Tag Archives: new labour

Snap British election gives Farron and Lib Dems a genuine chance to unite anti-Brexit voters

Tim Farron has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to forge a new broad-based liberal, moderate and pro-Europe party across the United Kingdom. (Daniel Hambury / Stella Pictures)

In calling a snap election for June 8, British prime minister Theresa May has done exactly what former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown didn’t do a decade ago — taking initiative to win a personal mandate and extend her party’s majority for up to five more years.

With Labour’s likely support tomorrow, May is set to win a two-thirds majority to hold an election, in spite of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act that would otherwise set the next general election for 2020 — long after the two-year negotiations triggered last month by Article 50 to leave the European Union are set to end. May and the Conservatives now hope that voters will give her an emphatic endorsement for her approach to Brexit — and a much wider majority than the 17-seat margin the Conservatives currently enjoy in the House of Commons. Though some commentators believe a wide Tory victory would make a ‘hard Brexit’ more likely, a lot of sharp commentators believe that it could give May the cushion she needs to implement a much less radical ‘soft Brexit.’

In any event, it’s not unreasonable for May to seek a snap election while EU officials pull together their negotiating positions for later this summer — since the last vote in 2015, the country’s experienced the Brexit earthquake and a change in leadership among all three national parties.

It will also come as the Tories are riding high in the polls by a margin of around 20% against Labour, now in its second year of Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-left leadership. If the election were held today, every indication points to a historic defeat for Labour. It’s not only the polls, which are dismal enough. Corbyn has made so many enemies among the parliamentary Labour Party that many MPs will not stand for reelection (including former home secretary Alan Johnson, one of the few genuinely popular figures around who represent ‘New Labour’).

Corbyn’s electoral record, too, is weak. When Jamie Reed, a Corbyn critic and an MP since 2005, resigned, Conservative Trudy Harrison captured his Copeland constituency by a 5% margin against the Labour candidate in a February 23 by-election. Not only was it the first gain for a governing party in a by-election since 1982, it was a seat in Labour’s once-reliable northern heartland, held without interruption since 1935.

Without a major change (and it’s hard to see anything that could swing voters on Corbyn at this point), Labour is doomed. The next 51 days will likely bring iteration after iteration of Corbyn’s political obituary, with a crescendo of the infighting within Labour that has characterized his leadership.

It will be ugly.

Labour, with 229 seats, is already near the disastrous levels of its post-war low of 1983 (just 27.6% and 209 seats), and there’s reason to believe Corbyn could still sink further. No one would laugh at the suggestion Labour might lose another 100 seats in June. For Corbyn’s opponents within Labour, the only silver lining to a snap election is that a decisive defeat could end Corbyn’s leadership now (not in 2020), giving Labour an opportunity to rebuild under a more talented and inclusive leader.

Moreover, in the wake of a call for a second referendum on independence for Scotland (which would presumably seek to rejoin the European Union), Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon could well improve the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) position — the party now holds 54 of 57 seats in Scotland with the unionist opposition divided among the three national parties.

So where does this leave anti-Brexit voters who are uncomfortable casting a vote for May’s Tories?

The Liberal Democrats. Continue reading Snap British election gives Farron and Lib Dems a genuine chance to unite anti-Brexit voters

Blair, once unstoppable in British politics, reviled as worst postwar PM

Former prime minister Tony Blair appeared a sad shadow of his once dominant self responding to the Chilcot report on the mistakes of the Iraq war.
Former prime minister Tony Blair appeared a sad shadow of his once dominant self responding to the Chilcot report on the mistakes of the Iraq war.

It’s staggering to think that the man who stood in front of a drab yellow backdrop earlier this month, still defending his decision to join the US invasion of Iraq, was the same man who once charmed the British electorate with a staggering electoral haul of 418 seats in the House of Commons that once reduced the Conservative Party to a rump movement in British politics.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Nineteen years ago, Blair bestrode British politics with a mandate that not even Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher ever claimed. To this day, the 418 seats that Blair won as the head of a re-energized, re-focused, and rechristened  ‘New’ Labour in 1997 is the most sweeping victory that any prime minister has claimed since the 1930s. To put that into perspective, if Conservative prime minister Theresa May called a snap election today, polls show that Labour, even under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, would do better than the Tories in 1997, when Labour swept to power on a 12.5% national margin of victory.

