Captain Miliband’s redoubt: deft, ruthless, doomed.

by Dan Hodges

Strange. There I was sitting by the phone, waiting for ennoblement and a fast track onto the Labour front bench, and nothing. Not a peep. Our leader really does have a ruthless streak.

That glaring omission not withstanding, last week’s reshuffle already had the potential for disaster. Following the catastrophe that was party conference, which included an admission from Ed Miliband that he doesn’t even know the name of the guy who’s likely to be heading his party in Scotland, you half expected to wake up to find Chaka Khan had been asked to join the shadow cabinet.

Reshuffles in opposition, particularly those early in a parliament, always have a bit of a deck chairs on the Titanic feel about them. But coming so soon after Miliband’s conference speech vanished with all hands beneath the dark waters of the Mersey, this was more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Carpathia.

To be fair though, Ed Miliband managed to conduct the first independent appointments to his shadow cabinet with a degree of political finesse. The ambition to strike a balance between youth and experience was realised. Key appointments, Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves, Michael Dugher and Liz Kendall, are all media savvy operators who have managed to demonstrate over the past twelve months that some substance lies beneath their greasepaint. And the delicate political balance between former Blairites and Brownites has been maintained.

Some have argued the promotion of Dugher, Jon Trickett, Stewart Wood and Tom Watson is evidence of a Brownite ascendency, but that is to overstate the case. “Dugher’s  a sensible politician”, said one Blairite shadow cabinet insider, “and more importantly, he’s a nice guy. We can have a decent relationship with him”. Although viewed less warmly by the Blairites, Wood and Trickett have been established members of Milband’s inner-circle since the leadership election, whilst Tom Watson now exists on an ethereal plain, far above the hum drum daily politicking of Westminster.

Nor was there the great Blairite cull that some had been predicting, and one or two Ed Miliband supporters advocating. Caroline Flint was demoted but not axed, and Ivan Lewis, who has actually built a good relationship with Miliband during their work on phone-hacking, was moved sideways, despite his controversial plan to arrest any journalist not conversant in every verse of the Red Flag.

That’s not to say the reshuffle isn’t without political risk. Youth hasn’t so much been given its head as had the reins and stirrups removed and been fitted with rocket boosters. Over the medium term that will create tensions amongst those backbenchers too long in the tooth to find a natural affinity with Generation Ed, and piles significant pressure on young shoulders. “We knew we had a robust policy on youth unemployment”, said one shadow cabinet insider caustically, “but Chuka’s appointment shows some people are taking it a bit too literally”.

Ed Miliband’s team are unrepentant. “Age is irrelevant”, said one, “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. The 2010 intake was very talented, and we’re not going to apologise for that”.

Few apologies are likely to be extended to those exiting the shadow cabinet either. John Healey probably has greatest cause for complaint, and despite the ritualistic statements about family commitments, was angry at being forced to join the school run before he was pushed. Friends of the former shadow health minister point with some justification to the change in Labour’s poll ratings on the issue since his appointment, and mutter darkly about what they refer to as the influence of the “Gobshite Tendency” on Ed Miliband’s inner circle; “We were behind on the NHS last September and then 30 points ahead two weeks ago”, said one Healey ally bitterly.

John Denham had told his leader several weeks ago about his intention to step down from the front bench, and parliament, although he also experienced growing disillusion at his inability to break through the ring of steel erected by Ed Balls around Labour’s economic policy.  “John was frustrated that none of what he’d proposed made it into either of the Eds’ conference speeches”, said a party source, “He’d spent a lot of time working on the business narrative, and he could see the dangers. He’s just hoping he may have a bit more influence as Ed’s PPS”.

Ed Miliband’s relatively deft, and to some ruthless, handling of the reshuffle doesn’t, however, change the political fundamentals. And the political fundamentals are grim.

His limited political capital left little scope for changes at the top of his team, and they are the only changes that stand any realistic chance of altering the political weather. It’s also noticeable that whilst the ranks of former Blairites and Brownites are undiminished, indeed have been reinforced, relatively few shadow cabinet chairs are occupied by true “Milibites”.

Nor can any amount of reshuffling hide the starkest truth of all: the shadow cabinet member with the biggest question marks hanging over their performance is the leader himself. “It’s desperate stuff”, said one shadow minister, “The individual appointments were fine, but everything he does at the moment smacks of weakness. The conference speech, the timing of the reshuffle, everything”.

That weakness is corrosive. It will also go a long way to determining how last week’s reshuffle is ultimately perceived. A strong leader in charge of a strong team is the political holy grail. But even a confident leader in charge of an underperforming team can sometimes find their stature enhanced through comparison.

