8 Jan 2013

What was David Miliband up to?

David Miliband’s speech was quite an arresting critique of how his brother and Ed Balls are running the debate on the economy.

He accepted the spending envelope that the coalition has set. This was not a rhetorical device for the debate, it was in the original notes – as well as the interrupted real event as delivered in the Commons (you get a flavour of that here).

This is something that Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have not done and is clearly where the Labour position would be if David M was in charge. George Osborne freely tells friends he hopes Labour stays in the Ed Miliband/Ed Balls position so he can demand where they find money to fund the black hole in between.

David Miliband also showed a readiness to criticise Labour’s record – he referred to “our deficit” and talked (I edit this to bring out a particular half of the meaning in the full text) about the “rancid … reek of the politics … of the dog days of the (Gordon) Brown administration.” He drew attention to the lack of fresh Labour retaliatory policy by coming up with his own £26,000 cap on pension relief to match the £26,000 cap the coalition is placing on total claimable benefit (by implication accepting the £26,000 welfare cap?).

I’m not convinced that David Miliband is about to rush back into frontbench politics but he is getting better at the shorter, time-limited interventions a backbencher is kept to and he is getting a little readier to say what he thinks about where his party has gone under his brother. Choosing this occasion, when there had been talk of a Blairite caucus against the Labour opposition to the up-rating bill, to throw his weight behind the specific opposition to the coalition measure, while at the same time deftly attacking his party’s past and current decisions was quite a spectacle to watch but I don’t think it portends an imminent return to the frontline by his brother’s side.

Some of you have taken great offence at what I said about David Miliband’s allusion to the dog days of Gordon Brown’s administration.

I think he was very deliberately using strong critical words about Gordon Brown’s style of government and elegantly combining them with and semi-concealing then under an attack on the similarly (from his point of view) depressing coalition tactics. They are not side by side, enmeshed together by accident. It is an old trick elegantly executed. He gets the chance to say something, show a bit of leg but keep it deniable, just as he did with The Guardian article on 30 July 2009 making a move for the leadership in a carefully camouflaged way. I still don’t believe today’s speech was a move for the leadership, by the way, but if you don’t think he didn’t labour painstakingly over every single word and where it was placed I think you may be mistaken.

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