Blair pulled his party out from the disastrous shadow of the 1970s, when Labour’s Britain was falling far behind continental Europe, infamously amending the Labour Party constitution’s ‘clause IV’ that committed the party to socialism and nationalization. There’s no dispute that Blair approached ‘New Labour’ with enthusiastic acceptance for much of Thatcherism and free markets. Of course, it’s fair to say that 18 consecutive years of Conservative government and dysfunctional divides in the later years of John Major’s cabinet left British voters willing to take a chance on anything. It’s not incredible to surmise that a lesser political talent — like Neil Kinnock, Labour’s leader from 1983 to 1992, or the late John Smith, whose 1994 death paved the way for Blair’s ascension — would have won the 1997 election with ease.

But with the release of the Chilcot report’s damning verdict about the leadup to the Iraq invasion, just six words from a pre-invasion memo in 2002 to then-US president George W. Bush will forever define Blair’s legacy:

I will be with you, whatever.

Six words. But they contain everything explaining how Blair went in two decades’ time from electoral behemoth to politically radioactive. The Chilcot Report, commissioned in 2009 by Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, found that Saddam Hussein in 2002 and 2003 posed no imminent threat to the United States or to the United Kingdom, that both American and British leaders embellished intelligence suggesting the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and that post-invasion planning by both US and UK officials was horrifically inadequate. In short, the worst British foreign policy disaster since the Suez crisis in 1956 and, perhaps, even worse than that.

Just as David Cameron’s legacy will now begin and end with Brexit, Blair’s legacy will forever begin and end with Iraq.

Continue reading Blair, once unstoppable in British politics, reviled as worst postwar PM

Why Bill Clinton’s attack on Sanders won’t work

Former president Bill Clinton's comments against insurgent Vermont senator Bernie Sanders could backfire. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Former president Bill Clinton’s comments against insurgent Vermont senator Bernie Sanders could backfire. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

If you had a sense of deja vu to former president Bill Clinton’s weekend harangue against Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, it’s understandable. USflagUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

The attack was reminiscent of Clinton’s bristling criticisms of then-senator Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination contest, when Obama upset Clinton’s wife Hillary Clinton, who is running again for the nomination against Sanders, a septuagenarian democratic socialist. Sanders essentially tied Clinton in last week’s Iowa caucuses and is projected to win tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary.

But Clinton’s remarks are also eerily reminiscent of the attacks that former British prime minister Tony Blair mounted against the insurgent candidate of the hard left, Jeremy Corbyn, when it looked like Corbyn, another elderly socialist, might win the Labour Party’s leadership last summer.  Continue reading Why Bill Clinton’s attack on Sanders won’t work

Who is Hilary Benn?

Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn passionately supported UK airstrikes against Syria, putting him at odds with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn passionately supported UK airstrikes against Syria, putting him at odds with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Hilary Benn is not his father’s MP.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Standing before the House of Commons Wednesday night, eliciting applause from both the governing Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party, Benn made the clearest case for the United Kingdom to join US and French airstrikes in Syria.

Slack-jawed commentators lined up to call Benn’s speech one of the best in the Commons in recent memory and, given the rarity of applause (let alone bipartisan applause) in the House, there’s a great case that they are right. The Telegraph‘s Dan Hodges argued that Benn looked not just like a future opposition leader, but a future prime minister (and you don’t hear those words thrown around these days about anyone in Labour):

Tonight [Benn] articulately, and passionately and elegantly re-crafted his ploughshares into swords. The diplomatic case. The military case. The strategic case. Calmly and forensically he made the argument the Prime Minister could not make and the Leader of the Opposition could not destroy.