Conversely, a weak leader in charge of a weak team is toxic. And a struggling leader who finds himself being outperformed by rising stars within his own shadow cabinet can find themselves damned by their colleagues’ success. Just look at the way the public’s admiration for John Smith haunted Neil Kinnock and Labour throughout the 1992 general election campaign.

The reality is that there are no rescue ships on Ed Miliband’s horizon. All the lifeboats are gone. The pumps are failing. His leadership is beginning to settle by the bow.

There are only  two options. He can somehow find a way of steering his vessel to a safe harbour. Or he will have to make the lonely walk to his cabin, lock his door and await his fate.

The quality of his crew, ultimately, is immaterial. There are only so many deck-chairs; and a limited amount of ways, and time,  to shuffle them.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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37 Responses to “Captain Miliband’s redoubt: deft, ruthless, doomed.”

  1. swatantra says:

    Or, you can look at it like a Manager of a football team that doesn’t actually step onto the field and kick the ball, but gives his 11 best men and woman the freedom to kick the ball around and into the net. But the Manager controls the ‘play’ from the sidelines and dugouts and gives them a rollicking at half time.
    Ed may not actually pick up the Cup but could get the accolades at the end.
    If he’s lucky.

  2. Alex Ross says:

    Disappointed there is no goss on the New Statesman row!

    Also think Milibandians sounds more original than Milibites. 🙂

  3. Eastender says:

    Really just more broken record stuff and inaccurate bar gossip (the comments about John Denham are simply wrong, I doubt very much Dan has actually spoken to John Denham about any of this) with some selective quotes from a (I doubt more) disillusioned junior shadow minister who didnt get the job they wanted or out of work ex spad. I realise there now appears to be personal animosity between Dan & Ed M (if the bar gossip on Guido is to be believed) but that is no excuse for continuing to publish this sort of stuff. Coffee House or Con Home would be perfectly happy to oblige.

  4. oldpolitics says:

    “Just look at the way the public’s admiration for John Smith haunted Neil Kinnock and Labour throughout the 1992 general election campaign.”

    Yeah, Labour’s Shadow Budget was the standout vote-winning moment of that campaign. Still, talking up Smith provides a nice balance to the more common fantasy, that if he had lived we would have lost in 1997…

  5. swatantra says:

    Dan has quit NS to ‘spend more time with Uncut’.

  6. AnneJGP says:

    During the previous Labour government’s term of office, this outsider gained the impression that most of the talent in that generation of MPs was being destroyed to prevent any challenge to Mr Brown’s succession as leader.

    So as I see it, Mr Miliband is wise to fast-track the best of the recent intake. It may or may not be the best thing for his own personal leadership, but it seems to me certain that it is the best thing he can do for the Labour party.

  7. Anon E Mouse says:

    Dan Hodges – What worries me is that Labour seems to be directionless and the response to your constructive criticism displays all that is wrong with the party.

    It was always a near impossibility for Labour to win the next election but with Miliband at the helm they are doomed. And they know it – everyone does.

    Labour need to go to the days of argument and rows about policies because without a decent leader with the talents of Tony Blair – someone who can reach out to middle England they are doomed.

    Someone needs to be running the party and they need to start now or this current government will have a hand more free than it already is…

  8. Carole Ford says:

    I always think of Ed as a millipede, even if he is without a leg to stand on.

  9. Londoner says:

    Ed Miliband will never be Prime Minister.

  10. Comeon says:

    No wonder you got axed from the New statesman, your anti-miliband stance is quite boring. Its also quite sad. You repeat a stat you gave in an NS article about Labour being 30 points ahead on health without highlighting the fact that Lansley’s plans for health are deeply unpopular with the public and health practitioners. It has nothing to do with Healey, who most of the public wouldn’t recognise if he mugged them in broad daylight while screaming “I’m John Healey,” most people just want something different from the destruction of the Nhs. The rest is gossip.

    ““We were behind on the NHS last September and then 30 points ahead two weeks ago”, said one Healey ally bitterly.” Why are you quoting yourself in your own article?

    When you decided to outline your political philosophy you came up with the bright idea of Labour copying the Tories plan for cuts and the VAT rise exactly. When the economy is tanking due to these policies thats not very clever is it? You also show a childish impatience, as if Ed Miliband’s leadership should’ve ended yesterday or will end tomorrow; there’s a long way to go till the next election and whatever the voices in your head tell you he’s pretty safe. I reckon you should probably take a rest from blogging until you get over the deep psychological wound David “sure winner” Miliband’s losing the leadership election left you with.

