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Cameron’s views on Labour leadership might be worth heeding

Posted on 29 August 2010 | 4:08pm

If David Cameron is anything like Tony Blair, he will be following the Labour leadership elections closely. There are many important people in the life of a Prime Minister, and in our system in particular, the Leader of the Opposition is one of the most important.

TB used to think a lot about his opponents, and used to fret endlessly when there was a contest on, or when there were doubts as to whether the incumbent would survive. As was clear from Prelude to Power, he went through a phase of worrying that Michael Heseltine, or even Michael Portillo, would take over from John Major, and that Labour’s prospects pre-1997 would suffer as a result.

Future volumes will reveal similar TB anxieties whenever, partly as a result of our election wins, new Tory leaders were being elected. He faced five in all – Major, William Hague, Michael Howard, Iain Duncan-Smith and David Cameron. He found  Tory leadership elections very difficult, because there was not much he could do to influence them directly and yet he knew the outcome would be significant for him and his role.

He felt all had strengths and weaknesses but I think it is fair to say he felt the Tories made the best choice in all of the contests up until the last one – the best choice for Labour that is. He would have feared Heseltine more than Major; Hague wasn’t ready and in any event lacked real judgement; Howard was unpleasant and unpopular, and an opportunist, a pretty lethal combination; Duncan-Smith lacked weight and was too much in hock to his Party’s right; Cameron, TB felt, was the right choice against David Davis, as he offered at least the possibility of real change.

All this is by way of preamble to commenting on the story that David Cameron has reportedly stated that Ed Miliband is the opponent he wants, and David Miliband the one he fears.

Now who knows, given what else they get up to, that this isn’t some sophisticated piece of spinning by Cameron’s media manipulators? I somehow think, however, that it accurately reflects his opinion: that Ed would take Labour significantly leftwards and leave even more of the centre ground open to the Tories, and that David has the necessary strength both to take him on in Parliament – hugely important – and provide fresh energy and direction for Labour in the country.

It would be easy to dismiss the view of the man who would be the new Labour leader’s direct opponent. However, if my experience of TB is anything to go by, it might also be an idea to listen to it. If Tory members had known what we were thinking as they elected one failed leader after another, they might not have done it quite so often.

  • Guest

    I don’t accept that they specifically identified Ed Miliband as the leader they wanted, and David they didn’t. Bearing in mind Ed Balls’ public profile (and with Diane Abbott in the race as well!) is it really true that the person they want least is Ed Miliband? I don’t believe it.

  • This assumes that Cameron thinks like Tony Blair of course. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t.

  • Paul M

    According to someone on twitter, you were spotted picking your nose in Cameron’s constituency earlier today. You need to address this allegation surely

  • Colette Malone

    I have no t been terribly impressed with anyone in this contest, but the choice is in the end who do we want to be leading Labour at the next election and hopefully becoming prime minister? I do think David Miliband has more about him. I worry that none of them have really done or said anythibng truly memorable since it all began

  • Richard Brittain

    Am I alone in thinking that neither of the Milibands will ever be Prime Minister? I agree that David is slightly better than Ed, but I cannot envisage either of them ever getting enough votes to get into Number 10. A lot of people, when asked on their opinion of either of the Milibands, just shrug their shoulders.. “Eh, kind of annoying.. and weird”. Labour would be better off going with someone totally unconnected to the Blair era. Because even though that was a fairly successful era, the majority of people now look back on it as a disdainful era of sleaze and lies. The Milibands both have connotations to that era.

  • Dave Branwood

    Not sure when you say it may be sophisticated Tory spinning that it’s not a double bluff and it’s really your own extra-sophisticated spinning! But either way I agree, it’s obvious that David Miliband is the best choice. Just distanced enough in the public’s eye from Blair & Brown but with the experience of a proper government job. He maybe needs to invest in a home multi-gym? Especially if he’s gonna insist on doing meetings / hustings with just his shirt on because he has a bit of the Mr Muscle look going on and that’s not a vote winner with the ladies…

  • Richard Brittain

    In all seriousness though, there are only 3 Reds who possess the class to defeat Cameron. Alan Johnson, Alastair Campbell, and Robbie Fowler.

  • Why so sure? If PM Cameron would like a particular candidate to win, it would be foolish to ‘report’ or rumour about it, unless you are trying to make a particular candidate more difficult to beat in General than s/he actually is.

  • Anonymous

    I agree and believe that whilst Ed Miliband seesm to be a nice chap he would not win the support of Middle England. He has moved to the left and his policies are directed towards Labour’s core vote. I am astonished that he has followed this path if he wants to be a future PM. I believe that David Miliband is the only person capable of showing the country that he would be a leader waiting to form the next government. The other candidates have strengths but do not fulfil the necessary qualities that I believe are essential in appealing to voters.

  • AndrewC

    I’ve never been a political animal, but I just joined Labour because I feel it is important to ensure the party progresses in the right direction. I believe that is under David Miliband, no question.

    As a middle class entrepreneur, I feel he is the only leader I would trust to protect the social and economic aspirations of our society. This is an important point, because I don’t believe any other candidates would incite individuals like myself to vote labour.

  • Guest

    Surely if you’re going to pick a nose it’s best to pick your own. Picking other peoples often offends.

  • Arates

    “Cameron, TB felt, was the right choice against David Davis, as he offered at least the possibility of real change.”

    I disagree. Cameron has dragged the party to the centre whereas as DD would have carried on with the same right wing policies that previous Tory leaders had followed. He was the ‘Bill Cash’ candidate, as Ken Clarke pointed out in the leadership election.

    I am staggered that TB would have preferred Cameron as despite their polic, differences, they seem to share other traits – articulate, young, media savvy, good communication skills. GB was doomed, but he might have looked a lot less dour against DD?

  • Syzygy

    I can’t help but feel that Alistair Campbell is being the sophisticated one. Ed Milliband is favoured by Cameron, therefore, avoid and vote David.

  • Chris lancashire

    You’re quite right, Labour are about to repeat the mistakes of the Tories and elect one failed leader after another. I ask you, what a choice – Geek Major or Geek Minor – neither with the slightest life experience of what real people do.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Labour has lost 5 million votes since 1997. Only 1 million to the Tories. To win again, Labour must change and reclaim the centre left.
    Ed Miliband would take the Labour party to POST-New Labour era, not pre-New Labour. This is needed so that Labour can win again.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Ed Miliband is an intelligent man, and he knows that Labour must attract a wide range of people and that floating voters are the “core vote”. Neil Kinnock has said that Ed Miliband has all the good qualities the next Labour leader needs.

  • Joe A

    I think this is on the basis that none of the other candidates have a snowballs. If its a straight choice between Ed and David Milliband then I can quite easily believe that Cameron would prefer Ed.

  • Apollos_murphy

    andrewc, i get frusted by your comment and ones like it about protecting the aspirations of our society as if it is at odds with social justice, we all deserve aspirations. i think ed miliband understands that the world has changed and learnt the lessons about handsoff capatalism, which too offen restricts aspiration to only a few. labour should speak to the apirations of the real middle and the 90% of people in this country who earn under 40,000