The Three Iron Laws of Political Coups: From Ed Miliband to Sepp Blatter and Rupert Murdoch

June 12, 2015

TriangleJournalist Steve Richards examines how political leaders are overthrown. Is he offering suggestions relevant to other kinds of leader such as Sepp Blatter or Rupert Murdoch?

Steve Richards writing in The Independent states that there are ‘iron laws that apply if a party wants to dislodge a leader’. While I would prefer the term working principles, the three ‘laws’ he propounds make a great deal of sense.

He argues that for a successful coup:

 1 There has to be at least one popular alternative candidate

2 the risks are considerably lower than those for retaining the incumbent leader

3 The coup must not generate bloody internal battles.

Read the rest of this entry »

“Render unto Thatcher the balls that are Thatcher’s,” I thought

September 30, 2013

George Osborne makes his much-trailed speech to the Conservative annual conference. Outside, the journalists were playing the game “which Prime Minister has the most balls?”

The Chancellor starts with goodish joke about entrepreneur and TV personality Karen Brady, who had introduced him. After the warm-up there is golden moment for a powerful follow-up. He missed it with a badly delivered pitch on the Government’s economic record, which was a bald set of statistics.

A grown-up party and HWPs

The First mention of debt was not the debt we own to the central banks, but indebtedness to efforts of hard-working people [HWPs]. A second mention to HWPs followed a little later, and a with a curious emphasis: “We are a grown-up party for grown-up people.”

Then a joke about Vince Cable which seemed to puzzle the audience. He also turned Miliband’s slogan [Britain can do better than that] against him. Then another joke about brother David Miliband [Cain and the less able]. He was certainly not making any effort to soften his image. The audience remained cool.

Fixing the roof

More on last government’s policy of not fixing the roof. Promised not to be fooled into believing in abolishing boom and bust, [an attack on last Labour Premier Gordon Brown who said he did when he was Chancellor, and has been reminded of it ever since.] The Chancellor promised to have stable surpluses to use to fix the economic roof when the storm breaks. Does this mean accepting a Laissez-faire fiscal policy?

Hard working people again, six minutes later. Building up to something bad about to happen to the nasty, lazy not hard-working people.

“I want to freeze fuel duty.” [Me? I want to visit Miliband’s energy price freeze bad, George’s fuel duty, good?]

Oh this is even trickier. He needs to diss his coalition partners if only in a tit-for-tat way. Audience remains a bit Confused.Com.

“We will not abandon the long-term unemployed.” That was the much trailed item. “We will have ways to help them”. Seemed pretty tough help. Actually he hurried on with less elaboration than i expected, to making a case for High Speed Trains and for Frackimg. He ended with a paean on to Margaret Thatcher’s life and death. We are heirs to her optimism, a Government with a plan for a grown-up country.

My first thoughts are that this was a surprisingly unconvincing effort from a man noted for his political astuteness, and met by a less than enthusiastic reception by tan audience usually not difficult to please. Outside the hall, the not-so-grown-up journalists were asking people to chose where to put their blue balls. The container showed Thatcher as having far more balls that Cameron.

Play the Game, Mr Cameron

On leaving the hall, Mr Cameron was asked to play the game of which Prime Minister has the most balls, but he moved past in a very grown-up way.

Render unto Thatcher

“Render unto Thatcher the balls that are Thatcher’s” I thought

Ed Miliband’s Conference Speech. Unedited Notes as it Happened

October 2, 2012

Tudor Rickards

Unedited notes posted immediately after Ed Miliband’s speech [3pm Tuesday 2nd October, 2012] Notes to be updated and revised later. [Asides by TR made at the time]

Relaxed style. Good confident start. Avoided podium and notes.. Speech had been leaked thoroughly.

Almost good joke to start. Told of his son who wanted to help him write his speech which must have ‘lots of dinosaurs in it’.

Strong style. Was it because his speech tics of Prime Minister’s Question time had been coached out?

Regulation applause seemed early on more obligatory than acclamatory. Evolked (surprisingly) Disraeli, for the concept of One Nation. Implicit ‘we are not under this Government, all in this together’.

Nice bit about understanding why people voted for David Cameron, acknowledging the tough start imposed..[slipped in a political swipe about the double dip recession worse than last one under a Tory regime].

