David Maddox: Miliband’s vision is clouded

THE reason a leader of the opposition at Westminster normally makes an alternative Queen’s Speech is to provide a different programme to that offered by the sitting government.
Ed Miliband speaking in South Shields. Picture: PAEd Miliband speaking in South Shields. Picture: PA
Ed Miliband speaking in South Shields. Picture: PA

But there was little new on offer from Ed Miliband as he suggested six bills on subjects such as a housing, consumer affairs, finance, energy, trains and jobs.

The exercise was really as much about stamping his mark on the Labour Party as providing an alternative to the coalition.

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And the reason is that Mr Miliband has been under siege for the last month from the left and right of his party as doubts about his leadership plague him.

It may seem odd for a man who heads a party that is 15 points or so ahead in the polls to be causing such jitters, but the poll lead is almost universally recognised as “soft” and there is a genuine fear that the Tories under an equally besieged David Cameron could still pull off a victory.

So in recent weeks Mr Miliband has had to suffer an onslaught from the Blairites, led by Tony Blair himself, saying that he has get to start dealing with the tough issues such as saying where a Labour government would cut and what it would do about the welfare bill.

This is a group still unhappy that its champion, Mr Miliband’s elder brother David, missed out on the leadership and there are other Blairite pretenders positioning themselves, such as shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy or even shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander – the only person endorsed as a future leader by Tony Blair.

It is interesting that the Tories have latched on to the Blairite attack. Last week at Prime Minister’s questions David Cameron started asking if Labour under Miliband shouldn’t be called the Welfare Party instead.

But, despite accusations that he is dragging Labour to the left, Mr Miliband is also struggling publicly with the left. Last week he and Len McCluskey, the leader of the Unite union, publicly clashed. Clearly Mr Miliband’s refusal to promise to reverse cuts and support for capping public sector wages are not going down well with the party paymasters, who think he owes them for the leadership.

So in setting his alternative Queen’s Speech Mr Miliband was much as anything else yesterday attempting to put his own stamp on the party. An alternative to the unions and the Blairites,

He is also moving to exert his authority in other ways with a warning that there is going to be a major shadow cabinet reshuffle in the autumn. The targets could well be the Blairites such as shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne.

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The question though is whether he will have enough strength in his position to put in the team he wants by the autumn.

As the Gordon Brown experience showed, the Labour Party is poor at getting rid of leaders it no longer wants, but adept at destroying them.