Magazine article The Spectator

Relax, Comrades: David Miliband Is Blairesque, Rather Than Blairite

Magazine article The Spectator

Relax, Comrades: David Miliband Is Blairesque, Rather Than Blairite

Article excerpt

One Cabinet minister described it to me with dark wit as the 'Eden Project': the idea being that, after a summer of reflection, Gordon Brown is gently or notso-gently persuaded to retire, in the manner of Anthony Eden, on the grounds of 'ill health'. To which the PM's entirely predictable response is: have you seen how many press-ups I can do?

The revelation that he has hired a personal trainer may have been clunky, but it was a clear signal that he is not going to oblige those who would like him to quit on medical grounds.

I would call the first round of the great Miliband-Brown bout a dead heat. The Foreign Secretary achieved what no other Cabinet minister has done before him, which was to force Gordon to call off his attack dogs. One day, 'allies' of the PM were smearing Miliband as 'disloyal and self-serving'. The next, Number 10 was issuing a statement to say how the Foreign Secretary was spot-on in his analysis of the challenge facing the government.

That said, last weekend belonged to Mr Brown. He moved the narrative away from regicide and towards the reshuffle. More ominously for Mr Miliband, the Brownites had considerable success in spinning his antics as the work of the disenfranchised Blairites. The leak to the Mail on Sunday of a memorandum attributed to Tony Blair, attacking Mr Brown's performance at last year's Labour conference, suggested the existence of a Blairite plot to defenestrate the PM, and naturally encouraged those already predisposed to see Mr Miliband as the youthful marionette of shadowy puppeteers from Tony's ancien regime (puppeteers such as Alan Milburn, who was tipped this week to be Chancellor in a Miliband Cabinet). If the Foreign Secretary is perceived to be merely the front man for a restorationist faction, he is doomed.

I have news for the comrades, however. All these years, Mr Miliband, a man as ambitious as he is affable, has been harbouring a secret: he isn't really a Blairite at all. Sure, he was a member of Tony's gang from the start, backed him immediately as John Smith's successor and served as his policy chief in opposition and in Number 10 before becoming an MP in 2001.

He grasped completely the need for Labour to modernise -- and he knew where the action was, too.

It is certainly true, furthermore, that Mr Miliband is Blairesque. English, middle-class, tall and presentable: the semiotic echoes are obvious. Like his mentor, he has an annoying habit of lapsing into Estuary English (to which he adds his own verbal tic of getting plurals wrong, e. g. 'this has been going on for six month'). Like Mr Blair, he is afflicted by verbless sentences: 'Ten years in government. New challenges. Time to learn the right lessons and move on.' And, just like Tony, he loves comparing politics to football: 'I'm a great believer in the Arsene Wenger school of management' etc, etc.

But Blairesque is not the same as Blairite: countenance is not the same as ideology. I do not mean to exaggerate the differences between mentor and protégé, but those differences are significant, especially in the current, febrile context.

By the end of his decade in Number 10, Mr Blair had come to a number of fundamental conclusions about the need for really radical reform of the public services. He embraced the argument for dramatic structural changes, especially in education, for greater involvement of the private sector in service delivery, and a recognition that 'co-payment' -- top-up fees by customers -- would be essential in the future. …

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