Where's the shadow cabinet? Mehdi Hasan asks

If Ed Miliband is under fire, doesn't he need public and visible backing from his frontbench colleages?

The NS blogger Dan Hodges has referred to it as Ed Miliband's "Bloody Sunday" -- Sunday 12 June. It was the day that the Independent on Sunday, the Observer, the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday -- which ran extracts from my new biography of the Labour leader -- all contained stories about plots, coups and threats to Miliband's leadership, specifically from his elder brother, David.

In my feature in tomorrow's New Statesman, I point out that the real damage to Ed Miliband may have been done by his frontbench colleagues, who were nowhere to be seen that Sunday.

From my piece:

The fallout from the book's revelations and the Guardian splash were handled badly by Team Ed. Why was it left to Charles Falconer, the former lord chancellor and close ally of David -- who, admittedly, has since become an informal adviser to the younger Miliband -- to come out in defence of the Labour leader on the BBC?

"The responsibility lies with the shadow cabinet," says a former Labour cabinet minister. "When they were the victim of 'plot' and 'coup' rumours, Tony and Gordon would always use the trick of sending four or five cabinet heavyweights on to the airwaves to shut the story down. If I were Ed, my eyes would be swivelling to Douglas Alexander, Yvette Cooper and Caroline Flint. Why haven't they come out to defend him?"

Good question. Where is the shadow cabinet?

On a side but self-promoting note, you can pre-order my new book Ed: the Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader, co-authored with James Macintyre, here.

UPDATE:

It has been pointed out to me that the shadow health secretary, John Healey, appeared on Sky News's Murnaghan show and BBC1's Politics Show last Sunday. He also penned pieces in the Independent on Sunday and the News of the World -- though these were on his health brief and not on his leader. He was, therefore, out and about. Nonetheless, I think the wider point still stands. There has been a clear sense that Miliband is on his own, fending for himself at the top of the Labour Party. If he is to succeed over the lifetime of this parliament, then that has to change. A shadow cabinet has to be more than a cabinet of shadows. The leader of a party needs the loud and constant support of his party.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war