If the medicine’s not working you change the medicine [warmer applause]. Adds [with good timing] …and you change the doctor.

Bit of millionaire bashing re ‘high tax rate rebate’.

Chief Whip bashing.

Nick Clegg bashing. [But aimed at the Leader not the Lib Dem party]

Good rousing attack on Government ineptitude (an ambush by multiple barbed arrows) gained louder applause. [TV picks out reluctant listeners and reluctant applauders].

Message to the banks: Fix it yourselves or we’ll fix it for you. If not The next labour government will sort out banks …once and for all.

Emphasized need to help give better chances for the 50% who won’t go to University. Technical Bacculaureate. Plans apprenticeship obligation for contractors.

Gove’s educational policy divisive. We won’t go back to that. [applause is warmer at last]

Attempt to deal with financial short termism. Offers to work with Business. Offers to be Euro-friendly.

“Here’s my difference on immigration. Recognise strengths as well wrong policies.”

[An aside from TR: That repeated clapping. Now I remember. It’s graduation day. Every one claps. It’s necessary, albeit tiring and mostly tiresome].

Magic of the NHS. Cameron has broken his election pledge to protect it. [Bit of a stage managed standing ovation]. Labour will repeal the NHS Bill. [Another aside: Not another reorganisation?]

Would there be a strong ending? Almost. Was it coherent? Yes. Was it a confident speech? Yes. It generally exceeded expectations (although expectations were generally low].

Reflections and analysis to follow

Ed Miliband seeks help from a psychic psephologist

October 18, 2010

The scene: A fairground. A well-dressed young man in unsuitable business clothing for the muddy terrain stealthily approaches the booth of the famous Mystic Meg.

He appears to be slightly agitated…

MM: Come in, come in, young master Ed, I were expecting you. Don’t be shy now with Mystic Meg. I can see this is another first for you. You trying to be calm on the outside and control your nerves, but you can’t quite. Meg sees a lot, even before consulting her sacred pebbles. What you want is to find out what David is thinking, what he’s planning.

EM: Well, I haven’t had much time to chat with my brother recently, although I still love him very much indeed…

MM [impatiently]: Not that David, my young roseate princeling. The other David. Although you must go on being your brother’s keeper. You wouldn’t want him to take care of you would you? Laugh out loud I says you don’t. I’m talking about Playground Dave. Head of the Big Socks gang. You did well last time you clashed with him, but listen to Mystic Meg. He didn’t know what to expect last time. And you had one or two little tricks which stung him a bit. But you are going to have lots more playground battles with Dave and his gang.

EM: [Bravely] Thank you Meg. That’s really important for me to remember. I know our next meeting will be really important too. I keep thinking about it. Almost all the time. I’ve got to get my first moves prepared, haven’t I? There’s so many things to choose from. And the Big Socks are pretty divided aren’t they?

MM: Ho Hum. You’re right there m’dearie. Of course they are. Side-Kick Nick and his little gang. But you want to win them over to your side don’t you? So you don’t want to be making any nasty comments about Nick and his boys do you?

EM: [Plaintively]. So many things to think about.

MM: One thing at a time young fellow. One thing at a time. Ask, and I’ll see what the sacred pebbles say is in store for you.

EM: Well there is one thing…

MM: Ask away, young leader.

EM: Well, people have started calling me names. They are saying I look like a cuddly Panda. What should I do about that?

MM: That’s a three-pebble problem, right enough it is. Now just you sit right there, Master Ed and try some of these delicious bamboo shoots. I got them in fresh when I foresaw you were coming to see me.

Next Week

What happened when Ed confronts Dave in the playground for a second time.

Ed Miliband’s three leadership dilemmas, and how he dealt with them

September 29, 2010

Political pundits have poured over Ed Miliband’s acceptance speech at the Labour Party Conference of 2010.  We examine the three dilemmas facing the new leader, and the way in which he addressed them

First, some background:  A defeat of Labour in the General Election of May 2010 was followed by the formation of the coalition government of David Cameron’s conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.  It also led to the resignation of the leader and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  The Labour Party initiated a lengthy selection process for a new leader.

