A spot of Milibother

Mutterings are growing louder over the stuttering performance of Ed Miliband.

There's a joke doing the rounds: what's the difference between North Korea and the Labour Party? In North Korea, the hereditary communism is
in one family. With Labour, hereditary socialism has two families - the Milibrothers and Balls-Cooper. Mutterings are growing louder over the stuttering performance of Ed Miliband, with MPs regularly heard discussing how he might be replaced by (depending on who bends your ear) Brother David, Yvette Cooper or Ed Balls. The outburst by Unite's Red Len was a general secretary wondering aloud if the unions backed a loser in helping him win. His isn't a lone voice. Watch this space.

The two Milibrothers at least now speak, insisted a snout. About family matters. Politics, I was told, remains off-limits. I bet Kim Jong-un, the Ed Miliband of Pyongyang, doesn't suffer similar opposition from his overlooked elder brothers, the Kims Jong-nam and Jong-chol. The North Korean dictator is able to slam plotters in prison; the Labour leader appeases them with spending cuts.

Either all football players listen to the Today programme or Jeremy "Berkeley" Hunt is universally unpopular. Learning to referee after admitting he knew nothing about the world's most popular sport, the culture vulture was subjected to a volley of the Jim Naughties. If the Old Carthusian had shown greater enthusiasm for sport at school, he'd be familiar with offsides. Charterhouse, Hunt's £30k-a-year alma mater, claims to be a founder of what other private establishments sneeringly refer to as the round ball game - Old Carthusians won the FA Cup in 1881.

Hunt best not mention that victory to Dave Cameron. They beat Old Etonians 3-0 at the Kennington Oval.

The loose cannon Eric Joyce, a one-time major in the Royal Army Education Corps, displayed some brass neck in taking to the airwaves to criticise Ed Miliband for issuing a "bring it on" challenge to Lord Cameron of Downing Street. The phrase, declared the ex-major loftily, reminded him of a Steve Coogan parody. Unlike the Labour MP who confessed “I'm crap" at politics. Or the politician who tweeted "Glassman [sic] is a cock, surely" after Mili's persona non guru, Maurice Glasman, criticised Little Ted in these pages. And who sounded like Alan Partridge? Eric "Mind Your Language" Joyce.

The shadow farming minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, got in touch after last week's item about the new girl Seema Malhotra discovering an ironing board in the lady members' room - Westminster real life in 2012 replicating a 1959 scene in The Iron Lady.

Deep in the bowels of the Mock-Gothic Fun Palace, revealed Mr I-D, the chaps have a board of their own. Equality! The Ogmore MP removes the creases after cycling to work. As do, said Mr I-D, "assorted betowelled Lib Dems and eminent former Labour foreign secs". The latter is a tiny group and the former must be a terrifying sight.

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 23 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Has the Arab Spring been hijacked?

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.