The Labour leadership: who the newspapers are supporting

The Staggers takes a look at which candidates the national newspapers and their columnists have back


On Wednesday 1 September the ballot to choose the next leader of the Labour Party opened and the Labour leadership battle moved into its final stages.

Despite the distraction of Blair's memoirs, some newspapers and commentors have still found the time to declare their support for a preferred candidate, starting with our endorsement of Ed Miliband and our coverage of Jon Cruddas's endorsement of David Miliband.

Here is a round-up of the newspaper editorials:

The Observer chose this Sunday to declare in favour of David, claiming that:

. . . there is a breadth and subtlety to David Miliband's campaign that elevates him above his rivals. He is unquestionably loyal to the Labour tradition, but loyal also to the politics of winning general elections.

The Guardian meanwhile has chosen to sit firmly on the fence, stating that:

The truth is that both reaching out and moving on are essential, which is why neither is yet the obvious winner. In the three weeks of voting, it is to be hoped that one brother or the other will prove they can manage both at once.

The Independent has plumped for David, stating:

David Miliband has stressed repeatedly that Labour must appeal beyond the core vote if it has any chance of being a credible challenger at the election. In making this point he has not stayed in what his brother describes as a New Labour "comfort zone". If he had done so, he would deserve to lose.

The Times (£) editorial was short and pithy, but still came out strongly for David in the end, noting:

Mr Miliband understands that Labour needs a credible line on the deficit; he has tried more than any other candidate to appeal to the electorate as a whole. He is the only candidate who commands the personal authority to be a credible prime minister and Labour can be a serious opposition only if it is seen as an alternative government. There is only one candidate who comes close to answering that description: David Miliband.

The Financial Times, despite coming out for David, has been disappointed by the leadership contest:

The quality of the leadership debate has been dispiriting. It has been too inward-looking and deferential to the core vote. The candidates have largely failed to articulate a clear vision of Britain's future that could serve as a road map back to power.

The columnists and bloggers have shown a little more variety:

Jackie Ashley (the Guardian) strong supports Ed, but is afraid that he is too dependent on the unions:

He could become the "public-sector leader" or the "northern leader" rather than, as he wants, the leader of the "squeezed middle".

Johann Hari declares his support for Ed as well, but adds this warning:

It's not enough to say the debate should be solely "future oriented". The next Labour leader will face similar decisions. What he did in the past will shape what he does in the future.

Matthew Norman (of the Independent) is strongly convinced that Ed is the man for the job and argues:

It isn't that he speaks something far closer to English than the strangulated, triangulated patois of sonorously meaningless cliché that is his brother's lingua franca, although that certainly helps as well.

It's not even that he conveniently splits the difference between David's Blair Gold tribute act and Balls's core vote-protecting, comfort blanket statism, though that helps even more. It is simply that he had the cobblers to stand for the leadership at all, knowing that this must threaten one of the central relationships of his life.

Finally, Jonathan Freedland does as good a job as ever at sitting on the fence:

In an ideal world, there would be a combined Miliband name on the ballot, blending the strengths of both. As it is, there are two imperfect, all too human individuals. Since only one can triumph, it is incumbent on the eventual winner to take on the arguments and qualities embodied by his defeated brother. The party has been offered an either/or choice. But the truth is, it needs both.

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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.