Ironically, Benn is the son of the late Tony Benn, the former secretary of state for energy under prime minister James Callaghan, and a one-time deputy leadership candidate in 1981. Long a member of Labour’s hard left, the adjective ‘Bennite’ for decades described the party’s supposedly unelectable left-wing fringe, mentoring socialists like Jeremy Corbyn, who recently upset Labour’s moderates to win the Labour leadership in September, and John McDonnell, who now serves as shadow chancellor. Even after standing down from Parliament in 2001, Tony Benn was an outspoken critic of the British participation in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, serving in the mid-2000s as the leader of the ‘Stop the War’ coalition that Corbyn would later head. Continue reading Who is Hilary Benn?

Four lessons Corbyn can learn from Labour’s living former leaders

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A candidacy that struggled to win enough parliamentary nominations to run, and a candidate personally ambivalent about running — unsure he was up to the campaign, let along up to the job.United Kingdom Flag Icon

A nomination supported by MPs who thought the far left should have a ‘voice’ in a campaign that, like in the past, would show just how anemic Labour’s far left is — and as weak as it would always be.

A surge that everyone, from former prime minister Tony Blair on down, believed would subside as the fevers of summer cooled and Labour’s electorate focused on a leader who might deliver the party to a victory.

A frontrunner who, despite a three-decade legacy of statements and positions that might otherwise doom another candidate, somehow swatted aside the taunts of Labour and Conservative enemies alike and, in his quiet, relentlessly focused and humorless manner, kept his attention on policy, not in responding to negative attacks or engendering gauzy feel-good connections via YouTube clips or on the rope line. What you see is what you get.

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Today, Jeremy Corbyn becomes the duly-elected leader of the Labour Party, and he easily won with first preferences, far outpacing his nearest competition in shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham.

Corbyn will also become a leader who now faces an outright mutiny from some of the party’s most important policy experts and rising stars. Despite his staggering win, which scrambles the very nature of postwar British politics, which created a revolution within Labour and which perhaps can begin a new epoch of British politics, the 66-year-old Corbyn must now wage a fight to consolidate his hold on the mechanisms of the party — from mollifying critics in the parliamentary caucus to reimaging the levers of policy review.

After a summer of Corbynmania, the late surge of shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, newly impassioned about economic policy and Syrian refugees, wasn’t enough to deny the leadership to an unlikely hero of the far left, a man who would make Tony Benn himself seem moderate and accommodating by contrast.

But as Corbyn takes the reins as the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, he should take to heart the hard-won lessons of those who held the office before him — stretching back to 1983, when Neil Kinnock first won the leadership.

Including Kinnock, there are four living former leaders of the Labour Party. Each of them, and their records, hold wise counsel for Corbyn as he attempts to consolidate power within Labour so that he’ll have a chance, in the 2020 election, to become prime minister in his own right. Continue reading Four lessons Corbyn can learn from Labour’s living former leaders

Yvette Cooper is the only Labour aspirant who seems like a prime minister

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Voting in the contest to select the Labour Party’s new leader ended yesterday, and the winner will be announced tomorrow morning.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Polls and oddsmakers agree that the victor will be Labour’s far-left summer darling, Jeremy Corbyn, whose unlikely rise spawned a movement of activism for a more full-throated opposition to Conservative austerity policies.

Cooper probably will not win, it’s true.

The Corbynmania phenomenon is deep and resilient, and it’s clear that Corbyn’s understated charms, ideological consistency and his willingness to contrast sharply against the governing Conservative Party have brought thousands of enthusiastic voters to his cause — none less than Harry Potter himself (or at least Daniel Radcliffe).

But for all the real excitement that Corbyn’s leadership campaign has generated, Cooper is the only candidate who emerges from the leadership race looking like a potential prime minister, and unlike her opponents Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall, she will end the race with her reputation enhanced, especially after taking a bold stand last week on admitting more refugees to the United Kingdom.

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RELATED:  Corbyn’s surprise rise in Labour leadership race highlights chasm

RELATED: The rational case for supporting Corbyn’s Labour leadership

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Cooper’s chances for the leadership, though slim, aren’t non-existent. If no candidate wins over 50% of the vote outright, Cooper will receive many of Kendall’s second-preference votes. If Cooper edges out Burnham for second place, which now seems likely, she could clip Corbyn to the leadership if Burnham’s supporters disproportionately give their second preferences to Cooper (and not to Corbyn).

