Sketch: Miliband's "one nation"

How many nations?

Ed Miliband staged a smash and grab raid on the Tory Party last night leaving David Cameron checking whether he still had his trousers.

He certainly had the Prime Minister's shirt off his back as he announced a take-over bid for "one nation" politics and declared himself the new Disraeli.

Using a former Conservative Prime Minister as a role model was certainly a novel way of catching the attention of a post-lunch Labour Party conference but then so was the surprise appearance of Max Bygraves in the place of Mr Bean.

There had been some clues earlier in the week with the disappearance from the backdrop to the conference speakers of any mention of the Labour Party.Instead proceedings were dominated by the colour blue so beloved of the natural party of Government and a handily placed 20 foot photo of a Union Jack.

Just to add to the confusion delegates took some time out before lunch to give a standing ovation to a Tory peer Seb Coe who took time out from backing his mate Dave to thank Labour for their part in backing the Olympics.

And so it was suddenly natural that the Leader of the Labour Party should turn up declaring it was all for one and one for all.

The ease by which he to into is message might be explained by the confusion which followed his sudden appearance before the audience he adressed as friends--no comrades here,

Those used to gawky movements of the leader formerly known as Ed M  were thrown by the arrival of a self-confident jokester who dropped geek-speak and announced "I wanna tell you a story".

And what a story it was involving not spending 500 years under an oak tree which was an apparent reference to Dave and is a description now used twice in speeches  without meaning anything to its listeners.

It did involve references to his time at a North London comp and the further revelation that he was-and may still be-a fan of Dallas now, hopefully like Ed ,making a come-back on Channel 5.

We also learned that is three year old son Daniel had helped dad think out his speech by declaring he wanted dinosaurs in it--but none of those in the new Ed partyad no naughty cut-aways of post-prandial trade union chiefs.

But it was a self-confident Ed who had them chuckling in the aisles as he prowled the stage note-less and sans auto cue proudly flashing his patrician purple tie and waving his hands as if looking for a neck to stretch.

He made do instead with a pantomime performance involving the wicked witch of the west aka Michael Gove who will be delighted to have had his leadership ambitions aided by being roundly boo-ed by Ed's friends.

Having told them that Old Labour was out as well as New Labour Ed confirmed that the way ahead had been discovered by old Disraeli and then re-enforced in 1945 by Clement Attlee--to be fair another Labour leader not best known for his charisma.

With an eye on the clock if not the election he took a few minutes to promise tough times ahead even if Labour gets back in 2015-after all it was applause he was after.

And applause is whart he got. Disraeli took three hours to make his One Nation speech, fortified by two bottles of brandy said Ed as he took only one fortified only by water. (You can take Ed out of the geek…..)

Earlier in the day a opinion poll said that only one person in five believes he has what it takes to be an effective Prime Minister as against two in five for Dave.

After today he may just have stolen that as well.

Ed Miliband. Photograph: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Nicola Sturgeon and Tony Blair. Photo: Getty
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Nicola Sturgeon's SNP, like Tony Blair's New Labour, is heading for a crash landing

The fall of Tony Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and a fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through radical policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s methodology was so successful and so convincing that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness. Arguably, a form of New Labour won in 2010 and 2015.

But, as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh, when you make, as you will, bad decisions, when the list of enemies grows long, when you’ve just had your time, you’ll fall like all the rest – only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair and of Labour should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. Sunday night’s debate between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of what’s coming – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. This is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’etre is independence; everything else - literally everything else - is just another brick to build the path. And so education reform cannot be either radical or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions or parents. Bricks, you see. Same with the NHS and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature - is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while in reality body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: "it’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs".

But voters show signs of wearying of the predictable blame game and waking up to the time-limited strategy of show-over-substance. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren – things aren’t just not improving, they’re getting worse. The SNP is not keeping its part of the deal.

So, during Sunday night’s debate it was Nicola Sturgeon, not Ruth Davidson or Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs. It will have been a strange experience for a woman more used to public adulation and a clamour for selfies. There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use a food bank (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster): ‘I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish Government]. You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS. Don’t come on your announced visits, come in in the middle of any day to any ward, any A&E department and see what we’re up against.’ She delivered the evening’s killer line: ‘Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you… in this election?’

The list of reasonable criticisms is growing and will grow further. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off, while in England the fee-charging regime has seen the number of students coming from poorer families climb. Ms Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nats’ constitution explicitly prohibits its elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. While total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing. Allowing public self-criticism, far from being a sign of weakness, is a necessary vent for inner tensions and a sign to voters that a political party is something more than a cult.

That ‘cult’ word has long dogged the SNP and its supporters. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning bright, but it has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when it is unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage at times). Claire Austin, the nurse who criticised the First Minister on Sunday, has found herself at its mercy. Immediately after the debate, the Nats briefed (wrongly) that she was the wife of a Tory councilor. The SNP branch in Stirling said Tebbitishly that if she was having to use food banks "maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?" Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s Home Affairs spokesperson, was forced to publicly apologise for spreading "Twitter rumours" about Ms Austin.

The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but we now see it hasn’t gone away - it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated, they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party: it’s the behaviour of a cult.

I might be wrong, but I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly aggravate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and plenty of signs that things will get worse. How, then, do you arrest your fall?

The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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