Monday, 12 December 2011

I Was Wrong

I am, as my regular reader will know, exceptionally annoyed about the Coalition Government's decision to withdraw from the European Union. They have, however, clearly got a Commons majority for whatever they want to do. We can only hope they don't next decide to bring back hanging, since, as Nick Clegg assures us "The Coalition Government is here to stay." No matter what.

And, while it will be fun seeing the destruction of the Liberal Democrats at the next election, there is no reason to think we will be any greater gainers than the Tories. So, if that's all that happens, we will likely just end up with (another) right wing Tory Government. Just with different personnel.

Bernard Jenkin entertained the airways this morning with his observations that the French have never liked us while the smaller countries won't support us because they are all scared of the Germans. When Vince Cable loses his seat, perhaps Mr Jenkin will be promoted to the Cabinet. To be honest, given the events of the last few days, it will make no practical difference.

But, if I am annoyed with the Libs, I am almost as annoyed at the mealy mouthed response of my own Party "Leadership".

I know that London does not pay much attention to the "micro-politics" of Scotland but there is surely one lesson of the three years leading up to the May 2011 elections. There is a world of difference between being an effective opposition leader and being a credible alternative First Minister or Prime Minister.

The first depends merely on an ability to say what the Government has done wrong; the second on an ability to articulate credibly what you would have done instead.

It is said that the best opposition leader of recent times was William Hague. And he nearly was. You can still find you tube clips of his Commons' performances. Hugely entertaining and, on occasions, quite brilliant. But he was so hampered by his own Party's internal disarray he never had a credible alternative programme.

I say however that Hague was "nearly" the best opposition leader because he has one superior, who operated  de facto if not de jure in the capacity of "Leader of the Opposition" for five years: Gordon Brown.

Any time Blair did anything really unpopular "Gordon's people" would let it be known that he would have done things differently. They were careful never to say what they would actually have done, just that it would have been something different. Thus, that "something different" could be whatever you wanted it to be. And since, unlike Hague,  Gordon's road to power ran through the byzantine internal politics of the Labour Party, rather than through the ballot box, in the end he succeeded.

The problem was that he had spent so much time positioning himself to secure the top job that, by the time he achieved it, he had forgotten why he wanted it in the first place. The rest is history.

But, for the moment at least, if the Leader of the Labour Party wants to become Prime Minister then he or she will require to win a General Election. And that requires an ability to answer the question "What would you do?" with something more than "something different".

I have simply not the remotest idea what Ed was up to today. Having attacked Cameron for his European policy he offered no alternative and then, outside the Chamber, presumably out of residual fear of the Murdoch Press, authorised his press team to brief that he wouldn't have signed the Treaty either! That is not alternative government, it is simply opposition.

There were absolutely no implications for Britain, outside the Eurozone, in allowing the others to proceed as they wished. Even to take Cameron at his word and that there is a need to protect the City of London from European Regulation (a very big "even"), there was not a word about that in the Treaty proposed. It was simply not the business in hand.

So, accepting for the moment the "even", when asked if he would have signed, Ed should have replied with the simple one word answer "Yes". That would not have prevented him then briefing that he would nonetheless have raised the issue of City regulation on a future and more propitious occasion.

That would have been leadership.

But, referring back to the title of this article, why was I wrong?

I really didn't want David Miliband to become leader of the Labour Party. I felt he was simply insufficiently apologetic for the errors of Blair's time in office, most obviously over Iraq. I voted therefore for Ed Balls. But I then fatally then cast my second preference for Miliband (E) in much the same way as many of my political soulmates are now voting (at least with their second preference),  for McIntosh (K). Albeit in a different political context, not for who he is but for who he isn't.

In my UK Leadership vote, I was wrong. If the only other credible alternative Prime Minister standing was David Miliband then I should have given him my support.

I'd still, right enough, rather have had Yvette Cooper than any of them.

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