Parliamentary sketch: a good day for Ed Miliband

"Murdoch makes Miliband" is a headline even the News of the World would have turned down.

The door opened and in he slipped so nervous even his quiff was quaking. He stared around the room in vain for his mates, but the only big boy who had turned up was Vince Cable, and you knew he was just there for the fun.

When he took the job of Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, he imagined backstage at the opera, lunches with the luvvies, and best seats at the Olympics. Nobody mentioned Monday afternoons on your own in the House of Commons.

The chamber is normally a desert this time of the day but the promise of a spit-roast packed them in. There isn't that much flesh on Jeremy Hunt, but there was clearly going to be a lot less before MPs were finished with him.

It hadn't been a good day from the start, but then again it hasn't been a good week, or indeed a good fortnight for the man only recently described as a safe pair of hands. That safe pair was clearly shaking as he stood to defend the indefensible towards the end of yet another astonishing day in the life of "one rogue reporter", who we have discovered had many brothers and even a few sisters.

Yesterday was a good day, though, for the man who had summoned Jeremy to the House to be ritually eviscerated. Many have written that this has not been Ed Miliband's year, but even he could not have imagined getting down on his knees to thank Saint Rupert for riding to his rescue. "Murdoch makes Miliband" is a headline even the News of the World would have turned down.

But there he was, cheered on even by those who just last month would have swapped him for Jeremy. Ed spoke for England -- and maybe even for the rest of the UK -- as he demanded Rupert pack his bags and depart.

He'd kicked off this campaign earlier in the morning yesterday, as part of his successful strategy of keeping Dave and his boys on the run. In fact, so successful was it that by the time he turned up in the Commons, anybody worth anything on the Tory side had clearly found reasons to visit those parts of their departments yet to be axed.

Proceedings were slightly delayed by a rambling discourse on the "big society" by one of its inventors, Oliver Letwin, but the noises off finally persuaded even this most semi-detached of ministers that he was not the reason for a packed chamber, and that he was delaying the main bout.

It had been a day of speech and counter-speech. The government sent a series of coded messages to Rupert begging him to get them off the hook, while Rupert refused to concede that those who had spent all those years telling him how great he was had not meant it any more than he had.

Dave, by the way, had gone missing. As Ed prepared to present Jeremy with his own entrails, the Prime Minister had found a reason to be in Canary Wharf, trying to talk about something else. Ed invited Jeremy, who by now looked as it he needed a hankie, to further ruin whatever remains of his career by rubbishing his leader. He looked tempted.

As a Tory source had so succinctly put it earlier: "We had expected to eat a shit sandwich over this deal, but not a three course meal."

Elsewhere, the main players were getting on with their day. The Guardian provided enough breaking news to give the Sky News strapline hiccoughs. This produced the wonderful vignette of Kay Burley and Adam Boulton discussing the revelation that Rupert, having realised that those who said he was popular had been lying all these years, was going to run for cover for a while, and that meant Sky News would still be owned by him.

This sneaky play was just enough to allow Jeremy to back away from Ed's knife, but the Labour leader isn't finished with it yet. This is the last week of Parliament, after which Ed will go and have his nose job. It now looks like Dave will need one too -- if only to get Ed out of his patrician snout.

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


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

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Why I’m thinking of joining the Labour Party

There’s a lot to admire in the direction Jeremy Corbyn is taking the party – perhaps it’s time to get involved.

Why I'm leaving Labour”, as Owen Hatherley remarked a few days ago, appears to be the new “why I’m leaving London”. However, aside from a few high(ish) profile departures, the bigger story is the net increase in membership of 90,000 that Labour has enjoyed since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. Indeed, the last few weeks have got me seriously considering whether I should add to these impressive numbers and join the party myself.

For me, one of the most cheering pieces of news since Corbyn’s victory was the convening of an advisory committee to shadow chancellor John McDonnell, including policy and academic heavyweights such as Mariana Mazzucato, Ann Pettifor, Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty. It was a clear indication that some fresh and serious thought was going to be put into the creation of a plan for remaking and rejuvenating the British economy. The early signs are that Labour will be offering a dynamic, high-tech economy of the future, with good pay and job security at its heart, which will stand in sharp contrast to the miserable Randian dystopia George Osborne has been pushing the country into during his time at the Treasury.

