Who gains from Milburn move?

After Hutton and Field, coalition comes for Alan Milburn.

So, Alan Milburn may follow Frank Field and John Hutton and work with David Cameron and Nick Clegg's coalition government.

The Sunday Telegraph reports this morning that Milburn will be offered the role of "social mobility tsar", with a remit to examine ways of boosting the chances of underprivileged children. The announcement may be made as early as Wednesday, the paper says.

Last year Milburn was asked to do a similar job for Gordon Brown, but his recommendations were not used by the outgoing government. Milburn has yet to talk about this latest approach.

 

 

 

Policy-wise, Milburn has something to offer, but politically this feels rather toxic. According to the Sunday Telegraph report:

Many will see it as a way of shoring up the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader who is facing internal trouble in his own party over the severe spending cuts he has backed.

The appointment further highlights tensions in the coalition as the Lib Dems push for more left-wing policies.

On the right, Iain Dale for one is not happy:

First they came for Frank Field. They appointed him "Poverty Czar". I didn't speak up

Then they came for Will Hutton. They appointed him "Work Czar". I didn't speak up.

Then they came for John Hutton. They appointed him "Pensions Czar". I didn't speak up.

Today they came for Alan Milburn. They are about to appoint him "Social Mobility Czar".

Now, I'm going to speak up.

One day they might actually appoint a Conservative. But I'm not holding my breath.

Because by then, it might be a bit late.

Meanwhile, John Prescott has repeated his "collaborators" line that he used when Hutton and Field accepted coalition approaches to work together earlier in the summer. He tweeted:

So after Field & Hutton, Milburn becomes the 3rd collaborator. They collaborated to get Brown OUT. Now collaborating to keep Cameron IN

So, who gains from this move? Cameron may feel he is offering some much-needed support to his deputy, but at what cost? This appointment will surely antagonise the right, which might ask, as Dale does above, whether there isn't the talent "in-house" to do the job.

Indeed, isn't the much-vaunted Iain Duncan Smith able to answer these questions on mobility himself; isn't that what he has spent much of his post-leadership political life doing?

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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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.