“We can’t go on together – with suspicious minds”
- Elvis Presley
An air of mistrust and suspicion has returned to the Labour Party – just in time for conference season. And all thanks to the anonymous mutterings of the perennial seasonal favourite – the anonymous Labour source.
For those hoping that the party (and Ed Miliband) were about to get our first good run at a conference in years – don’t get your hopes up just yet, because a noise is rumbling in the bowels of the old beast – the TB/GBs.
Of course we can’t really have the TB/GBs again – both men are beyond the front line now (sort of) – so we’re told it’s returning by-proxy. Two of the so called “sons of Brown” are, we are told, at loggerheads. The EM/EBs…
Only a few months ago I argued that this was all being blown out of proportion – and perhaps that’s what we’re seeing again. But somehow, this time, I doubt it.
This all kicked off on Sunday when John Rentoul wrote an article entitled “Forget Dave and George. The real story is the two Eds”. In truth the article was more about the government than Labour (and relied upon the unproven assertion that the economy will improve and the Tories will get the credit), but rumours of an Ed on Ed row were more interesting for those of us starved of political news and intrigue. Follow up soon came in the Bank Holiday editions of the Indie and The Times (£) – and today’s Guardian seeks to keep the boulder of leadership strife rolling down the hill towards the startled Labour Party villagers in the valley below. Once this hit day three of coverage, you could tell it was the real thing, albeit one that appeared – perhaps conceived over lunch – on the quietest political weekend of the year.
But who would have started this? Many senior Labour aides (including many of those close to the Labour leader and Shadow Chancellor) are quite sensibly taking a late August break. Which of them would seek to assert that Ed Balls was too big for his boots? It was unclear whether this was an attempt at aggrandising the shadow chancellor or taking him down a peg or two.
Yet today’s briefing in the Guardian seems to be attempting something different – making both men look bad. Obstensively it’s about a poll, but neither men will care for a poll that proves that they – and all other politicians – are still getting negative ratings. This is careful and methodical character assassination. Balls is painted as a bully, whilst Ed Miliband is made to look indecisive – descriptions that the Tory Party (or Simon Heffer for that matter) would dearly love to stick.
Well done, anonymous Labour source, you really played a blinder there.
The net effect has been to increase suspicion between those surrounding the two men. That’s not to say there wasn’t suspicion before, but this weekend seems to have amplified it and brought it out into the open. If they weren’t at loggerheads already, they may well – as a result of potentially misplaced suspicion – be at loggerheads now.
The best question to ask at times like this is “Cui bono?”, meaning “who benefits?”.
Are there those in the party who are unhappy with both Balls and Miliband? Of course. In any party there are the spurned, the undermined and the overlooked. Around the shadow cabinet table and beyond there are many unhappy at Ed Balls having control over each and every policy (not that we have many of them, but anyway…). There are many with a grievance, so there are many with the motive to fit the bill.
Yet though who would seek to stoke disagreement at the top of the party only show how selfish their motives are. Despite the Olympics and the Jubilee, and a relatively quiet summer, the Tory Party are still in complete disarray, whilst the coalition is showing significant boundary shaped cracks. Clegg and Cameron will be facing “make or break” speeches at their respective conferences. And now Ed Miliband’s free ride for this year looks like a characteristically bumpy one. Whichever fool thought now was the right time to inject poison into Labour’s body politic should hang their head in shame. When your opposition is commiting hari-kari, you get out of the way, you don’t start stabbing yourself.
Maybe we are dreadful at opposition after all. Maybe we can’t unite, behave and return to power in one term. We’ve never done it before – and with this kind of attitude, you can see why. Yet this always seems to happen at the top, not the bottom.
So on behalf of Labour’s rank and file, let me say this – to all you Labour’s secret sources, “friends” of shadow cabinet members, toytown Tuckers, spin doctors and would be masters of the dark arts, a challenge – until Labour Party conference, shut up and behave, just this once…