  11. Stuart says:

    Whole piece comes across as rather bitter. To say that the whole Conference is a disaster is more your take on it rather than an objective analysis. Saying that something is this or that or the other doesn’t make it so. Perhaps you should try religion – that’s their modus operandi.

  12. Edward Carlsson Browne says:

    I notice you always refer to “one shadow minister”. Given that they say the same sorts of things using the same phraseology, it’s not hard to tell that it’s only one source you’re relying on in each case. Always assuming this individual is real, I think the key question is this:

    Why hasn’t that disloyal gobshite been sacked?

    AnneJGP: I’m curious, in what way is Dan’s relentless chanting of “You’re shit, and you know you are” (I paraphrase very slightly) constructive?

  13. JohnB says:

    You’re a big boy now, and you need to drop the schoolboy jibes at wierdo Ed and give us some proper analysis. You can’t find much wrong with the reshuffle, apparently, but still ‘everybody knows’ the ship is sinking. Sooner or later you’re going to have to tell me why you think that’s the case. Until then, I’m sorry to say you’re a waste of space.

  14. Alec says:

    Can’t quite get what’s going on with Labour. Out here in the real world, voters are becoming increasingly prepared to forgive past errors and listen to what you are saying. The next election is well within your grasp, but as per the old days you are concentrating on finding 50 Ways To Lose An Election and are somewhat arrogantly indulging in incessant navel gazing rather than getting on with the job of trying to represent all those people being shafted by the coalition.

    This isn’t a game – it’s real people’s lives. Please stop pissing around like a bunch of schoolboy debaters and recognise that as the leading opposition party you have some responsibilities to the country.

  15. Stuart says:

    “There are only two options” Funny how when journo’s (the lovely Michael White aside) reach conclusions there only ever seem to be two options…

  16. Rh- says:

    interesting how balls got isolated given how…
    a) tainted he is with the debt mountain/structural deficit
    b) his propensity to backstab.
    Miliband operating out of self preservation and preparing the sacrificial goat perchance?

  17. Steve G says:

    I find the canonisation of Watson hilarious and deeply worrying at the same time.

    In reality, he gives not a fuck about Milly Dowler’s family or of the victims of hacking. He is simply doing Brown’s dirty work for him, getting revenge on Murdoch who dared switch side after a decade and a half right behind Labour.

    If Watson really cared about hacking, he’d stop refusing to listen to anyone who points out that The Mirror (Labour) is the biggest Fleet Street offender of all, and that the Guardian (Labour) also has plenty of form in this area. He’s a gigantic fraud.

    I’ve made this point on the New Statesman website whenever they fawn over Watson. Funnily enough, my comments are ALWAYS deleted – even though the many comments filled with hate and invective are rarely moderated.

  18. John says:

    Red Ed will be gone by 2015, the rest is just a game.
    Not a glove landed .. .

  19. swatantra says:

    Keep up the good work Dan, the Party needs some open constructive criticism otherwise we’re in danger of going through the Brown era of uncertainty yet again.
    Just because the Coaltion isn’t popular it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t win another GE. Look what happened to Kinnock.

  20. Dan Hodges says:


    Well, the inaccurate bar gossiper managed to correctly inform me John was becoming Ed’s PPS.

    You’re right about the personal animosity between me and Ed though. I saw him in Portcullis the other day. He kicked out at me, I kicked back. We traded a couple of blows.

    All very unseemly…

  21. Dan Hodges says:


    Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to:

    a) Read my boring articles


    b) Comment on them

    If you can bear to stay awake next time I post I’d certainly welcome more feedback.

  22. Dan Hodges says:


    “but still ‘everybody knows’ the ship is sinking. Sooner or later you’re going to have to tell me why you think that’s the case.”

    John, if you think I have not been writing enough about how and why Ed Miliband’s strategy is wrong for Labour, I apologise.

    I’ll try to rectify that over the next few months.

  23. Dan Hodges says:


    “Whole piece comes across as rather bitter. To say that the whole Conference is a disaster is more your take on it rather than an objective analysis”.

    That’s kind of how it works.

    I give my take on things. People call me an evil, bitter Blairite.

    You should stick with it.

    We’ll have a blast.

  24. Wilma Miller says:

    I so agree with Steve G re-Watson. He is an objectionable individual with some very dodgy past antics. Twin to McBride I think so in what way is his appointment clever or useful?At some point you would think the media may turn and start to point out his ‘previous.’

