Bonnie prince Davy, Labour’s lost king

by Atul Hatwal

The king over the water is an alluring concept. Over the water the grass is greener. Hopes and aspirations are nurtured, castles built in the air.

Rarely does the inconvenience of reality intrude on the floating possibility or what might be, if only the king could return.

Followers of faraway kings tend to assume away questions on what their leader would actually do with power and fixate on removing the undeserving incumbent.

For all those years in the early 2000s, legions of Brownites (back in the days when such a grouping existed) didn’t give a second thought to tricky details like an alternative policy programme. All would be fine. Plans were bound to have been made by pointy headed wonks in backrooms somewhere. What mattered most was removing Blair. That was the business of politics.

And so the wheel turns and now its bonnie prince Davy who awaits with a promise of a better tomorrow.

The reaction across the media to David Miliband’s article in the New Statesman is defined by lost leader syndrome. All the reporting has been entirely through the prism of a leadership challenge, nothing on the substance of what he’s saying.

In one sense, the focus on personalities is understandable. The fraternal schism is compelling, and despite the “100% denial” from friends of David Miliband that it was an attack on Ed, number one son’s words in the New Statesman are quite pointed.

David Miliband is clear in the piece that Labour is now seen as the party of “fiscal incontinence”.

He highlights the dangers of going into an election again without a single major business supporting the party and castigates the rising influence of “reassurance Labour” – statist, leftish, vaguely old Labour, we-got-our-party-back types that remain his brother’s strongest advocates.

After a year and a half of Ed’s leadership, it’s difficult to see how in his brother’s eyes, Ed Miliband is not at least partially culpable for this sorry state of affairs.

It’s fair game to report this. But the coverage all ends there.

Nothing is written about the alternate vision that David Miliband sets out. As with Gordon Brown before he ascended to the top job, any analysis of how this potential leader would wield power is deemed insufficiently relevant to report.

This is a shame. The New Statesman piece is long and expansive and gives a good flavour of why David Miliband didn’t win the leadership of the Labour party.

As with so many of his policy speeches during the leadership election, Miliband’s case is characterised by hastily assembled straw men that are then summarily burned.

First on the bonfire are those who view state action as the sole panacea to the evils of inequality. “The public won’t vote for the prescription that central government is the cure for all ills” states David confidently.

Presumably one of the reasons he can be so certain is that no party or politician actually believes this.

Then there’s a discussion about internationalism that extends as far as saying Labour needs to find a way to make it work, without offering a single idea on how. The nearest Miliband comes to an answer is to call for “globalisation to be shaped for mass benefit”. What an insight from the former Foreign Secretary.

And a discourse about equality concludes that Labour needs to tackle inequality while “embracing notions of merit, reward and responsibility”. Yet again the precision and solutions needed by Labour in opposition.

But perhaps the most telling section sets out the elder Miliband’s economic analysis. Economic competence after all is where Labour has been grievously injured and where electoral trust must be most urgently rebuilt.

The title to this section says everything, “We need a politics of economic growth, not just redistribution and regulation.”


What does that mean? Answers on a postcard please, or in the comments section.

I’m not sure what a “politics of economic anything” is, but assuming this is a point about economic priorities, is any party on the ballot at the next election espousing an anti-growth economic strategy? Not even the Greens are advocating a longer, deeper recession as the way forward.

The economic review ends with the piercing insight that what is required is “responsible capitalism” and “productive capitalism”.

Well it’s lucky that’s all settled then. No need for any more fears about casino capitalism or the global economy. Everyone just needs to be a bit more responsible. And productive.

David Miliband is not a daft politician. On camera he has that quality which separates the best from the rest. But when he writes like this and is lauded for his vision, something has gone wrong. The piece wouldn’t pass muster as an A-level essay. There’s no argument, no evidence and little conclusion.

This isn’t a contribution to the battle of ideas it’s just a series of platitudes.

The danger for followers of kings over the water is that they become so resentful of the incumbent and desperate for their leader to return, they will overlook almost all failings in their desire for salvation.

For the sake of David Miliband’s own leadership ambitions, his followers should demand a lot more. Everything about him suggests he could be capable. But, he needs to show it. Otherwise, like Gordon Brown, his reputation and memory might ultimately be better served if he were to stay right where he is, over the water.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor at Uncut

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11 Responses to “Bonnie prince Davy, Labour’s lost king”

  1. Nick says:

    This isn’t a contribution to the battle of ideas it’s just a series of platitudes.


    As is your article Atul.

    Where is the content on your side? Nothing – just a set of moans.

