences in the party than one based on the far slimmer political disagreements between the two new Labour ‘camps’. A big Brown victory over Meacher – followed by the promotion of bright young things like Miliband to prominent places – would be a confirmation that the party isn’t yearning to go back to the 1980s. But a failed challenge from the ultras/übers would give the Tories leeway to paint Brown as the old Labour throwback.
So yes, let’s talk about directions for the next five to ten years. But let’s try to be nice about it.