News hit today that during Republican POTUS hopeful and erstwhile dog abuser Mitt Romney’s visit to the UK this week, he will be meeting not only our Prime Minister, but Ed Miliband in his capacity as leader of the opposition.
For me this begs the obvious question of what on earth they’re going to talk about. Ideologically, the two men have virtually nothing in common – Ed the socialist, progressive Europhile versus Mitt the ultra-conservative, marketist Eurosceptic (or maybe ‘xenosceptic’ would be more apt). At the very least, let’s hope the awkward topic of Ed’s parentage doesn’t come up. It’s much clearer what Romney and George Osborne, also set to meet, will discuss – they share a commitment to free markets, state minimalism and a gleeful passion for welfare cuts.
More seriously, though, I do wonder why Miliband is agreeing to this meeting at all. Next week, Ed will meet Francois Hollande for a cosy chat about youth unemployment – a symbolic meeting of the two strongest critics of what Miliband terms ‘Camerkozy’ economics. This is the kind of international meeting which will embellish Miliband’s position, and beyond party politics, the kind of international meeting which from a left-wing perspective it’s very important he has. Mitt Romney may well be the greatest enemy right now in what could be a global left-wing resurgence. His election over Obama – leading proponent of quasi-Keynesian economics and charismatic champion of progressive politics – in a country which still (bizarrely) seems to often act as a benchmark for UK policy would be a huge obstacle for Miliband to overcome.
The Independent believes that Cameron’s agreement to meet Romney is a diplomatic barrier to relations with Obama. Obviously, the same pressures and significance aren’t present with Miliband; the single biggest gripe Obama will have with Cameron and Romney meeting is the potential for a photo worth a thousand words – the two men shaking hands outside the black door of Number 10. No such worries with such small fry as the Labour party leader. Nonetheless, I’m sure this won’t endear him.
The only valid reason I can see for the meeting is that a snub could seem churlish, and that this is an opportunity for Miliband to look statesmanlike and to appear to engage in serious debate about future global affairs. Politically (by which I mean psephologically) that’s probably the right call – only a very small sect of lefty hacks to which I belong will have any objections to the meeting, whilst conversely a ‘snub’ might receive a lot of negative press. In terms of politics qua doing the right thing, however, Ed Miliband should be keeping far away from Mitt Romney.
Matthew Norman today vocalises the dirty dreams of the average Labour supporter – “Has the moment come seriously to consider the prospect that Ed Miliband will be our next Prime Minister?”
His justification is really interesting. Forget all the media wisdom of the last couple of years, founded on the idea that Cameron’s slick PR machine can steamroller anything the ostensibly febrile Miliband offers, and instead consider –
Could he become Prime Minister by default, much like the incumbent, simply by being slightly less off-putting a presence than his rival? Might his optimal strategy be to accept his own presentational difficulties and the fearsome lack of interest in national politics by keeping his trap shut, and leaving the Government to continue its super slo-mo implosion?
The sequence of blunders over which the PM has latterly presided – most arising from the Budget, but with the cobblers about electronic surveillance lending the incompetence impressive range – has been startling, and the speed of his U-turns dizzying. Even when a policy is broadly popular and correct – what gives anyone the right to spend their taxes as they choose? – he is so scrambled by the cumulative post-Budget contempt that he pirouettes in a flash.
The football chant that perhaps captures the nascent public feeling is the one reserved for the manager of a relegation-threatened side after a particularly obtuse substitution: you don’t know what you’re doing.
David Cameron in disguise, according to Matthew Norman
I’m strongly minded to reject this. Firstly, it underestimates the extent to which the Tories are still comfortably in control. Occasional poll victories mean very little. As Norman reminds us,
Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock consistently had larger leads over Mrs Thatcher, and were routed.
The reality is that the Tories are still well in control of the popular discourse on the big stories, which might have slipped down now but will resurface around election time – deficit reduction as an overall strategy being the key one, along with its corollary: reducing the public sector. The message that these things are not necessary remains the preserve of the grassroots left-wing. If Labour attempt to coast into the next election without taming that lion, they will spend another term in opposition – of that, I am certain.
Moving on, the second objection I hold is that I think this underestimates the capacity Labour have to be credible, proactive contenders rather than just hiding and waiting. There is a huge bulk of untapped public opinion against the current direction of economic policy, supported by a message found everywhere in the media, from the blogs of the Guardian to the lyrics of rapper Plan B, “we don’t really like all this talk of austerity and pain, and we’d like an alternative.” Labour can offer that alternative in a sensible, widely acceptable way, provided they’re ready to fight back when the right turn on them with angry accusations about the (mythical – see what will hopefully be tomorrow’s update!) profligacy of New Labour.