    The problem is government. The legacy of Labour is 7,000 bn of debt. The Condems will leave an even bigger mess, because they are increasing spending and debt at a rapid rate.

    In otherwords, it has tipped. The UK is going the way of Greece.

    If you think different, post the numbers. You won’t.

    Now for another set of numbers. What should the benefit cap be in Toxteth. I think the people of Toxteth should be told.

  2. John P Reid says:

    The press are picking up on this as an ttack on Ed, read Eoin Clarkes blog and he point’s out it wasn’t, Ed miliband had the energy to win, and unfrtunatley he’s been disapointing, david miliband couldn’t win the ARGUMENT to win and as such he had his chance and blew it, after the Leelction If another leader (Yvette)t akes over the next elader would be wise to invite david back, but he’s not leadership amterial as by his fialed leadership campaign showed,

  3. The Future says:

    David Miliband should leave politics. That or grow up and join the shadow cabinet. Most people, even his allies, are becoming tired of this self indulgent flounce. Always the same. Write and article, damn with faint page and then nothing!

    He needs to move on before he does his reputation any more damage.

  4. figurewizard says:

    The ‘economics of growth’ rings a bell because that is what we were told we were getting year on year at budget time, until the wheels eventually fell off that is. For most of his Parliamentary career David Milliband was part of that narrative.

    That makes him as discredited as the rest of Labour’s front bench. This and the long running and as yet unresolved feud between Blairites and Brownites means that he would clearly be unable to pull the party together to get on with providing a meaningful and constructive opposition. As a new leader he would actually end up being regarded as ‘more of the same’ and an impediment therefore to finding the new people and developing the genuinely new policies that are needed to persuade the rest of us that it could once again be trusted in government.

  5. A very sound piece. He came to my university a few days ago. He was pleasant, thoughtful, interesting – but I still couldn’t work out what he believed in and what he would DO.

  6. Emma Burnell says:

    the biggest problem with Miliband’s article (other than the turgid prose) is that it makes the common but enormous mistake of but makes the mistake of thinking Labour only has one comfort zone.

    We have two, the so-called reassurance tradition and a dogmatic New Labour approach. Both are electorally hazardous.

    Simply arguing that we should exchange one for the other (either way) is a disastrous distraction from the work we need to do to present a Labour politics for 2012. Not 1983 or 1994.

  7. swatantra says:

    David should be thankful that there are things other than politics to occupy his mind and earn a decent living at. Basically he bottled his chance of taking the leadership off Gordon, and you don’t get a second chance in politics. I have a feeling that he will end up an embittered old man like David Owen, unless he changes direction; Owen likewise did a 3 year stint as Foreign Sec and was then retired by the electorate. He could try journalism or university lecturing just like Condeleeza after she fell from grace. He mustn’t look on it as a demotion but as a carreer change for he better. Its pointless him setting out a platform to spring back because I’m not listening, and neither is anyone else.

  8. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    DM made many errors in his article it was not worth reading beyond the first paragraph and that is saying something…..

  9. anne says:

    I have not read David Milband’s article in New Statesman, but do intend to. I am a Labour Party member. I would like to see David invited into the Shadow Cabinet – I think he is a talented politician and still has a lot to offer in this field. Ed has got off to a slow start with his leadership approach but he is improving, and he is gathering a good team around him, and David would be a good asset to this team. Working togther is much more effective in achieving goals than as separate entities. The challenges should be made to the Tories – not within our own party.

  10. AnneJGP says:

    It seems to me it would be worth Labour’s while to take a hard look at the whole issue of same-family members being in the same parliament. Mr & Mrs Blair got it right on this point.

    For people who are aware of these things, there is something a bit odd about the higher echelons of the Labour party at the moment.

    Most big firms have policies about keeping people who are connected at a distance from each other.

  11. swatantra says:

    Annie raises an important point about keping things and steady source of income in the family. We do have married couples, divorced anor separated couples , and ‘partners’ and boyfriends and girlfrends and mistresses and toyboys on the gren benches. And it could all be a bit icestuousin the Westminster Village.For variety and fresh faces it might be a good idea to impose a ban. Cherie and Sarah and SamCam and Dennis Thatcher all did the right thing., kept right out of the melee.
    At local council level couples/partners feature a lot, because you simply can’t get the staff There is a reluctance of members to fill seats and particularly on the Labour side it can be extremely unhealthy, because you get retired p/t or the permanantly unemployed/unemployable becoming councillors. Very unrepresentative and very unhealthy. I hope Ed takes a really close look at introducing more diversity. Quotas and 2/3 terms max for anyone might do the trick.

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