There were five candidates, and a tortuous voting procedure with transferable votes.  The original front runner was David Miliband.  He was widely regarded as Blair’s preferred candidate, or ‘heir to Blair’.  He had risen through the political ranks to become one of the youngest Foreign Secretaries ever.  David was a committed member of the Blairite faction of the party, which still subscribed to the concept of New Labour which had kept them in power since 1997.  Despite the unpopularity of Tony Blair, particularly for his supportive role to George Bush in the Iraq War, David Miliband appeared as the likely winner of the contest.  The anti-Blairites had been badly damaged by the defeat of their leader Gordon Brown, and there was no obvious emerging leader from their ranks.

Enter Ed, Stage Left

The campaign was enlivened by the emergence of David’s younger brother Ed as a serious in the campaign.  Ed, a relative inexperienced politician, started as a 33 to 1 outsider.   But as the weeks of the campaign passed, it became clear that the two brothers were running neck and neck. There was much psychological talk of sibling rivalry.  He became labelled ‘Red Ed’ by the Red Tops (Sorry, couldn’t resist that.  I meant labelled by the right-leaning popular tabloid newspapers).  Ed indicated his willingness to support the Unions who were talking up the possibility  of widespread protest strikes against the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government.  

The bookies know something

A week before the voting figures were announced, David was believed to have held off the surprisingly feisty campaign from his younger brother (based on straw polls).  Curiously, there was then a swing in the betting to Ed (must have been a leak somewhere).  Because of the complex transferable vote system, the pundits still considered the contest too close to call.

The drama of the vote

The day of the announcement of the secret ballot arrived. This was a taster before the Labour Party conference.  Much tension.  The candidates, informed only shortly before, arrived at packed conference hall.  David was smiling (rather unconvincingly, I thought).  Ed looked spaced out, face drained of emotion.  There was a painful period of suspence as candidates were eliminated and their votes redistributed.  David retained a slim lead, with far more support among MPs and Direct party members.  Ed had secured much of the ‘block’ Union votes.

Ed squeaks past David

At the dramatic final announcement, Ed had squeaked past the long-time favourite.  He had become leader against the wishes of the great majority of his fellow MPs and party membership. The two brothers embraced in a ‘well-down you deserved it/I’m sorry it had to be you I beat’ sort of way.

Agony and ecstasy

In the following days, the anguish of the defeated Miliband became clear. Slated to make a speech on the first day of the conference, he gallantly conceded his aspirations to the leadership.  He received a rapturous reception as did Gordon Brown, who had come to make his farewells to conference.  But David did not go so far as to say he would put himself forward for an appointment in Ed’s new shadow cabinet.   He remained another day, long enough to witness Ed’s acceptance speech.  By then the scribblers had decided David’s defeat career in politics was ended.  They were quickly proved right, and David Miliband announced a day later that he would not put himself forward to serve in his brother’s shadow administration.

Dilemmas of leadership No 1: Dealing with the Blairites

This how the drama was seen by the BBC’s Nick Robinson:

When Labour’s new leader declared that the Iraq War was wrong, he and other former ministers who voted for the war ­- Alistair Darling, Jack Straw and Andy Burnham – sat stony faced. Not so Harriet Harman. Seeing her clap David turns to her and angrily demands to know “you voted for it, why are you clapping?”

If ever evidence were needed of why David will, almost certainly, leave front line politics tomorrow this is it. He, and many others, deeply resent the way in which Ed – who wasn’t an MP at the time – used his rather less than public opposition to the war to win the party leadership.

This episode addressed Ed’s first leadership dilemma or ‘what should I do first about the potentially troublesome Blair faction of the party?’.  The cold logic was to take out its acknowledged leader.  Who just happened to be the brother he loved. And that’s about it. Dilemma No 1 addressed if not sorted.

Dilemma No 2: Dealing with the Unions

The second dilemma was equally clear:  ‘what should I do to show I am not a puppet of the Unions?’ The logic was to signal in his first speech that his support for the Unions was far from unequivocal.  He could not, would not, support ‘reckless’ strikes.  Despite mutterings, the assembled Union leaders rather sullenly acknowledged that Red Ed was not as full-blooded a supporter as they might have imagined.

