100 days of Ed Miliband: the defining moments

The key points from Miliband’s first 100 days as Labour leader.

Best moment: Miliband's clear and persuasive opposition to the abolition of universal child benefit. It ensured that his first PMQs was a success and allowed him to assert his social-democratic credentials. With the Treasury warning that the planned benefit cuts are "unenforceable", Miliband's opposition may yet pay dividends.

Worst moment: The Labour leader was humiliated when David Cameron declared: "I'd rather be a child of Thatcher than a son of Brown." It was the defining moment of what proved to be his worst week as leader.

Best line: "I was a student politician, but I wasn't hanging around with people who were throwing bread rolls and wrecking restaurants." (To David Cameron at PMQs on 8 December)

Worst line: "I think I was doing something else at the time, actually." (On why he missed the students' protest)

Best joke: "If the Kremlin is spying on the Lib Dems, I'm not surprised. They want a bit of light relief." (At PMQs in response to the Mike Hancock story)

Worst joke: "I stole David's football, so he nationalised my train set." (In his party conference speech)

Least loyal shadow minister: Alan Johnson wins this one by a country mile. His sustained opposition to a graduate tax and to a permanent 50p income-tax rate represented the most serious challenge to Miliband's authority. The shadow chancellor eventually climbed down and suggested that there was a "strong case" for graduate tax, albeit in the most unconvincing way possible. But the damage had been done and the confusion meant Labour could offer only token opposition to higher tuition fees.

Highest Labour poll rating: 43 per cent (YouGov/Sun poll, 20 December)

Lowest Labour poll rating: 34 per cent (ComRes/Independent on Sunday, 15 October)

And finally . . . Best line borrowed from an NS comment thread: "He wished he could come back and say No, No No, but in his case it's a bit more like No, Maybe, Oh go on then." (On David Cameron and the EU budget. Hats off to Bill Kristol-Balls)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war