Opinion: return to your trattoria and prepare for tagliatelle

Well, it’s been quite a week. We know Clegg called Ed Miliband to congratulate him on his victory at the weekend. Quite right too. Ed then strolled around telling everyone how he and David Miliband were, to quote Mark Knopfler, “Brothers in arms”.

Ed then unveiled his road to Damascus moment – on civil liberties, Iraq, banks, AV and justice reform. Spot on, Ed. His keynote speech said cuts were bad in general, but some were needed. But not which ones.

Or when. He implied he now thought the Lib Dems not quite as bad as when he campaigned for leader. You sort of felt the nice line he had about not being willing to work with Clegg in a coalition was being quietly shelved.

However, David Miliband had enough of the sniping, bullying and griping and walked out, quitting with a flourish. The press, who spent the week speculating about his future and generally egging him on to quit, then spun round and cried hypocritical crocodile tears when he finally walked.

So, Ed, is this really “Brothers in arms”? Brothers with qualms, more like.

So, what to make of this?

Firstly, now David has performed an exit stage right, what happens to his supporters, the rump of the Blairites? Will they slip quietly away? To paraphrase David Steel, are they about to return to their Islington trattoria and prepare for Tagliatelle? Where are the celebrated 1,000 new community organisers going? And for David, Mr Blair-lite himself, is he gone for good?

Secondly, was it just me or was there a faint echo of Michael Foot’s election as party leader ? Foot had an early “image makeover” where he was taken to C&A to swap his donkey jacket for a suit. Likewise Ed Miliband felt a little forced and sounded a little clunky in the GMEX hall. Timing is everything in politics. You just wonder whether Miliband is the wrong man at the wrong time. With the wrong vision?

Thirdly, at the centre of Ed Miliband’s narrative there is a paradox. The more Miliband tries to prove he is not New Labour the more he will be seen as Old Labour. He’s presenting himself as the new guy with a clean pair of hands. Yet he is very much the old guy, in the thick of New Labour’s rise and fall from the start. And in the background there is the “hand of Brown” reportedly anointing him and the Unions funding his campaign. A hand up and a hand out. As someone else from Islington once almost said.

So, I disagree with Ed Miliband’s assertion about his united and happy “Brothers in Arms”. What I saw this week in the Ed and David show wasn’t so much Labour in Dire Straits, it was more like Rolf Harris’s “Two Little Boys”*:

Two little boys had two little toys
Each had a wooden horse
Gayly they played each summer’s day
Warriors both of course
One little chap then had a mishap,
Broke off his horse’s head

Wept for his toy….

* With apologies to Hartlepool United.

Hamish Renton is a Liberal Democrat member in Torbay.

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  • Christine Headley 3rd Oct '10 - 1:43pm

    Michael Foot’s ‘donkey jacket’ was a media invention. He wanted something warm for the Cenotaph. It was apparently quite smart, but that didn’t suit the journalists, so they dubbed it a donkey jacket.

  • David Boothroyd 3rd Oct '10 - 2:23pm

    Some of the ‘old Labour’ left appear to have found their way to the Liberal Democrats, haven’t they?

  • Not a LibDem 3rd Oct '10 - 2:37pm

    @David Boothroyd

    And Ed’s speech was clearly an excellent pitch at wooing them back – since Clegg made it so clear he doesn’t want them.

  • I think Ed Miliband is trying to copy Tony Blair, who made a pitch to Lib Dem voters in the mid-1990s, and was quite successful. The difference is that Ed Miliband is not being hyped by the media as Wonderman, and he cannot claim to have transformed an unelectable party.

    Michael Foot definitely did wear a donkey jacket.

  • @Sesenco

    I agree, the correct historical parallel for Miliband is with Blair – except he has not an ounce of the “charisma” and telegenic appeal and oratory ability that Blair was able to use back in 1997.

  • Hamish Renton 3rd Oct '10 - 9:38pm

    I agree with @Sesenco and @Geoffrey Payne that Ed Milliband seems to be adopting Lib Dem positions on some key policies and there are overtones of Blair in that. However, he’s made a big play about not being “new” labour, so what is he and where is he taking Labour?

    Foot came in after a defeat, took Labour in a more radical direction and lasted one term…we’ll have to wait to see whether thats the Ed Milliband story. @Christine Headley, here’s the “donkey jacket” photo from the Cenotaph – judge for yourselves. To be fair , as you say, the media were queueing up to pick holes in him right from the start.


  • Senseco, do you know what a Donkey Jacket is?
    Hamish Renton, am I to understand from ‘judge for yourselves’ that it is now the Liberal Democrat way to judge the content of an individuals mind by the clothes on their back, or alternatively, do you mean that facts such as the identity of a coat, are a matter of opinion?

  • ‘it seems to me the Ed is shifting the Labour party closer to the Liberal Democrats.’

    I agree with that statement but with one slight amendment – ‘ it seems to me the Ed is shifting the Labour party closer to (where) the Liberal Democrats (used to be).’

    And Michael Foot definitely did not wear a donkey jacket

  • JRC,

    I know perfectly well what a donkey jacket is. Do you?

    I cannot speak for Hamish Renton, but I have never judged politicians on the basis of the clothes they wear.

    I very much doubt that Michael Foot intended to cause offence to anyone, but an astute politician would surely have anticipated what the reaction of the media would be?

  • What is wrong with a donkey jacket anyway?

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