Dilemma No 3: Dealing with the Red Ed tag

The third dilemma was how to defuse the potential weakness of being labelled dangerously left-wing and therefore unelectable. The immediate step was to reduce the sting of the Red Ed label.  His rather effectively mocked the epithet with a humorous call for more grown-up political discussion.

Explaining what Ed did and why

The analysis of Ed’s speech for dilemmas offers a plausible explanation of the issues the new leader considered most urgently in need of addressing.  Such an examination looks beyond the rational towards the symbolic significance to find some sense in what has been said.

Miliband the victor had to remove all threat from the still hugely-popular Miliband the loser.  As they say in the mafia movies, this is business.  Nothing personal.  Except of course it was deeply personal.   He further judged that two other developing stories had to be confronted that otherwise might have weakened the invention of himself as leader. In the one case he had to scotch the claims that he was in the pocket of the Unions, and in the other the related claim that he was too left-wing to be a credible figure as a future Prime Minister.

Dilemmas are not problems to be solved.  They do not permit correct solutions, nor decisions which seem likely to have no painful consequences.  There were many ways in which Miliband minor could have avoided antagonizing important groups in the party.  He chose to act the way he did.  His speech has the merits of offering a coherent and courageous strategy.  Will it succeed? That is beyond the scope of this analysis.

The Mail offers testable predictions for a new leader’s prospects

September 27, 2010

Andrew Pierce writing in the Daily Mail reveals his deep admiration for the leadership qualities of David Miliband, and predicts the further decline of the Labour party under the younger Brother Ed. The article provides some testable predictions

The Daily Mail remains one of the Conservative party’s staunchest allies, and custodian of various values which may be threatened by the Government’s coalition with the Liberal democrats. So it comes as little suprise that The Mail is less than impressed with the election of Ed Miliband as leader of the opposition [September 2010].

Only minutes after the applause had died down on Gordon Brown’s valedictory address, [David Miliband intended to] savage Brown’s record as Chancellor and Prime Minister. He [would have] mocked the claim that Labour had ended the cycle of boom and bust. [and would have] warned that they had to stop burying their head in the sand over the need for swingeing spending cuts.

There was probably a leak somewhere, although the Mail report may be based on an act of journalistic creativity. Whatever, it was a good journalistic effort to discover the contents of a politician’s undelivered speech. Perhaps it was intended, as Mr Pierce suggests, to distance David Miliband from Labour policies associated with Gordon Brown.  That is a plausible suggestion (although the acceptance speech would have been delivered more in Conferencespeak than in Mailspeak).

The article went on to make the case for Labour having elected the wrong Miliband, wrong for the country and Labour’s electability under Ed Miliband.

Ed, whose speech when it did come was rather more measured, is already preparing to rip up the Party’s agreed pledge to cut the deficit by half in four years. The swaggering trade unionists who got him elected are all over the conference and the airwaves demanding no cuts in spending whatsoever. Ed will defy them at his peril. (Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, gave him £100,000 and will demand a healthy return on that investment.) As for David Miliband, his closest confidants say he is so wounded by his younger brother’s betrayal in standing against him that he may walk away from politics altogether by the next election. Their relationship will never fully recover — just like Labour’s standing in the polls under Ed.


Let’s do a little map-testing. There are various testable predictions here:

[1] Ed is already preparing to rip up the Party’s agreed pledge to cut the deficit by half in four years.

[2] ‘Swaggering’ trade-unionists got Ed elected

[3] Above mentioned swaggering trade-unionists are demanding no cuts whatsover

[4] Ed will defy them at his peril

[5/6] David’s closest confidants believe he has been “so wounded by his younger brother’s betrayal in standing against him that he may walk away from politics altogether by the next election.”

[7/8] “Their relationship will never fully recover — just like Labour’s standing in the polls under Ed.”

The argument is clearly put: Labour has elected the wrong leader. The election process was Machiavellian. The new leader will be in thrall to the Unions. The Milband siblings will be unable to work together. The Labour Party will never fully recover in the polls.

Some of the reasoning is based on attributed beliefs of unnamed sources close to the defeated Miliband.  However, the thrust of the argument has the merit of testability over the coming months and maybe years.