Articulate and poised, Cooper was already a rising star as shadow home secretary, capably challenging Conservative home secretary Theresa May. An MP since the 1997 wave that brought Tony Blair and New Labour to power, she served as chief secretary to the treasury and as work and pensions secretary under former prime minister Gordon Brown. In particular, she won admiration across the political spectrum for her support of anti-stalking legislation and the creation of a new office for domestic violence. But Cooper spent much of the past five years overshadowed by her husband, the pugilistic shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who contested the leadership in 2010 and finished in third place (behind both Miliband brothers). When Balls unexpectedly lost his seat in the May 2015 general election, it was suddenly his wife whose leadership aspirations were on the fast track. Born in Scotland, 46-year-old Cooper has at least some claim to the case that she can win back supporters from the Scottish National Party (SNP), which now dominates Scottish politics.

When the leadership ballots were first mailed to Labour members, starting on August 10, there was a sense that Cooper still trailed Burnham. But in the final two weeks of the voting period, Cooper began to emerge as the chief alternative to Corbyn.  Continue reading Yvette Cooper is the only Labour aspirant who seems like a prime minister

Alan Johnson’s endorsement for Cooper may scramble Labour race

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Alan Johnson, a former union official, former home secretary and one of the most highly regarded figures of the New Labour high guard has endorsed Yvette Cooper (pictured above) for the Labour leadership contest.United Kingdom Flag Icon

It’s been a surprising election, and the most beguiling twist of all has been the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn, the 66-year-old socialist, as the frontrunner among Labour rank-and-file. Polls consistently show that Corbyn has a wide lead over Cooper, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall for first preference votes. Corbyn has won the support of many unions across Great Britain, including Unite, the largest labour union backing the party.

Johnson, writing in The Guardian, argues that Cooper presents the best chance to unite Labour in the post-Miliband era — and he makes much of the argument that Labour, founded in part on the principle of full suffrage for women, has the chance to elect its first female leader: Continue reading Alan Johnson’s endorsement for Cooper may scramble Labour race

Corbyn’s surprise rise in Labour leadership race highlights chasm

corbynPhoto credit to Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Within hours of the Labour Party’s unexpectedly severe loss in the UK general election, its leader Ed Miliband had already resigned and within days, Miliband and his family were Ibiza-bound, the first step in an awkward transition back to the backbenches. United Kingdom Flag Icon

It’s been a gloomy downfall for Ed, and critics have good reason to criticize his performance between 2010 and the May elections. But what the Labour leadership contest aptly demonstrates is that Miliband nailed one thing in his five years — bridging the gap between Labour’s two factions, its union-heavy left and metropolitan, pro-business right. Miliband did such a good job maintaining Labour unity for the past five years, in fact, that no one realized just how divided Labour’s two tribes have become.

Those divisions are becoming all too clear in the emerging battle to succeed Miliband, and the surprise leader in the race is Jeremy Corbyn, a reluctant leadership contender first elected in 1983 to the British parliament, who’s now drawing the greatest support.

With the support of Unite, the most muscular of the labor unions that back the UK’s chief center-left party, Corbyn has managed to capture the imagination of a wide swath of the Labour electorate — disaffected nationalists, anti-austerity youths and old-school socialists like Corbyn (pictured above) himself, who’s bucked his party’s leadership 534 times in a 32-year parliamentary career. He bitterly opposed prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, he opposes the Trident nuclear deterrent and he’s an unabashedly ‘retro’ socialist. He’s not entirely committed to opposing a ‘Brexit’ from the European Union in the planned 2017 referendum. Corbyn wants to re-nationalize the UK’s train system and energy networks, and he wants to reaffirm public control over the health system.

By way of example, Corbyn makes no apologies for firmly opposing the government’s bill last week that trims social welfare benefits. Interim Labour leader Harriet Harman instructed the party’s MPs to abstain — Corbyn and 47 other Labour MPs joined the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) in voting against the legislation. It’s no exaggeration to say that a Corbyn-led Labour Party would embrace much of the 1970s and 1980s leftism that Blair worked so hard to expunge in the leadup to his 1997 landslide victory.

