Is it me, or is the sheen starting to come off the New Politics? Obviously I’ve got a bit of an agenda. What with all that grit and oyster and stuff.
But there’s definitely something happening out there. I first noticed it as a line in article from John Harris. He’s a proper New politics standard-bearer, is John. But while launching a typically robust assault on the coalition’s agenda he also opined:
As things stand, the Labour Party has woefully little by way of a response, apart from the vague idea that some of it may not work.
One swallow does not, of course, make for a New Political backlash. But then I recalled an article in the New Statesman a couple of weeks ago by Neal Lawson. If John is the standard-bearer, Neal is the high priest. He’s made it his life’s work to tear down New Labour’s big tent and replace it with a New Political encampment. It’s got small tents, large tents, some so huge you could squeeze in UK Uncut, the Fabians, Progress and still have room left over for Caroline Lucas and a few Lib Dem stragglers.
But, according to Neal, Labour has to “wake up”. He writes: “Something is wrong. We need to understand what that is, and fast.” Blimey.
There I was, drifting along in the mistaken belief that we were cruising to power on the good ship HMS Miliband and wham! The first mate appears on deck screaming at us all to head for the lifeboats.
History teaches us that, in opposition, Labour wins by-elections, goes on big marches and feels good about itself. Meanwhile, the Conservatives win when it matters and Labour, out of desperation, eventually ends up occupying too much of the same old policy ground. Labour is lost.
Come on, Neal, how bad can things be? We’re ahead in the polls, the cuts are starting to bite. But:
The unpopularity of the cuts and the demonisation of Nick Clegg are like sirens, luring us on to the rocks of permanent opposition. Both seduce us into thinking that all we have to do is oppose, all we have to do is wait. The pillow is being placed on our face. Wake up, Labour – before it is too late.
Oh. That bad.
Obviously, there are some of us who have had our doubts about the direction the party’s been moving in, or been becalmed in, since the leadership election. But I have to be honest: I never counted Lawson among our number. Last time I looked, Neal was popping in to Ed’s office for strategy meetings and writing laudatory articles about how he was “steadying the New Labour ship – Ed Miliband can help us believe in a better world”.
That was published by Neal back in January. Clearly, two months is a long time in the New Politics.
Yet these noises of dissent are not just coming from the disillusioned activists. Over the past week, commentators like Jackie Ashley and Steve Richards have voiced similar concerns: “Labour has simply been too much of everyone’s friend” – Ashley; “It’s time for Miliband to tell us where Labour is heading” – Richards.
I suspect Miliband’s been heading to a meeting with his key advisers to find out just what the hell’s going on. Attacks from the usual suspects are one thing, and I confess I have a less-than-watertight alibi. But the sniping from those that Team Ed regards as allies will be worrying.
And frustrating. The irony that will not have been lost on Miliband’s spinners is that, just as commentators on the left are starting to cause problems, he has received two welcome but unexpected endorsements from the right. The respected conservative commentators Matthew Parris and Peter Oborne both penned articles over the past week warning of the perils of underestimating Labour’s leader.
But Miliband knows it’s his left flank that matters. He is already hemmed in on three sides. Directly in front sits Ed Balls, to his right stand the Blairites, and behind waits his brother. If he loses his support among the left, he is politically surrounded.
Then there’s the timing. One disloyal article is unfortunate. Two looks like carelessness. Four, within the space of as many weeks, from the same wing of the movement and commentariat, looks like a strategy. Or, at the very least, a very nice north London dinner party.
I cannot claim to have been an especially good friend to Ed Miliband since he secured the Labour leadership. So I offer this advice freely. Watch your back. Beware the Ides of March. And next time, make sure to round up twice the usual number of suspects.