Also refreshing has been Corbyn’s use of Prime Minister’s Questions to give a voice to those affected by austerity. Given that our media and political class is disproportionately populated by people from privileged backgrounds, it’s really important that an extra effort is made to ensure that we hear first-hand from those bearing the brunt of these policies. It’s right in principle, and it turns out to be good politics as well. Because apparently many Conservative MPs are too stupid to realise that responding to the concerns of working class people with loud, derisive braying merely provides the public with a neat and powerful illustration of whose side each party is on.

Corbyn has taken a lot of flak in the media, and from MPs on the Labour right, for his response to the Paris attacks. But as someone who researches, teaches and writes on British foreign policy, Middle East politics and security issues, my admiration for the Labour leader has only grown in recent days.  

In the atmosphere immediately after a terrorist atrocity, a discourse emerges where caring about the victims and being serious about dealing with the threat are taken to be synonymous with advocating military responses and clampdowns on civil liberties, irrespective of the fact that fourteen years of pursuing this approach under the “war on terror” has only served to make the problem far worse. At times like these it takes a great deal of courage to articulate a careful, cautious approach emphasising non-military forms of action that address root causes and whose effects may be less dramatic and immediate. Many people were simply not in the mood to hear this sort of thing from Corbyn, but his policies are objectively more likely to make us safer, and I admire him for not being intimidated into silence despite the gallons of vitriol that have been poured on him.

In general, on national security, there is something heavily gendered about the narrative that casts the alpha male Cameron keeping Britain safe versus the dithering milquetoast Corbyn who doesn't understand the harsh realities. We reached the nadir of this stone age machismo during the last election campaign when Very Serious Jeremy Paxman put it to Ed Miliband that he couldn’t have Vladimir Putin in a fight.  After the disasters of the last decade and a half, the time is right to articulate a more intelligent, sophisticated alternative to the expensive, counterproductive militarism of the Conservative Party and the Labour right wing.

The question of whether Corbyn can win an election is certainly one that preoccupies me. He will struggle to attract voters to his right just as Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham or Liz Kendall would have struggled to win back votes Labour lost to the SNP and the Greens. Enthusing and rallying the perhaps 30 per cent of the electorate who are broadly on the left is one thing, but adding the other 6-7 per cent that you need to win an election is another challenge altogether. Corbyn and his team have been on a steep learning curve since their shock victory in September, and they urgently need to clarify their message and improve their media strategy. Almost all the corporate press are bound to remain hostile, but there are ways to provide them with as little ammunition as possible.

More importantly, Corbyn’s team need to find ways of connecting directly with the public and bring them actively into what he's trying to do. In the current anti-politics mood, an opposition party based on a genuine, engaged mass movement could be a formidable force. Initiatives like “Momentum” will need to make quick and substantial progress.

Fundamentally, Corbyn’s Labour has to do what everyone concerned with genuine social progress has had to do throughout history: articulate points of view that go against prevailing orthodoxy, and do so in as persuasive a way as possible. By definition, these are battles against the odds. But you can't win them if you don't fight them. And for me, and I think most people on Corbyn's part of the left, five years of austerity have taken us beyond the point where we can accept the least worst version of the status quo. That prospect has simply become too painful for too many people.

So will I join? I’m still unsure. Without doubt there will be times when the leadership needs constructive, even robust criticism, and as a writer and researcher I may feel more free to articulate that outside of the Labour tribe. But whatever choice I make, the point for me is that this isn’t really about Jeremy Corbyn so much as the wider movement he represents, demanding a real change of course on politics, economics and foreign policy. That collective effort is something I will certainly continue to play an active part in.

David Wearing researches UK-Saudi-Gulf relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where he teaches courses on Middle East politics and international political economy. He sits on the steering committee of Campaign Against Arms Trade.