Labouring the Point

Ed Milliband is sticking around at least as long as David Cameron. Ed probably wishes they’d swap seats, but he’ll be sticking to the backbenches to represent the people of Doncaster. Actually I wish they’d swap seats, imagine David Cameron having to talk to people from Doncaster?

Ed says he wants to serve the people who elected him, and fight against inequality. As bumbling as he is and as much as he looks like a mutant son of Wallace and Mr Bean, I don’t think you can doubt Ed’s heart. He’s campaigned for what he believes since his cardigan wearing student days, and I genuinely respect him for that.

This haunts me at night


So what was one ‘veteran’ Labour MP’s response to this:

“The trouble with Ed sticking around is there is always the risk he will be seen as a backseat driver.

“Any comments he makes will be judged for their support or criticism of the new leader.”

With the incredibly scientific survey of me and my housemate, I can say with absolute certainty say that sentiment among the general public is ‘so what?’. The fact Ed Milliband isn’t throwing his toys out the pram to go and run a glamorously named charity like his brother is, to me, a sign he actually wants to make a difference. And would him disappearing off into the ether stop him criticising. Judging by both his brother and Tony Blair, I can’t see it would.

This unnamed ‘veteran’ MP fears for the impact Ed will have on the House of Commons if he stays on as an ex-leader. Well I question how much said MP has learnt in his veteran years. Let’s look at the impact ex-leaders had on their parties whilst in Parliament. I’ll start with William Hague in 1997, because apparently I impressed my Grandad by being able to name him when I was younger. Yes, I was/still am a massive nerd, can we all move on?

  • William Hague – the oldest member of troika at the top of the Tory party in recent years, served his party well in the elder statesman role. Even risked his reputation to try and oust the Speaker on the last day of the last Parliament.
  • Iain Duncan Smith – a bit like a less successful version of Hague, IDS has served his party well Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Whether the country benefits from this is questionable.
  • Michael Howard – resigned his seat one year after losing the 2005 general election.Twice there’s been speculation about Howard joining Hug-a-Hoody’s cabinet, twice it has not occured. Howard is in the Lords and serving reasonably unremarkably except for his wide range of non-political financial interests.
  • Tony Blair – left politics, solved the Middle East Crisis and shit ton of cash. Still casts a spectre over his party, criticised Ed Milliband throughout his leadership.
  • Gordon Brown – stayed on in the Commons until standing down 2015, doing very little except this speech. It was the speech of his life, and the Scots said ‘No’ the day after, so it was a very good speech.
  • Charles Kennedy – one of the most universally respected MPs, with my Tory, Green and Labour voting friends all actually seeming quite sad when he died. Kennedy warned of the dangers to the Lib Dems of going into coalition with the Tories, a position that seems more and more right as the days pass. Like Brown, helped Better Together campaign and helped the Lid Dems win by-elections in Scotland.
  • Sir Menzies Campbell – remained an active backbench MP and never caused noticeable problems for his leader, Nick Clegg. Stood down at the last election.
  • Nick Clegg – so far very quiet, his resignation speech was actually genuinely heartfelt and I found myself questioning whether I liked him or not. Then I remembered the £9,000 this last year cost me.
  • Caroline Lucas – her ideological stands in Parliament have allowed Natalie Bennett to focus on growing the party. The record number of Green voters seems to suggest a lot of people want more versions of Miss Lucas in the Commons.

So of my ultra-organised examination of ex-leaders in the Commons, we’ve only got one backseat driver – Mr Tony Blair. Now granted Blair’s ego couldn’t fit into the coffins of all the dead from the Iraq war, isn’t it interesting that the only one who has nothing to lose politically is the one whose offering all the political criticism?

Going back to the MP worried about backseat driving, I’ve got a couple of points. Recent history suggests ex-leaders realised that they’ve lost and knuckle down to serve their parties and constituents. My personal opinion suggests that this isn’t what said MP should be worrying about. I’d be more worried about the fact that your leadership election has 4 candidates consisting of:

  1. Andy Burnham – The health secretary who presided over the Mid-Staffs debacle
  2. Yvette Cooper – I can’t think of anything remarkable she did, despite being an MP for 18 years
  3. Jeremy Corbyn – Hates Trident, likes Hezbollah.
  4. Liz Kendall – wants 2% of GDP spent on the armed forces, doesn’t mind free schools and doesn’t condemn the Tories benefit cap. Hang on, what party is she running for again?

That’s two politicans from the New Labour camp, one wholly unremarkable and another remarkable for a pretty awful debacle, a fan-of-Hamas throwback to the USSR and a 5 year MP who, despite being pretty dissimilar to the Tories, is probably who Labour would do best with. Actually, that should probably be phrased ‘least worst’.

But of course, there’s worries about what Ed Milliband will do over the next 5 years. Which in itself, but it serves to show Labour’s seemingly unquestioning desire to remain wedded to the past, be it 1997 or 1979. The Tories didn’t emerge as a credible force for 13 years after their 1997 defeat. With Labour facing the tripartite threat of the working class voting UKIP, Scots voting SNP and the students/hippies/brave comrades voting Green, it’ll take a huge amount of work for Labour to regain a foothold even close to being big enough to oust the Tories. And I’m not sure that’s work they know how to do.


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