  25. Cat says:


    The problem is this “isn’t your take on things”, it’s an attack article meant to destabilise Miliband of the sort you’ve been churning out since day one. Rather than respect the will of the majority, you’re endlessly blasting out the David Miliband tribute band. Is there anything that Ed has done you’ve not criticised?

  26. AnneJGP says:

    @Edward Carlsson Browne: were you perhaps enquiring about the comment from Anon E Mouse? I was referring to the reshuffle itself and made no reference to the original article being constructive or not.

  27. john reid says:

    oldpolitics, the tory press, twisted the shadow budget of the ’92 election and said laobur were going to put up the basic rate of income tax, when they said they wouldn’t, that was why it was believed that laobur lost that election due to it,

  28. comeon says:

    You seem to find it incredibly difficult to deal with substantive argument Dan. You take on a sneery “I’m taking my ball home” attitude anytime someone points out that your vague, baseless attacks are just that. Lets hope that in the future instead of sulking you’ll engage with what’s being said rather than the fact that someone said it. You may be a better, more rounded journalist for it and prove less sackable for being one note ranter.

  29. Dan Hodges says:


    I’m not taking my ball anywhere, I’m on here debating with you.

    You have the perfect right to criticise my vague, baseless attacks, just as I have the prefect right to criticise your vague, baseless comments.

  30. Dan Hodges says:


    “it’s an attack article meant to destabilise Miliband of the sort you’ve been churning out since day one”.

    Or perhaps it’s what I actually think?

  31. Mike Homfray says:

    You should have the courage of your convictions, and leave Labour, because its not going in the direction you wish, and never will again. You have already expressed support for the Coalition economic strategy and that labour should try and beat them by moving yet further to the right. So why not cross the floor and become an official Conservative? They would welcome you on ConservativeHome, and you wouldn’t have the dissonance of having Conservative beliefs whilst staying in the Labour Party

  32. Carole Ford says:

    I think Ed and his New Lefties should Shuffle off – but fair play to them – the pudding is in the eating and if they can win the next election ……

  33. comeon says:

    But you haven’t dealt with the substance have you Dan. As someone else has pointed out you seem to find it difficult to stand by your words. You support the coalition’s economic strategy, why? And how do you suppose Labour would win an election by following a failed economic strategy that killed growth and is bringing about a rise in homelessness and child poverty?

    John Healey’s performance was execrable, do you want to argue the point that none of the public know or give a damn who he was or know any of the policies he personally forwarded for health?

    As you support the coalitions economic strategy and call for Balls to copy it to the letter what other policy positions should Labour copy from the Tories to ensure outright victory in 2015. The Nhs sell-off, “shop an illegal immigrant,” cuts in housing benefit?

    As a commentator you lack substance. Andrew Rawnsley at the Guardian does the inside gossip stuff so much better but he can balance it with knowledge of policy and true historical perspective. You lack such skill.

  34. Dan Hodges says:


    “You should have the courage of your convictions, and leave Labour, because its not going in the direction you wish”.

    Decades of opposition you mean?

  35. Yx says:

    Dan – I work in the Shadow BIS team. What you say about John Denham is gossip. Ed spoke about John’s business narrative, albeit, not in the way it should have been said – for which you can blame Ed’s non-MP team. John was meant to fill in the blanks but Labour HQ made a massive error, meaning MPs such as S Khan had to try and defend a policy they knew nothing about to national media.

  36. john reid says:

    dan’s last comment ditto

  37. John P Reid says:

    I don’t know how old Dan Hodges is, But look at Swantatra nandandwar, Sunder Katwala, Peter watt, hopi Sen, Luke Akehurst, there’s a hole group of Labour supprters who joined Laobur in the late 80’s (when only 16) who voted for the first time in 92 and took laobur after the defeat and Helped Blair win in 1997, they were the ones who argued that Laobur should support the temporary measures prevention of terrorism act , end the support for the closed shop, not renationalise the industires privaties, Support multilateralsim and were HAPPY When Livingstone lost his seat on the NEC, all the things that took laobur form actually doing worse in London in 87′ than they did when they got 27% in 1983, Now the fact that there were things in the 2005 manifesto, on Prostituion,or Abortion or Police mergers ir teh DNA database that the last govenment didn’t get around to introducing, ,plus there were things in the last manifesto like An AV refendum or fixed term parliaments that the current Gov’t introduced, Plus some of the things he Purple book, Blue labour or helen goodman are proposing that are worth examining , but just because there are those who don’t think that ed milibnads doing that well or that Livingstone may not win ext time, doens’t mean we’re in the wrong party,
    Remember we are here to oppose the elected Police commisioners/ N.H.S bill

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