Labour demands apology after No. 10 accuses Miliband of giving "succour" to Assad

Vice-chair Michael Dugher writes to Jeremy Heywood demanding that Craig Oliver apologise and withdraw the "infantile and irresponsible" remark.

After David Cameron's director of communications Craig Oliver unwisely accused Ed Miliband of giving "succour" to the Assad regime by forcing the government to promise a second vote on Syria after the UN weapons inspectors have reported, Labour has written a letter of complaint to Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, and has called for Oliver to apologise and withdraw the "infantile and irresponsible" remark.

Asked whether Miliband was giving succour to the Assad regime, Oliver said: "Yes. The fact is that a lot of the arguments over this could give succour to the regime." In response, Michael Dugher, the party's vice chair, wrote to Heywood:

You will have noticed reports the director of government communications Craig Oliver has described the leader of opposition as giving 'succour to Assad'. It is language which is infantile and irresponsible.

It follows a pattern of behaviour by 10 Downing Street through recent days which demeans the office of prime minister. It is particularly disappointing given the serious nature of today's debate and the fact that throughout the country people will be listening with great concern about events in Syria, some knowing their relatives could soon be involved in military action.

We ask that Mr Oliver apologises and withdraws the remark. In view of the public interest in this matter we are releasing this letter to the media.

The clash is further evidence of how high tensions are running. Today's Times quoted one government source as saying: "No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a fucking cunt and a copper-bottomed shit." It is worth remembering, as I noted earlier this week, that not since Suez has there been a bipartisan split on a matter of peace and war.

Letter to Sir Jeremy Heywood

Downing Street director of communications Craig Oliver said: "the fact is that a lot of arguments over this could give succour to the regime". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.