Corbyn’s rise is so stunning because he nearly missed the initial cut — he only barely achieved the 35 nominations from the party’s parliamentary caucus. He depended on support from legislators like Margaret Beckett, who believed that the far left deserved a voice in the campaign — if for no other reason than to show that the British far left is as weak in 2015 as in 2010 (when Diane Abbott placed last in the leadership contest) and 2007 (when John McDonnell failed to win enough nominations to advance against Gordon Brown, who won the leadership unopposed). Beckett, a former interim party leader and foreign secretary, now says she was a ‘moron’ to do so.

That’s because Corbyn, according to some polls, now holds a lead in the fight for Labour’s future. A July 17-21 YouGov/Times poll shows Corbyn leading with 43% of the vote — just 26% back shadow health secretary Andy Burnham (who held a series of ministerial profiles between 2007 and 2010), 20% back shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper (and the wife of former shadow chancellor Ed Balls and a former chief secretary to the treasury) and 11% back Liz Kendall, a shadow minister for care and older people first elected in 2010.

More alarming to the party establishment, when the choices are whittled down to the two leading candidates, Corbyn leads Burnham by a margin of 47% to 53%.

Ballots will not even be sent to Labour members until August 14, and the voting will continue through September 10 — there’s a lot of time left in the race, and it’s not clear Corbyn can sustain enthusiasm in the face of what will assuredly be a massive opposition to a Corbyn leadership.

But how, exactly, did a 66-year-old socialist become the pacesetter in Labour’s leadership contest?

Part of his rise is attributable to simple arithmetic.

Continue reading Corbyn’s surprise rise in Labour leadership race highlights chasm

What Umunna’s withdrawal from Labour race means

umunnaIt was literally just three days ago that rising star Chuka Umunna entered the race to become the Labour Party’s next leader.

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Citing concerns about the massive media intrusion into his life, Umunna abruptly withdrew from consideration earlier today:

However since the night of our defeat last week I have been subject to the added level of pressure that comes with being a leadership candidate. I have not found it to be a comfortable experience. One can imagine what running for leader can be like, understand its demands and the attention but nothing compares to actually doing it and the impact on the rest of one’s life.

It’s surprising that Umunna was so taken aback by the media’s role, especially after the punishing treatment to which Labour’s former leader, Ed Miliband, was subjected in over four years as British opposition leader.

No matter anyone says, Umunna will find it very difficult to make a leadership bid in the future after bottling the opportunity now — especially after oddsmakers made him the sudden frontrunner in the race to replace Miliband. Though Umunna started off his career as a Labour MP in 2010 with ties to the left wing of the party, he slowly moved to the center in his role as shadow business secretary, and he emerged as a favorite of New Labour figures, including former prime minister Tony Blair and former business secretary Peter Mandelson.

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RELATED: The race to succeed Ed Miliband begins tonight

RELATED: What ‘New Labour’  can and cannot teach Labour in 2015

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Though the chasm between centrist ‘modernizers’ and the more leftist wing of the party is narrower than the narrative of the past week of post-election post-mortems claim, Umunna was clearly capable of telescoping to Labour supporters and others that he would push, as leader, to bring the part back into the middle of British politics. As the son of a Nigerian father and a British-Irish mother, Umunna would have represented a growing class of British citizens with multi-racial backgrounds. He certainly has a compelling story and uniquely talented communications skills.

All of which means his withdrawal is bad news for Labour.

Even if you take Umunna at his word that the unexpected media glare forced him to step aside as putative frontrunner to lead Labour, it’s still incredibly odd. It’s natural to wonder whether there’s more to this story. A former DJ, Umunna received some negative publicity back in 2013 after he once posted on a website forum asking for recommendations for London nightclubs not ‘full of trash.’ It’s worth questioning if there are additional, more damning, revelations from Umunna’s past that could have made him less appealing. As a London native with a reputation as something of a slick operator, Umunna’s weakness was that he might have struggled to connect with working-class voters in the much poorer north. Similar revelations would have crippled Umunna’s ability to do so, potentially pushing traditional Labour voters to the eurosceptic, anti-immigrant United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which placed second in many constituencies in northern England in the May 7 general election.

