Ed Miliband is shaping the news agenda, unlike his opponents. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

"Gamed out"? At least Ed Miliband's in the news cycle

Labour's policy review chief was recorded saying his leader is being "gamed out" by the media. But at least Ed's making the news, unlike his political opponents.

Many people in politics over the past few weeks have been saying that the Labour party is having a torrid time. Rumours and leaks of backstabbing and splits in the Labour leader’s circle have sprung up alongside an onslaught of negative commentary about Ed Miliband, both from the media and some within his own party.

One source close to the shadow cabinet tells me that the feeling in the party is “pretty bad”, and that they’d “hate to be a Labour politician right now, least of all Ed Miliband.”

Another Labour figure tells me about factions working against each other within the top tiers of the party, and I’ve heard from a number of insiders about blue on blue (well, red on red) negative briefings from certain Labour frontbench teams.

So it’s not just the press taking opportune pictures of bacon butties. The party is being affected by ragged relations at the top as well, and all this is in spite of a fairly stubborn poll lead.

Following an intervention in the Financial Times by Labour peer and Miliband’s former adviser Maurice Glasman, who accused the leader of “conformist mediocrity” and said the party is missing a “sense of direction”, and Labour policy review chief Jon Cruddas referring to a “dead hand” at the party’s centre blocking reforms, the latter made headlines again last week when a recording of him warning that Miliband is being “gamed out” by the press was leaked to the Telegraph:

“He just gets gamed out every day, every week because of the news cycle, the media, levels of intrusion, the party management side.”

But it only seems as if the Labour leader is being “gamed out” because he’s actually part of the news cycle, setting the news agenda a number of times in the past few weeks from a whole host of policy proposals including a radical shake-up of benefits for young people, transforming local government, wooing business, and a strong stance on rail policy and ownership, among many others.

Of course he’s going to be knocked down occasionally by those opposing his plans, and of course he’s going to have a few bits of data questioned by those scrutinising the proposals of our potential next government. But at least he’s going out there, almost every day, unveiling the plans he’d like to put into action if he were to become prime minister next year.

Miliband’s perseverance, both in powering on with his proposals, and ignoring pops at his personality, is a lot more than we’ve seen any of the other parties doing recently. As the Telegraph’s Peter Oborne wrote earlier this month: “Every day Mr Miliband arrives in his office, takes off his coat, and takes the bullets. I salute him.”

If Miliband is being “gamed out”, then our current PM isn’t even in the game. Where has he been? India? Or was it Scotland? All we’ve seen of our PM, and indeed DPM, is a recent announcement of emergency powers being rushed through for police surveillance – legislation at worst a hurried invasion of our civil liberties and at best a bit of a dull, technical response to some crusty EU directive. And something to do with strikes, which is just a bit passé and Eighties, really.

“I know it looks like Ed’s personal ratings are going down,” a Labour aide admits, “but at least he has ideas. This government is simply not legislating.”

And it’s true. There is very little coming from the coalition frontbench of any interest to the media at least, unless you count the unplanned fire-fighting of stories that suddenly emerge, such as the recent Eighties Westminster paedophile ring allegations, which eventually sprung the Home Secretary into action.

There’s a big, and favourable, contrast between a whole heap of proper policies from Ed Miliband – even if they are being ruthlessly scrutinised ­– and a government that briefed out a tax on plastic bags as the centrepiece of their final Queen’s Speech. Forget "game out", that's called "game over".

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.