Roy vs David: Mehdi Hasan on a political showdown

Labour's former deputy leader strikes back against Labour's former foreign secretary.

In all the hype and hyperbole surrounding David Miliband's latest "attack" on Ed Miliband, it is important to remember that the former foreign secretary's headline-grabbing essay in this week's New Statesman was meant, formally at least, to be a response to a long article on social democracy written by Roy Hattersley and academic Kevin Hickson and published in Political Quarterly late last year.

For example, Miliband writes:

Roy has been pretty consistent in his views over 40 years, even if the framing labels in the party (right, left, new, old, radical, conservative) have swivelled around him. His commentary on politics is born not of self-promotion but out of belief. But that doesn't mean he is right.

In today's Guardian, however, Hattersley responds to Miliband's critique - and he doesn't pull any punches:

Understandably, David bridles at criticism of the governments in which he served. We have no doubt that they did much of which the Labour party can be proud. We said so when we campaigned for its re-election. David makes the tired old jibe about the luxury of "principle without power". But we believe that future office will elude us until we establish a distinctive radical reputation. That requires a leader who has the courage and character to acknowledge the fundamental flaws in New Labour thinking. It is one of the reasons why we voted for Ed Miliband 18 months ago.

You can read Hattersley's full piece here.

Meanwhile, in the Telegraph today, Matthew Norman, in his own inimitable style, lets rip at the elder Miliband:

Little Ed may have lethal presentational problems, but he also has guts. When he wanted the leadership, he rang the doorbell and charged into the house, even though it meant trampling over his poor old mum's heart. David, no lavishly gifted communicator himself, is a castrato. He is the countertenor in the Labour choir, singing a self-pitying requiem to the death of personal ambition at a pitch to shatter glass.

Ouch.

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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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.