Ed Miliband the "vulture" opportunist. Or not? Three great thoughts from the Left

[Miliband] "is neither hunter nor prey, he is scavenger. He is a political vulture. Mission creep? His mission is all about creeping"

Brotherly love, with a knife...
The Commentator
On 8 September 2013 15:27

There have been three and only three brilliant pieces of writing in recent days about Syria, its impact on the political Left in Britain, and the person of Labour leader Ed Miliband. And they're all from the Left... or there or thereabouts...

The first, chronologically speaking, came from David Aaronovitch in the Times. (The reader who sent it to us said it was the best piece he's written in a decade -- but who knows since for over the last few years the Times paywall has ensured that there are far fewer than there should be who are in a position to judge.)

It is quite brilliant. One hopes that the fair use doctrine allows the quotation of the following extracts (then go and take out a subscription to The Times). Said writer says:

"We are living through a bad-tempered and isolationist moment in British politics. When Mr Galloway and Mr Farage agree it is because something sounds good to both of them. It was well put by Lord Ashcroft this week. "People," he wrote, "see the pace of change continuing and even accelerating, and they know Britain in 20 years will look different from the Britain of today, let alone that of 20 years ago. Some welcome that, many are ambivalent and others are scared.

"Many want to stop the world. No entanglements. Fewer immigrants. Stop this, don't build that. Get out of Europe. Above all a section of the electorate wants to stop things from happening.

"And Ed Miliband intuited that the British people, overall, probably didn't want something to take place over Syria, and decided that instead of arguing with them, he'd join them. Just as he has done over immigration. He'd become the spokesman for nothing. He wouldn't outline his own alternative strategy – he'd just defeat Mr Cameron's.

"And in this moment of crisis it became clear – as it does – what Mr Miliband is. A personable man (and he is a very pleasant companion), politically he is not a presence at all, he is an absence. He is Oedipal Ed, the negator of the unpopular actions of the fathers; the anti-Blair, the non-Brown. His technique for victory to is follow behind the leader, wait for a slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes. He did it to his brother. He hopes to do it to David Cameron. He is neither hunter nor prey, he is scavenger. He is a political vulture. Mission creep? His mission is all about creeping."

Ouch, and ouch again. That's tough, real tough, as our American cousins might opine.

Aaronovitch is an interesting player, coming from and out of the Left, but not quite these days being of the Left. In a slightly different incarnation, there's Nick Cohen. A highly independent, and stunningly original, thinker writing with particular eloquence thus:

"Ever since the Syria vote, Labour politicians have been disputing the notion that they have abandoned Barack Obama and the French socialists to go along with Assad, Putin, Hezbollah, the Iranian ayatollahs, Ukip, the BNP and Stop the War – with, in other words, half the assorted creeps, kooks, crackpots, conspiracy theorists, collaborators and criminals on the planet."


"Ed Miliband is not the appeaser of totalitarianism his enemies make out. He is just a leader who lacks the bravery to rise to a grim occasion. In an unselfconsciously revelatory passage about his family and the Holocaust, he said: "On one level I feel intimately connected with it – this happened to my parents and grandparents. On another, it feels like a totally different world."

"Miliband did not understand that world of tyranny and atrocity is no different now than it was 70 years ago. And in that failure of imagination and of sympathy lies his littleness."

Brilliant analysis. But, gosh, that has got to be painful reading for the Labour hierarchy. Cohen and Aaronovitch are nobody's idea of Tory party stooges.

And then, like Cohen, writing in the Observer, we have Andrew Rawnsley. Talented in his own, more conventional, way, Rawnsley doesn't do the big picture international stuff like Cohen or Aaronovitch. But he knows his stuff like few others about domestic British (and especially Labour Party) politics.

He places the Syria issue and Miliband's alleged opportunism in a different context. The Labour Party has a big issue to contend with over the unions and party financing. He practically tells Miliband to dish the unions or face the political scrapheap:

"...in the days since [the Syria vote], many Labour people have been wandering around wearing the miserable face of a punter who thought he'd won a fortune on a horse only for it to be disqualified by the stewards. I am not just talking about the minority of Labour MPs who disagreed with the position taken by their leader. Even among those who thought he was broadly correct, there is queasiness."

And here's why there's a queasiness, because even as Miliband won the battle he looked as though he'd lost the war for credibility:

"There is certainly no discernible "Damascus dividend" for Mr Miliband.... Labour's lead has shrunk, not advanced, and his approval rating remains stubbornly dismal. What he could do with now is an issue on which he can be unquestionably brave and undeniably principled and clearly willing to do the right thing even if it appears to be against his self-interest. Fortunately, just such a cause is at hand. That issue is trade union funding of the Labour party."

Rawnsley's closing point:

"Pull this off [cutting automatic union ties to Labour and forcing the Conservatives into a corner] and Ed Miliband will earn the right to call out the Tories on how they are funded and make it possible for a Labour government finally to purge politics of big money by imposing a donations cap. It is not just for his own sake that this is a battle he has to win."

There's something horribly ironic about Rawnsley's argument, and he must be at least partially aware of it himself: He's enjoining Ed Miliband to be an opportunist to prove that he isn't one. How forlorn is that? Nobody's going to buy it in the end.

Aaronovitch and Cohen get that point. And that is why having a feel for the big picture makes all the difference.

By the way, if anyone thinks we're letting the British political Right off the hook for big picture failings... Well, just you wait... This is not party political, it's civilisational. Got that?

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