David Miliband’s playing his cards very shrewdly, isn’t he?
Based on his past behaviour, and my accumulated sense that he’s a bit of a coward, I’d have guessed up to last week that he’d probably follow a “wait until the premiership falls into my lap” kind of strategy, and that that would probably fail, so full credit to him for trying something different. It certainly makes the prospect of a Milburn / Clarke / Byers comeback a bit more remote, and that can only be a good thing. And, my goodness, he couldn’t have scripted the last 48 hours or so any better than they’ve turned out for him.
As I’ve more or less indicated before, although various mostly-Labour-supporting bloggers like to harrumph around these times about how people inside and outside the party should shut up, stop doing “Kremlinology”, focus on the issues, etc., these periods when parties are in meltdown over leadership crises are just about my favourite chunks of political time, and I’m going to enjoy this one to the full.
One other observation to those who deplore the current situation. One of the reasons quite so much happens in smoke-filled rooms, unattributable briefings, behind-the-scenes shenanigans these days is that the Party rules make it quite so difficult to mount a formal leadership challenge to an incumbent Prime Minister. When the leadership is obviously hopeless, therefore, backstairs channels are often the only ones available. I’ve just been re-reading Machiavelli’s Discourses, and one of the points he makes very early on is that you want your political institutions to be such that formal public challenges to authority are very easy, precisely in order to discourage what he calls calunnia, “calumnies”, or doing everything in semi-private unattributable ways through insinuation and rumour. Both parties (sorry Lib Dems, you still don’t count) have tightened up their rules over the last fifteen years or so, in order to make challenges to the leadership harder, but the not-especially-unpredictable result of all of this is that we’re likely to get more rather than fewer episodes like Duncan Smith (2003), Blair (2006-7) and Brown (2008) over time than we would otherwise, and it’s at these moments that party democracy gets sidelined in favour of the demi-semi-public machinations of political elites.