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Wednesday, March 27, 2013 

The twilight of the TB-GBs.

There are but three explanations when the media almost as a whole praises a politician when they die, or as is increasingly the case, decides to resign to earn more money elsewhere.  First, they were a genuinely great figure, and there are ever fewer of those; second, they were known for their campaigning, or for being eccentric, and were therefore harmless; or third, they either gave great copy to journalists or lead such a colourful career that they didn't even have to speak to the press personally (that could be left to "friends").  Remember the incredulity when the England manager job went not to Harry Redknapp, the football bloke's bloke, always ready to stop his car and talk on transfer deadline day, but to the staid yet far more interesting if they could be bothered to actually do some proper work Roy Hodgson?  The same applies to politics.

Hence the gnashing of teeth over the exit of David Miliband to go and join Thunderbirds, or whatever the simply hi-larious gag still doing the rounds is now (it was worth a smile when alluded to on Newsnight last night; not so much the following morning on every news site).  The vast majority of the media decided that David Miliband simply had to be the next Labour leader, for the reason that he would be more of a continuation of New Labour than his brother, let alone the hated Ed Balls.  Of course, they had come to loathe New Labour, but in the same way that an aristocrat of old still had affection for a sprog spawned through a liaison with a scullery maid, they also felt they had helped to create it in the first place.  When Ed edged out his older sibling thanks to the votes of trade union members, this meant they had both been proved wrong and lost control over a party they thought they could still indirectly exert control over.

With David's departure to New York, they've now lost their least creative way of making mischief in the party.  The reality might well have been that David, although understandably originally embittered, has since reconciled with Ed and spent most of his time away from Westminster, but that's never been an obstacle to making stuff up in the past.  Nonetheless, too much can be made of the claims that if the elder Miliband had taken the offer of being a shadow minister that there would have been endless talk about the relationship between the two and potential policy clashes, including those from himself.  Miliband decided not to rejoin the shadow cabinet because he was doing just fine outside it, as his taking of the job at the International Rescue Committee underlines.  Who needs to be at Westminster full time or even an MP at all when you can still intervene occasionally from the sidelines, as both Blair and Brown have done and still be listened to intently?  Far more likely is that his return to frontline politics would have silenced those who still believe that the wrong brother got the top job, forcing them to accept what the man himself had.

Indeed, as others have noted, David's resignation as an MP only makes clear that regardless of what many, including myself thought when Ed unexpectedly won, he's been far more radical and agile a leader than almost anyone has given him credit for.  No, he hasn't got everything right, far from it, not least on his caution on opposing the coalition's demonisation of benefit recipients, something that David himself made clear in his last notable speech in the Commons, but he's clearly not going anywhere.

That's much to the disappointment of those who still believe the best route back to power is not to oppose the coalition on much of what it is doing, but to carry on in the great New Labour tradition of triangulation, offering much the same, just with a kinder face (except when it comes to civil liberties, where Labour arguably still remains to the right of the Tories).  Miliband senior's departure removes their final hope of the party returning to the politics that won three elections, and then, err, lost them the last, although they continue to try to convince themselves that was all Gordon Brown's fault.  It's never occurred to them that Miliband was just as much of a bottler as the right-wing press accused Brown of being, forever threatening to wield the knife and then always pulling back at the last moment.  Nor is there any indication that David would improve Labour's current poll ratings, which continue to show an average lead of around 10 points.

If today has reminded of anything, it was the remarkably similar response to James Purnell standing down as an MPMany of the same people then said what a massive loss to politics it was, what a wonderfully innovative thinker he had been, with some on the right claiming he could have saved the Labour party.  All this was code for the fact that he was a Blairite-ultra, and the man who helped to introduce the work capability assessment which continues to ruin the lives of tens of thousands of the sick and disabled.  If he achieved other than that, it was that he helped to set the stage for the coalition's even harsher cuts. 

The problem such politicians have is that they tend to be liked only by journalists; Purnell's resignation in an attempt to unseat Gordon Brown was followed by precisely no one, despite him imagining it would open the floodgates.  When Purnell went it was good riddance to bad rubbish, although he has naturally since found a job at the ever obliging BBC.  David Miliband could have been a real asset to his brother had he wanted to be, yet if his leaving signifies anything, it's that the TB-GB era of British politics is well and truly over.  And surely, that's something to welcome.

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