Thursday, 31 July 2008

Prime Minister Miliband?

The British buzz today is all about UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s manifesto in yesterday’s Guardian which, depending on who you ask, is either being grossly misinterpreted by the media or an outrageous act of disloyalty. Right now the question remains: Is David Miliband going to challenge Gordon Brown in the fall?

His interview later today with BBC Radio Two's Jeremy Vine may settle this question if he explicitly denies planning to challenge Brown – which apparently Downing Street is demanding he do. If he doesn’t, then chances are he almost certainly plans to, and it will be all out civil war in the Labour Party.

Back when Tony Blair first stepped down in 2007, there was suggestion that there should be a contest for the Labour leadership and Miliband was always one of the first names suggested. But in the end there wasn’t one, and Gordon Brown – who had been Tony’s right hand man as Chancellor of the Exchequer (head of UK finances) during the Blair years – replaced Blair uncontested. Now that Brown has had such a bad run of things, and following the disastrous result in the Glasgow East byelection – Labour is in full panic mode and looking for a solution. Miliband now appears ready to challenge Brown and make a bid for the leadership.

But can Miliband save Labour? He is after all still a New Labour Blairite, and it’s that legacy which seems to have caused Brown so much headache. Could Miliband bring in the ideological fresh air that the party needs, or will it just be a new face on the same aging Blairite policies? Miliband is young, attractive, energetic and likable – the polar opposite of Brown in so many ways and perhaps a better challenger to the young and energetic Conservative leader David Cameron. But as Home Secretary Jacqui Smith noted yesterday, in these times of economic uncertainty, is a prime minister’s youth and hipness really the main thing on voters’ minds?

It’s interesting to me how similar the situation over here is to the current political situation in the United States, but of course in the ideological reverse. In both countries you have a party which has been in power for many years that has been discredited with the public after numerous scandals, mismanagement and a disastrous war in Iraq. In both, you have movements which leapt to prominence with an explosion of fervor and promises in the 1990’s which have now become stale, lost and demoralized. And in both, you have young, energetic personalities mounting challenges to these dying parties who, while talented in the art of rhetoric and inspiration, seem to many to be lacking real ideological substance.

The similarities between where the UK Labour and US Republican parties find themselves today are really uncanny, and rather amusing when you think of how far apart (theoretically at least) the two are on the political spectrum. It only goes to show that politics is a cyclical game wherever you are in the world.

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