Thursday, 12 July 2012

Impressive move, Ed

When Ed Miliband became leader of the British Labour Party, I was far from alone in wondering whether he had the stature to play the role effectively. 

Since then he has grown, impressively, into the job. But at no point has he shown himself as smart an operator as in the way he has handled Tony Blair recently: he’s brought him in to provide policy advice to the Labour Party.

Blair (l) and Miliband: the picture tells the story
Warm cordiality and trust between an ex-Prime Minister and the next one

Did that send a chill up your spine? My initial reaction precisely.

The man who couldn’t get close enough to the bankers. The man who brought in a Freedom of Information Act but never stops saying how regrettable a mistake it was. The man who had his head stuck so firmly up George Bush’s anatomy that he dragged Britain behind the US into an illegal, bloody and unwinnable war.

But then I thought about it a bit.

Blair does have one supremely important quality: he’s a winner. Three general elections in a row. No previous Labour leader had pulled off that trick. And Labour really needs to get back into winning ways fast: it isn’t just a fortuitous coincidence of syllables that leads to the present Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition being called ‘ConDems’. A toxic brand.

If Blair’s magic dust can rub off on the present Labour Party, well, Amen say I.

But Blair has another invaluable quality. There are still large numbers of people in the Labour Party, the unreconstructed Blairites, who remain firmly wedded to his outlook. They’re a constant source of potential difficulty for Miliband, who certainly isn’t one of their number. It’s far from a dumb move to have Blair inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in. It might keep his mates in order too.

But the real ingenuity of Miliband’s gesture towards Blair lies in the field of policy he’s opened up to him.

A female colleague once told me that the difference between men and women was that men thought sport mattered. Now I enjoy sport but I’m prepared to concede to my colleague that it really isn’t quite as crucial as certain other matters. Like getting sucked into appalling atrocities in illegal wars. Or undermining your own baby steps towards more open government. Or giving a free hand to men who are wrecking the economy.

So has Miliband asked for Blair’s advice on foreign policy? on defence? on justice? on the economy?

No. He’s called on him to help mould Labour policy on sport.

Smart guy.

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