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With decisions by veteran Dan Jarvis and former foreign secretary David Miliband not the pursue the leadership, two experienced candidates are now set to dominate the race — shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper. Both have ministerial experience, and both have increased their standing while in opposition, Burnham by challenging moves by the Conservative Party to privatize certain elements of the National Health Service and Cooper by championing women’s rights. Nevertheless, both have ties to former prime minister Gordon Brown that have left moderates somewhat uncomfortable. Cooper’s husband, who shockingly lost his constituency last week, is former shadow chancellor Ed Balls (pictured above, left, with Burnham, center, and Cooper, right), a longtime economic adviser to Brown.

Umunna, moreover, represented a swift turn to the future generation of Labour that would bypass figures like Burham and Cooper. There are others who would like to claim that mantle, though none shine quite as brightly as Umunna. Continue reading What Umunna’s withdrawal from Labour race means

Labour victory could bring Kinnock into heart of British government

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Twenty-three years ago, Neil Kinnock was expected to defeat a tired Conservative Party, reeling after three full terms in government that barely seemed capable of limping into its fourth.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Instead, Tory prime minister John Major won the 1992 election, against all expectations, thwarting Kinnock’s second chance at restoring Labour to government. Kinnock stepped aside as leader, and his role in Labour’s revitalization was quickly marginalized with the election of Tony Blair as Labour leader in 1994 and Blair’s landslide ‘New Labour’ victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

But when Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, lost the 2010 election, the ‘New Labour’ label had become tired and somewhat toxic. Moderate voters blamed Brown for the excesses of the financial crisis and, more fundamentally, opposed Blair’s involvement in the US invasion of Iraq and the growth of what critics called a widening police state across Great Britain. Moreover, progressives and the labour union activists that had historically been at the heart of Labour wanted a new approach that recovered some of the social democratic populism with which Labour was once synonymous.

It was no shock, then, when Neil Kinnock emerged as a leading adviser to the lesser-known Ed Miliband in his attempt to win the Labour leadership crown in 2010.

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RELATED: Would David Miliband be doing better than Ed?

RELATED: Blair role virtually non-existent as UK campaign heats up

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Miliband, of course, famously succeeded, defeating his own brother, former foreign minister David Miliband, on the strength of his support from labour unions and activist groups, which represented one of three equal constituencies in the Labour leadership contest (Ed lost the other two among Westminster MPs and among regular Labour party members).

From the start of the Ed Miliband era, then, Kinnock has been a close informal adviser and mentor to the young Labour leader, marking something of a rehabilitation for a former Labour leader who himself came just shy of becoming prime minister. Kinnock’s daughter-in-law is Danish Social Democratic Party leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt, since October 2011 the prime minister of Denmark. Her husband, Stephen Kinnock, is widely favored to win election to the House of Commons this week as a Labour MP for the Welsh constituency of Aberavon.

As the election approaches this week, Kinnock has been as much of a hindrance as a help to Miliband — just as Kinnock did, Miliband struggles to project a convincing image that he will be an effective prime minister. The comparison has not been to Miliband’s advantage. Over the weekend, Miliband unveiled an eight-foot stone monolith carved with key Labour pledges. The stunt was met with wide derision from social media and elsewhere — one Telegraph columnist called it Miliband’s ‘Kinnock moment.’

Continue reading Labour victory could bring Kinnock into heart of British government

Would David Miliband be doing better than Ed?

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Earlier this month, former British foreign secretary David Miliband penned a letter to the editor for The New York Times.United Kingdom Flag Icon

It had nothing to do with the United Kingdom’s general election on May 7, but instead implored the international community to place greater emphasis on the humanitarian and poverty crises in  Afghanistan’s post-occupation rebuilding efforts.

