Thursday, 12 September 2013

Ding Ding Round Three of the Cameron Miliband Rivalry

All great rivalries are dependent on time to reach maturity, conflict in repetition is addictive, the history adds to the fame and to the pain.  So the show down between Obama’s and Assad has none of the piquancy that the second gulf war delivered – the animosity between the Bush family and Sadam Hussein was palpable because of the history.  In the same way, who can remember the first match between Federer and Nadal - a lame affair fought out in the Miami Masters in 2004, not a harbinger for the excruciating excitement their later battles would provide.   And what about the Ashes, even when the quality of the cricket is poor the weight of history turns every match into a nerve shredding struggle.  Sadly these intense rivalries seldom materialise in the world of politics and this is particularly true in the UK.
We have become used to one-sided political knockabout: Harold Wilson always had Heath on the run, Thatcher destroyed Foot and Kinnock and Blair did over Major, Haig and Duncan-Smith – so how would we score the current match?  Prime Minister and the Leader of her Majesty’s opposition have had three years slugging it out and the initial phases have broken the recent mould with first Cameron and then Miliband being Punch to the others Judy.
Initially David Cameron treated Ed Miliband like a small child, both dismissive and patronising this period from the 2010 election to late 2011 lulled Cameron into a false sense of security but is showed the patrician at his best controlled, amusing and even generous.  Red Ed seemed incapable of coherence, gravitas or even a normal male timbre.  Finally he consulted an EN&T specialist and came roaring back with turbo charged adenoids.  Between January 2012 and April this year he has been on the front foot repeatedly getting Cameron hot under the collar with clever ‘small politics’ – this is a tactic that focuses attention on meaningless but uncomfortable truths, mostly directed at millionaires in cabinet and the life of privilege that the PM and his team have enjoyed.  During this period of ascendancy there were numerous high points for Mr Miliband; the Omnishambles budget and the much heralded ‘triple dip’ recession mixed in with occasional misjudgement, such as the Andrew Mitchell plebgate affair.  Sadly for Mr Miliband he mistook good poll ratings as an indication that the strategy of small politics was working, whereas in fact it was all down to the performance of the economy.  People swung behind Labour as the recession rolled on into its fourth year, hardworking middle class voters believed Ed’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls when he told them that the economy was flat lining with no hope of recovery.
As in 1983, the moment of maximum pain and panic was followed quickly and surprisingly by a complete turn-around of economic fortune.  In fact at 11.30 in the morning on 11th June the UK recovered and it has not looked back.  This Lazarus moment also marked the high tide mark in Ed Milibands fortunes and he has been on the run ever since, his dénouement was complete when his insanely rash and politically naïve strategy on Syrian intervention blew up in his face like a IED.  We can honestly record that in this bout of three rounds it’s one a piece with the deciding round just starting.  Cameron has started the final round well,  recovered his poise, lost his anger, regained his manners and statesmanship and this is very dangerous for Miliband.  So confident has Cameron become, that he barely bothered to blame Labour for the mess over Syria and there is no triumphal hoo-ha on the economy’s miraculous up-tick.  So having spent a couple of years contemplating an early retirement and unlimited time to hone his gaming skills the PM even looks like he would like another term in office.  The big question that over hangs Cameron is whether Ed Miliband re-invent himself in time to pose a credible alternative at the 2015 election.  My advice to Miliband is to be your own man, dump the Blairites,  give Ed Balls the chop and get a new shadow cabinet in place sharpish, if you don’t Labour will be a sitting duck in the run-up to the election (who wants to re-elect the crowd who screwed up so badly last time).  On a more personal level he needs to drop the ‘small politics’ in favour of some big ideas because despite the economic recovery this coalition have hardly had one good idea between then in the last three years.  Meanwhile what should Cameron do?   – one thing and one thing only – KEEP OUT OF TROUBLE!  Always easier said than done particularly when your backbenchers have such a mutinous, some would say irrational, bent.  The health and outlook for the real economy will decide the election but the interesting drama will be in watching the personal battle between Ed and Dave, which is now full of animosity and (most importantly) history!  

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