Behind the scenes at Labour conference, frustrations have been growing at the top of the party with a former party leader. And it’s not Jeremy Corbyn, but Ed Miliband.
Keir Starmer’s office has privately made no secret of its deep frustrations with the former Labour leader in recent days, after he recommitted the party to public ownership of energy during a recent appearance on Newsnight. The leader’s office was frustrated by Miliband “freelancing” on the issue and embarrassed by the impassioned style with which he defended public ownership, an issue viewed by the Labour leadership as politically sensitive.
This came to the surface on Sunday, when Starmer firmly undercut his predecessor by telling the Andrew Marr Show that Labour would not take the Big Six energy companies into public ownership. It looked like a public snub to Miliband on the morning of his conference speech, whether or not that was the intention. “We had to push back on that quite firmly,” one figure close to the leadership said of Miliband’s comments.
Those close to Miliband, meanwhile, say he simply understood this to be party policy: not only something that Starmer committed to in his ten pledges during the leadership race, but a position that the Labour party has repeated since in press releases. Sources close to the former Labour leader also emphasised that no policy on the Big Six specifically had been decided, but that options remain on the table and he is committed to a role for public ownership in the energy system.
Relations are not only sour between Miliband and the leader’s office; new tensions have emerged between Miliband and the shadow Treasury team after the former Labour leader submitted a green policy at the last minute, on the eve of his speech on Saturday night, and “strongarmed it through”. “Ed was a massive diva”, says one source familiar with the exchanges, and “alienated quite a few people in the process”. Another source added: “there was a row. Rachel is not happy with him.”
It points not only to the tightrope that Miliband walks as a former party leader at the centre of the shadow cabinet, but to wider policy tensions over climate proposals and, in particular, Labour’s energy policy.
Sources close to both Miliband and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said that they and their teams have been working closely together on green investment policies and enjoy a good working relationship. This is thought to be the first strain in the otherwise positive working relationship between Miliband and the shadow Treasury team. The relationship between the leader’s office and Miliband appears sourer, though the personal relationship between Starmer and Miliband is thought to have been unaffected by recent events.
Regardless of the health or otherwise of the relationship between Miliband and the Labour leadership, the fact remains that the party’s position on energy is, as it stands, increasingly unclear at a time when the United Kingdom’s energy policy is of national concern.