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Mehdi Hasan hears the sound of a consensus cracking... now everyone loves Ed

Breaking news! Right-wing pundits now admit that they underestimated Ed Miliband.

What's that I hear? The sound of a consensus cracking?

Since 4.50pm on Satuday 25 September 2010, commentators on the right and on the so-called "centre" of the political spectrum have queued up to dismiss Ed Miliband as a lightweight, a cipher, a left-wing loon, "Red Ed", who would consign Labour to electoral oblivion in 2015 and beyond. They collectively mourned his brother David's narrow defeat.

"By choosing Ed Miliband, Labour has handed David Cameron the next election," read the headline to Matthew D'Ancona's column in the Sunday Telegraph the next day.

"On Saturday, David Cameron won the next general election," declared D'Ancona in his opening line, adding: "Could it really have chosen the wrong Miliband? Yes, it could."

"Will Labour be dead with Red Ed?" read the headline to Martin Ivens's column in the Sunday Times, also on 26 September.

"In No 10 last week some were looking forward to an Ed victory for the least flattering of reasons," wrote Ivens. "'There will be rejoicing in Tory towns all over the country if Ed wins,' a top Conservative strategist told me."

"The party voted for David Miliband but got the Panda instead," read the headline to John Rentoul's column in the Independent on Sunday.

"Ed Miliband, who would have struggled against David Cameron in the House of Commons in any event, is going to be roasted every week," argued Rentoul, an ardent Blairite, adding: "I fear that he fights with both hands tied behind his back."

Now, however, more than a year and a half later, following a shambolic budget from George Osborne and impressive gains for Labour in the local elections, those same commentators (and others) have changed their tune and are queuing up to warn against the new and looming threat posed by the Labour leader.

Here's D'Ancona in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph:

It is time to start thinking seriously about Prime Minister Miliband – to roll those words around your mouth. Whatever response the 42-year-old Labour leader provokes within you – and he has always inspired a broad range of reaction – only a fool would ignore his party’s steady progress in the local elections and commanding lead in the opinion polls (15 points ahead of the Tories in the last two YouGov surveys). The cement of popular opinion has not yet set in Miliband’s favour. But let us be objective: after two months of Coalition “omnishambles”, one has to consider that it might yet do so.

To be fair to D'Ancona, the former Spectator editor also added:

When the younger Miliband defeated his brother for the Labour leadership in September 2010 by a tiny twist of the DNA helix, many – including the present writer – thought he lacked the bearing of a future PM. But it must be conceded that he is learning, and fast.

Here's Martin Ivens in yesterday's Sunday Times:

[O]ne May morning in 2015 we could wake up with Ed Miliband as prime minister — even if there are no cheering crowds to greet the dawn with him as they did Tony Blair. Apathy, despair over a miserable economic outlook and a low turnout could return Labour to office...

The headline of the column?

How Miliband could make it to No 10

Meanwhile, in yesterday's Independent on Sunday, John Rentoul, through gritted teeth, acknowledged how

Cameron has allowed Ed Miliband to re-forge the coalition of the Blairites and Brownites. Peter Mandelson co-authored an article on the economy with Ed Balls, and Andrew Adonis returned to the fold to review Labour's industrial policy.

The political consensus has been well and truly cracked. The pack is on the move. Finally. It's taken a while but they seem to have got there in the end.

"Having spent the past six months studying him for our book, I have one piece of advice for Ed Miliband's conservative critics: don't misunderestimate him," I wrote in a column in the Guardian back in June 2011.

Those were the days when I got knocked by the right for daring to write such pieces. So, Matthew, Martin, John - great to have you onboard!

 

 

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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How Tony Blair's disingenuous line on Iraq eroded our faith in politicians

Not the Chilcot Report by Peter Oborne reveals how Blair exagerrated evidence from the intelligence services to parliament – and the public.