Back in December 2010, however, Miliband had hoped that he would be hitting his stride this month to bring the Labour Party back to power. Instead, he’s the chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, a New-York based NGO, after narrowly losing the Labour leadership to his brother, Ed Miliband.

There were many reasons for David Miliband’s loss: the skepticism of labour unions and the party’s leftists that he would perpetuate the centrist tone of Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ platform; the resentment that he never stepped up between 2007 and 2010 to challenge then-prime minister Gordon Brown for the leadership, which  may have helped the party to avoid losing power; and the desire to turn the page from the Blair-Brown civil war that increasingly consumed Labour in its third term of government.

After his narrow loss, David never joined his brother’s shadow cabinet and, in April 2013, he left his seat in the British House of Commons to take on the IRC leadership position.

Meanwhile, back in Westminster, Ed Miliband has been Labour Party leader for nearly five years — now much longer than Brown, who had coveted the leadership from his fateful decision in 1994 to support Blair instead of challenging him. From afar, brother David is fully supportive, and there’s a feeling that he left politics altogether out of sense that his lingering presence loomed darkly over Ed Miliband’s leadership.

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RELATED: It’s too late for Labour to boot Ed Miliband as leader

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It’s been one of the best weeks yet for Ed Miliband. For the first time, British bookies believe that it’s more likely that Miliband will emerge as prime minister after the election, not the incumbent, David Cameron. A teenage girl caused a viral sensation on Twitter when she proudly proclaimed her #milifandom for the prime ministerial hopeful. Though Miliband’s Labour never reclaimed the 10-point advantage that it enjoyed at the nadir of the current Conservative-led government’s tenure, it narrowly leads most seat predictions in a race where no one party seems capable of achieving a majority. But there are still two weeks to go, and it’s worth remembering the #Cleggmania that swept Great Britain during the prior 2010 campaign. There’s a lot of time left for the electorate to shift in either direction.

British politics is full of what-if prime ministers. John Profumo. Denis Healey. Michael Heseltine. Neil Kinnock. John Smith. Kenneth Clarke. Michael Portillo. But none of them resonate quite like David Miliband, whose own younger brother outmaneuvered him to the leadership crown that he almost certainly expected would fall to him.

With the Liberal Democrats subdued after joining Cameron in government for the past five years, it seems unlikely that anyone will command the 326-majority in the House of Commons without the support of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), which is forecast to win almost all of Scotland’s 59 constituencies. Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear, nonetheless, that she’ll back a broad left-wing government under Miliband and under no circumstances a renewed Tory mandate.

In two weeks’ time, unless the campaign drastically changes, Ed Miliband will be the newest resident of 10 Downing Street. It would be to his credit to coax his older brother back into politics to finish the work he began as foreign minister — it’s not difficult or unprecedented to arrange a by-election in a safe constituency.

Yet there’s still a nagging feeling about Ed Miliband’s leadership. Forget that, so many years ago, it was David Miliband who narrowly won more votes than Ed among the parliamentary Labour caucus and among party voters (Ed narrowly defeated David with stronger support among unions and interest groups that comprised the third group of voters in the tripartite electorate in 2010’s contest). Notwithstanding what the bookies say, Cameron still gets higher marks than Miliband in personal approval ratings, though that gap has narrowed throughout the race. The sudden #milifandom moment aside, Miliband remains in the eyes of many British voters a geeky technocrat with none of the showmanship of Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown’s  sense of history nor John Major’s happy-warrior statesmanship.

He may become prime minister after May 7, but not because of a groundswell of support among the British electorate for an Ed Miliband premiership. It’s too soon to tell if a Labour minority government propped up by the SNP will prove a poisoned chalice. Throughout the campaign, it’s been Sturgeon, not Miliband, savaging the budget cuts of the Tory/Lib Dem government of the past five years. Miliband, instead, curiously focused his campaign’s efforts on more funding for the National Health Service  — it’s not an entirely original basis for a center-left platform. After all, the NHS survived the market-happy years of the Thatcher government, and it will survive the ever-so-gentle austerity of a second Cameron term.

