Leaders we Deserve: The battle for Britain, 2019

May 26, 2019

img_0279

A long-running political drama reaches a predictable conclusion. Theresa May, the beleaguered prime minister of the United Kingdom makes a tearful announcement of her resignation. In her own words, her best efforts have failed to win the approval of parliament for her plan to leave the Economic Union.
The battle begins three years earlier, when the preceding prime minister David Cameron resigns after the loss of a referendum he called. In Cameron’s case his plan was to renegotiate terms of remaining in the EU. ‘The will of the people’ (TWOTP) as it became known by triumphant leave voters, forces his immediate resignation.
There follows a prolonged battle in parliament to implement TWOTP. Leaving the EU turns out to be impossible politically. Explanations are hotly disputed. The most vehement supporters of leaving are labelled Brexiteers. Those wanting to remain Remoaners.

Timeline

The Guardian provided a timeline of six critical events building up to May’s resignation

11 July 2016
Theresa May is elected Conservative leader and, having backed remain, seeks to unite her party by appointing key leave figures to the cabinet, including Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, Liam Fox as trade secretary and David Davis as Brexit secretary.
2 October 2016
In her first conference speech, May states that ‘we are going to be a fully independent, sovereign country’ and implies the UK will leave the customs union and the single market.” Three months later, she delivers the Lancaster House speech that confirmed her red lines (non-negotiable.
8 June 2017
Having decided to call a snap general election in order to garner a majority that would allow her to push her Brexit vision through the Commons, a calamitous campaign results in the Conservatives losing their majority. That left May not only turning to the DUP in order to prop up her government but set the scene for the parliamentary deadlock that was to come.
6 July 2018
May gathers her warring cabinet at Chequers in a bid to set out a compromise negotiating position that has a chance of finding favour with the EU. But a perceived move towards a softer Brexit provokes an immediate backlash from the right of the party, prompting the resignations of Davis and Johnson from the cabinet and new plotting from ERG members.
13 March 2019
With her deal having been voted down by a crushing 230 majority when she first brought it before the Commons in January, May tries again with 19 days left until the original Brexit date. She is again humiliated when the deal is beaten by a majority of 149 votes, as the process becomes mired in parliamentary paralysis.
21 May 2019
After weeks of fruitless talks with Labour over a Brexit compromise, May launches her ‘new’ Brexit plan, with 10 commitments designed to address cross-party concerns about her withdrawal agreement bill. Cabinet agrees to the plan, but Andrea Leadsom resigns as the leader of the House of Commons. By the end of the week, May announces her departure.

The critical point seems to have been the rise of a new right- wing party led by Nigel Farage which threatens to score a remarkable success in the European parliamentary elections later this month, at the expense of the conservatives (who hope until too late they would
by then be out of the EU).

Runners and riders

The views of political pundits are to be found across the print and electronic media. A favoured metaphor is the of runners described as preparing for the off in the Grand National. The BBC’s Cornelius Lysaght, a racing commentator, describes a mock race from the starting gate ‘with Boris’ in the lead but followed by a field of over a dozen runners. The possibles in ‘The poisoned chalice trophy’ swell to around twenty in the days before the resignation.

I will try to keep a LWD diary over the course of race. Comments welcomed.

Sunday 25 May

The date when the results of the EU elections are announced …

To be continued


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.