In this incisive book, Peter Oborne calls the invasion of Iraq “the defining calamity of the post-Cold War era” and I am inclined to agree. Not long after the March 2003 attack, I interviewed Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and UN ambassador for Iraq. He told me that he had visited President George W Bush in Washington a few weeks before the invasion and begged him not to go ahead with it. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein would, Pachachi warned, lead inevitably to civil war between Iraq’s two main religious groupings, the Sunnis and the Shias. Bush was shocked. According to Pachachi, he had no idea that any such division among Muslims existed.

Granted, Bush was an ignoramus – but you would have thought that someone might have explained this crucial fact to him. Pachachi turned out to be right. Iraq has fallen into a disastrous religious civil war as a direct result of the invasion and Isis, a more extreme force even than al-Qaeda, has come to the fore. Nearly 5,000 coalition soldiers died; many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, perhaps a million, have lost their lives; and the man who led the whole terrible business didn’t know that the danger even existed.

Pachachi, like many politicians across the Middle East, found this puzzling. The US had never understood the Middle East, he said, but the British did; so why hadn’t Tony Blair warned the Americans what was going to happen? We know the answer to that: although Blair was far cleverer than Bush and had better advisers, his approach was always a subservient one. Like the entire British establishment, he believed that Britain’s influence in the world depended on sticking close to the US and he was prepared to be led around on a leash because he knew that this was the only relationship Bush’s people understood or wanted from him.

To “stand shoulder to shoulder” with Bush – at least, to stand closer behind him, head bowed, than any other national leader – Blair had to persuade the British people that Saddam posed a threat to them. Oborne, in fine forensic form, demolishes (his word) the notion that Blair was simply repeating what the intelligence services had told him about Saddam’s weapons and capability; he shows that Blair exaggerated and misrepresented the intelligence he was given.

Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary who had investigated the government’s pre-invasion use of intelligence, said the same thing in a speech in the House of Lords in 2007. He described Blair’s approach as “disingenuous”: mandarin-speak for dishonest. Oborne quotes Butler at length:

 

The United Kingdom intelligence community told him [Blair] on 23 August 2002 that, “We . . . know little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons work since late 1988.” The prime minister did not tell us that. Indeed, he told parliament only just over a month later that the picture painted by our intelligence services was “extensive, detailed and authoritative”.

 

Oborne’s central point is that this dishonesty has done serious damage to the fundamental trust that the British people used to have in their rulers. There are all sorts of reasons why people have lost faith in politicians but it was the charismatic Blair – along with his head of communications, Alastair Campbell – who let us down the most.

Campbell is a former journalist who, even when he was the political editor of the Daily Mirror, seemed far more concerned with pushing a party line than with trying to report things truthfully. In May 2003, the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan accused him of “sexing up” the dossier on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Campbell was irate. In July, Dr David Kelly, the Ministry of Defence weapons expert who had briefed Gilligan, committed suicide. If, indeed, it was suicide – once you start losing faith in the ­official version of things, there is no end to it. And that is Oborne’s point.

Kelly’s death was followed by the scandalous Hutton inquiry, which managed to deflect attention from the questionable nature of the dossier to the way in which Gilligan had reported on it. However, although Kelly wasn’t a sufficiently senior source for Gilligan to base his report on, there is no doubt that Gilligan was essentially right: the intelligence dossier had been grossly hyped up. Campbell’s frenzied efforts to protect himself and Blair did huge damage to the BBC, the judiciary, the intelligence and security agencies and public trust in government.

Oborne’s excellent book is clear-headed and furious in its condemnation of Blair. But what about the Chilcot report, when it appears on 6 July? The ludicrous delay in publishing it has given people the expectation that it, too, will be a whitewash. Yet we are starting to get leaks that it won’t be – that it will be just as savage as Oborne would like. That is the only way we can start to drain the poison that has built up in our national life since Blair took the calamitous decision to follow the US into invading a country that its president knew zip about.

John Simpson (@JohnSimpsonNews) is the world affairs editor of the BBC

Not the Chilcot Report by Peter Oborne is published by Head of Zeus (208pp, £10)

John Simpson is World Affairs Editor of BBC News, having worked for the corporation since the beginning of his career in 1970. He has reported from more than 120 countries, including 30 war zones, and interviewed many world leaders.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad