David Aaronovitch’s column in The Times today (here) is fairly devastating for Ed Miliband. He’s angry about the Syria vote, but this has crystalised his misgivings about the character of the man who would be Prime Minister. Miliband could have accepted Cameron’s motion and taken credit for getting proper process established, he said. But instead he chose to exploit and scavenge.
It was said of Gordon Brown that he was a destructive force, and could not build – as Blair had built. Aaranovich gives an even worse verdict for Miliband: he’s so hopeless that cannot even destruct. He just waits for people to fall into trouble, and then swoops.
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.
And this has led Aaranovich to declare that Miliband would be a “disaster” for Britain.
Although you can just about see how in a bad year Ed Miliband could become prime minister, what I cannot any longer pretend, after three years of his leadership, is that he would be a good one. On the contrary. I think he would be a disaster. Strangely, I think both the country and his party already know it.
I’m not sure how this positions Aaranovich for the next election: will he now be behind David Cameron? Perhaps he’ll stay out of it. In the same way that some Conservatives – like Peter Hitchens – said they would rather abstain than vote for a sell-out like Cameron, it seems that quite a few on the Blairite left will be unable to bring themselves to vote for Miliband. It’s certainly true that his positions have been dictated by tactics rather than principle; the opposition to free schools, for example, disavows perhaps the most popular and successful of Blair-era experiments.
But here’s the thing. While I agree with Aaranovich that Labour government would be a disaster, I don’t share his fury that Miliband forced a debate on Syria last week. I don’t think it speaks badly of Miliband that, after sampling opinion in his party, he believed he was unable to say that Labour was for intervention. He seems to have realised the strength of the opinion before the Tory whips alerted David Cameron to the rebellion in his own benches. Miliband obviously does not see any virtue in his position as he’s letting last week drop. As James Forsyth says in the political column for the new Spectator, all parties have identical strategies for the Syria vote: don’t mention it. Carry on as if it never happened. Last week’s debacle reflects badly on all of them.
As Nigel Lawson once remarked, worst decisions in parliament are taken when all three parties agree on something. I’m uneasy about the British convention of unanimity on military action, even though I agree with every intervention made in my lifetime. Would that we’d asked more questions about Iraq. Miliband was reflecting the opinion of the vast majority of people, and the debate teased out the weakness of the government’s position. Those who felt strongly that Britain should act were invited, by Cameron, to blame Ed Miliband. I thought this a bit harsh: the job of the HM Opposition is to oppose. But Aaranovich sees this as a betrayal of Labour’s principles, and the notion of liberal interventionism which he has advocated so strongly over the years.
But what gives Aaranovich’s column its potency is that this is about more than Syria, it’s about Miliband’s character. His verdict is harsher than anything that I’d personally write. But I guess if you’re on the left, and see a golden chance to take power disappearing down the loo, you do end up much more angry. Do read the whole thing.
PS In today’s Daily Telegraph, Matt – as so often – says it all with a few squiggles and a caption:-