Ed Miliband says Labour behaved like “squatters in power”

Labour leadership candidate says the party was too hesitant while in office.

In my Sunday Mirror column today I offer a gently mocking end-of-first-term assessment of the coalition government. I also quote something from Ed Miliband, the Labour leadership contender.

When I spoke to him he contrasted the confidence of David Cameron and his coalition partners with the hesitancy and lack of confidence of New Labour in power, in spite of their landslide victories. It's as if New Labour always felt like imposters, as if they had somehow tricked their way into government and didn't quite belong.

In some ways, they did trick their way in to power and behaved as such. The whole New Labour period can look more and more like an elaborate confidence trick, in retrospect.

By contrast, David Cameron and George Osborne -- especially the latter, who, though you may disagree with him, is a very impressive conviction politician (as is Ed Miliband, it so happens) -- behave in the way of Conservatives of old. They act as if theirs is the natural party of government and it is the historic duty and role of the Conservatives to rescue the country from the irresponsibility and misrule of lesser parties.

Call it noblesse oblige or, perhaps, the entitlement of privilege. Whatever you call it, Ed Miliband is bothered by how the Tories, using the Lib Dems as cover, can be so radical and so bold, even though they didn't win a majority at the election in May.

This is what Ed said to me:

It's very interesting what the coalition has done, a bit like George Bush in 2000. The coalition, like Bush, has won a very questionable mandate and yet they act like they own the place. The cuts [in public spending] David Cameron is making are going well beyond what he needed to do. He could have chosen a different course. He didn't. Yet when Labour wins an emphatic mandate we act sometimes like we are squatters in power. That has to change, surely?

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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Emily Thornberry heckled by Labour MPs as tensions over Trident erupt

Shadow defence secretary's performance at PLP meeting described as "risible" and "cringeworthy". 

"There's no point trying to shout me down" shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry declared midway through tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. Even by recent standards, the 70-minute gathering was remarkably fractious (with PLP chair John Cryer at one point threatening to halt it). Addressing MPs and peers for the first time since replacing Maria Eagle, Thornberry's performance did nothing to reassure Trident supporters. 

The Islington South MP, who voted against renewal in 2007, said that the defence review would be "wide-ranging" and did not take a position on the nuclear question (though she emphasised it was right to "question" renewal). She vowed to listen to colleagues as well as taking "expert advice" and promised to soon visit the Barrow construction site. But MPs' anger was remorseless. Former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones was one of the first to emerge from Committee Room 14. "Waffly and incoherent, cringeworthy" was his verdict. Another Labour MP told me: "Risible. Appalling. She compared Trident to patrolling the skies with spitfires ... It was embarrassing." A party source said afterwards that Thornberry's "spitfire" remark was merely an observation on changing technology. 

"She was talking originally in that whole section about drones. She'd been talking to some people about drones and it was apparent that it was absolutely possible, with improving technology, that large submarines could easily be tracked, detected and attacked by drones. She said it is a question of keeping your eye on new technology ... We don't have the spitfires of the 21st century but we do have some quite old planes, Tornadoes, but they've been updated with modern technology and modern weaponry." 

Former first sea lord and security minister Alan West complained, however, that she had failed to understand how nuclear submarines worked. "Physics, basic physics!" he cried as he left. Asked how the meeting went, Neil Kinnock, who as leader reversed Labour's unilateralist position in 1989, simply let out a belly laugh. Thornberry herself stoically insisted that it went "alright". But a shadow minister told me: "Emily just evidently hadn't put in the work required to be able to credibly address the PLP - totally humiliated. Not by the noise of the hecklers but by the silence of any defenders, no one speaking up for her." 

Labour has long awaited the Europe split currently unfolding among the Tories. But its divide on Trident is far worse. The majority of its MPs are opposed to unilateral disarmament and just seven of the shadow cabinet's 31 members share Jeremy Corbyn's position. While Labour MPs will be given a free vote when the Commons votes on Trident renewal later this year (a fait accompli), the real battle is to determine the party's manifesto stance. 

Thornberry will tomorrow address the shadow cabinet and, for the first time this year, Corbyn will attend the next PLP meeting on 22 February. Both will have to contend with a divide which appears unbridgeable. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.