But it’s tantalizing to wonder whether David Miliband, had he defeated his brother for the leadership in 2010, would have pushed Labour into striking distance of a majority government. Certainly, even today, he has more gravitas and charisma than anyone else on Labour’s front benches. That includes his brother, but it also includes other potential leaders, including shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, the pugnacious Brownite shadow chancellor Ed Balls (Cooper’s husband) and health secretary Andy Burnham.

If there’s a turn in the polls, and Cameron ekes out reelection, David Miliband would stand a good shot of winning the leadership against Balls, Cooper, Burnham or just about anyone in Labour today.

Even if Brits are starting to warm to geeky younger brother Ed as a potential prime minister, it’s taken more than four years for him to get to this point. A year ago, the British press was savaging him for not knowing how to eat a proper bacon sandwich, and as recently as last autumn, Labour sources were musing openly about replacing him as leader.

David Miliband would have instantly become prime-minister-in-waiting from the first day of his leadership, and he would have done so with the warm-hearted support of Blair and the only living generation of Labour officials who have held power, officials who have only begrudgingly supported Ed Miliband. It’s not outrageous to believe that David Miliband would have been such a compelling opposition leader that he could have pressured the Cameron-led government into a no-confidence vote, toppling the coalition before the end of its five-year term.

You can’t prove a negative, of course, so we’ll never know. But it’s not difficult to imagine that the #milifandom would have started earlier with much more fanfare had the other brother won.

Blair role virtually non-existent as UK campaign heats up

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The most notable thing about former British prime minister Tony Blair’s sudden reappearance in the United Kingdom’s domestic politics, with just under a month to go until a general election, is that no one particularly noticed his absence from domestic political matters.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Unlike former US president Bill Clinton, who has balanced his financial and philanthropic activities with lingering, widespread popularity on the American political scene, Blair’s popularity diminished after he left 10 Downing Street. Still well-regarded abroad, Blair has offered his consulting services to leaders from Albania to Kazakhstan, and he’s become a wealthy man in the process, a much more controversial proposition for a former British prime minister than a former US president. Blair suffers further by contrast to his successor, Gordon Brown, who quietly receded from public view when he lost the premiership in 2010, resurfacing only to promote a dense policy book or to campaign full-heartedly against Scottish independence. There’s a sense that Brown hasn’t ‘cashed out’ the way that Blair did.

Though current prime minister David Cameron has attempted to blame both Blair and Brown for wasteful government spending as a prelude to his own government’s budget cuts, it is Blair’s role in the US-led invasion of Iraq that haunts his legacy. Blair only recently left his position as an envoy for the Middle East ‘quartet’ (the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia), where his impact in the region has been negligible at best. Despite high hopes when he assumed the role shortly after leaving office, Blair is unlikely to lead any grand gestures in the Middle East.

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Blair rode to victory in May 1997 on a landslide wave proclaiming the arrival of his center-oriented ‘New Labour.’ Though he capitalized then on a popular, youthful image, he is largely reviled in Great Britain today, as Sarah Ellison wrote in a scathing Vanity Fair profile earlier this year:

A man with aspirations to global leadership—even to global moral leadership—is now regarded by many of his countrymen as a shill for big corporations and deep-pocketed and dubious regimes. In terms of personal wealth, Blair is said to be worth an estimated £100 million ($150 million), a figure he denies. Today, Blair rarely makes public appearances in London. In 2010, he canceled a book party to celebrate the publication of his memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, to avoid the inevitable protests. Blair wasn’t invited to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. Last January, a London waiter attempted a citizen’s arrest of Blair for alleged war crimes arising from the invasion of Iraq.

Last month, two Labour candidates actually refused to accept £1000 donations from Blair, who had pledged £106,000 to candidates in marginal seats.

When Blair surfaced in domestic politics at all, it was usually to snipe at his successor as Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, whose leadership campaign narrowly defeated his brother, David Miliband, the more Blairite alternative. As recently as January, Blair was obliquely warning Miliband to run to the center in advance of the May 7 general election, via an interview with The Economist: Continue reading Blair role virtually non-existent as UK campaign heats up