Journos love a drama and nothing better than a fratricidal battle between two brothers. But the coverage by my colleagues of ” Red” versus ” Dead ” Miliband has been well over the top.
Basically the argument goes like this. Ed has already been defined by his enemies as red in tooth and claw, only in power because of the machinations of union barons who duped their members into supporting him to ditch his brilliant elder brother.
Now with Joe Public well briefed – and with only that difficulty over spending cuts which a public will reluctantly accept after being told Labour is to blame – the Tories will be able to romp home in four years time. Just offer the squeezed middle classes big tax cuts from selling off the banks.
This cartoon portrayal is likely to go badly wrong. I have no inside knowledge of the Ed Miliband team but I do talk to a lot of contacts who deal with him – and if he is astute enough he has a winning card.
Some people are obviously up to a job, others grow into it. Ed is the latter. As a special adviser to Gordon he seemed frightened of the media. As a Cabinet Office minister the Whitehall view was that he was indecisive about what to do. But as climate change and energy secretary, Whitehall revised their opinion. He took them on over emission targets and won, and there is nothing more they like than a minister with a firm agenda.
It was similar in the leadership election campaign. His address to the Parliamentary Lobby lunch was OK, but lacked blood and fire. But through the large number of hustings, his performance improved and he was steadily winning the argument. It is a myth to say that he won the vote because only union bosses backed him. It was his arguments that convinced the individual union members to vote for him and pushed the leaders into backing him. David Miliband – as an article about to appear in The Journalist will reveal – campaigned equally ferociously with the unions but lost the argument.
So where does that leave him? For a start with four years to establish his personality, policies and identity thanks to fixed term Parliaments. The mood music will then be quite different. We are still in the phoney war over the cuts and higher taxes. From January when VAT goes up, we will face a rolling programme of higher taxes, lower benefits and unthinkable cuts to public services- defended equally by two major coalition parties.
His first speech suggests that he will fight a number of the cuts but not offer to restore every one. He will have to be fleet footed, ruthless, know his own mind and be able to create not just an alternative policy but an alternative narrative that can be believed by the general public. On some issues he will need to be brave, because the policy may not be instantly popular. He needs to use focus groups not just to tell him what people think but how he can influence people to think differently.
He should not underestimate his main opponent David Cameron. Behind the public relations manner is a ruthless brain – just look at how he handled the expenses saga, leaving Gordon looking flat footed.
One Tory contact of mine at the conference – who I have known for years- had a chilling insight into the right wing agenda. He said he did not mind if it was a one term coalition – because by 2015 they would have dismantled so much of the state – that a Labour government would never have the money to put it back. His money comes from the Far East and the oil rich states surrounding Russia- so he doesn’t care if the UK does not really prosper – as he thinks India and China will be the wealthy power houses of the future. That if nothing else should be warning to Ed of what he has got to do.