Blairite for Cameron

John Rentoul

number 10 downing street Blairite for CameronAs a result of my lukewarm welcome for Ed Miliband’s pitch to the middle classes on Tuesday, Alex Massie commented on Twitter that he didn’t see how I was going to be able to bring myself to vote for a party led by Ed Miliband.

Nonsense, I said. I live in a constituency represented by a fine Labour MP, Rushanara Ali, who took it from Respect in 2010.

He wasn’t falling for that, and asked: “But do you want Ed Miliband to be the next prime minister?”

So I had to say what I think, which is that it would be better for the country if David Cameron were to continue as Prime Minister next year. I didn’t add the qualifications, namely that this is a finely balanced choice and that I could imagine being swayed the other way over the next 16 months. Nor did I remind him that I had said that I preferred David Cameron to Gordon Brown as prime minister in 2010. Nor did I ask what Ed Miliband has done that would persuade someone who took that view to revise it.

Still, my colleague Owen Jones was grateful for the clarification that I was indeed a “Tory pundit”. I thought this was a curious response from someone who was writing an open letter to UKIP supporters to urge them to vote Labour. He thought it worth trying to persuade UKIP supporters, most of whom have never voted Labour and never would, but did not seem interested in persuading someone who was a Labour supporter when the party won elections and who might be again.

It was John McTernan, Blair’s former political secretary, who took up the challenge, seeking to persuade me in a series of tweets:

Ed Miliband has united the party. Made the big calls on Murdoch and Syria correctly, been more Blairite than Blair on immigration, welfare and breaking the link. Is right on housing, is right on the absurd euro-referendum and has held a poll lead for 18 months.

I am not convinced. It is the unity of intellectual exhaustion. I thought the Leveson inquiry a waste of time and effort. I thought the Syria vote was mistaken. On immigration, Miliband has said that free movement of Polish workers was a mistake without saying what should be done now. On welfare, don’t make me laugh. Only on breaking the link with the unions – an internal party matter – has he done the right thing, and I don’t think he is going to follow through.

On housing, there is little sensible any government can do and we don’t know where the money is coming from. Then I think a referendum on Europe is right in principle: the problem with Cameron’s is the timing. Finally, given the depth of the fiscal crisis and the gift of half the Liberal Democrat vote from 2010, a modest poll lead for a year and a half is nothing special.

A better line of approach might have been to ask me two questions:

1. Whose judgement on the economy is better? I think Ed Balls has been more right than George Osborne, although the margin is small. Osborne’s judgement on the economy has been erratic and sometimes too political. He opposed the nationalisation of the banks in 2009; and he probably cut public spending too sharply in 2010.

2. Who has the better ministerial line-up? Cameron has Michael Gove and Theresa May. They may be liberal centrists, but there are a lot of MPs in the Conservative Party who aren’t. Miliband has Ed Balls and Jim Murphy and some good ministerial potential – in alphabetical order Stella Creasy, Gloria De Piero, Tristram Hunt, Liz Kendall and Rachel Reeves – but they are untested.

So far, I think the case for change has not been made. Miliband offers weak leadership with decent enough instincts, but in policy always tending the wrong way, towards regulate, borrow and spend.

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  • john p reid

    Ed has united the party? Did he get Len Mcklusky to apologise for trying to oust progress magazine, or expel the Blairites, and where was the disunity, that Ed supposedly got rid of,were the Blairites trying to expel, the left, were they telling people to back independent candidates in Tower hamlets?

  • glassfet

    “Ed has united the party?”

    I think it means Ed has surrendered the Party to UNITE, as will become clear at the special conference. All 2 hours of it.

  • reformist lickspittle

    Wow, what an intelligent response.

    Still, having looked through some of your posts, its par for the course.

  • greggf

    “Miliband offers weak leadership with decent enough instincts, but in policy always tending the wrong way, towards regulate, borrow and spend.”

    Well now JR, can a leopard change its spots….?

  • Carl Gardner

    John, I think the problem with your approach is that “continuity Cameron” is coalition Cameron – not a Conservative government. The only reason Cameron might be bearable for some Blairites is surely that his party’s been held in check to some extent by the LibDems. But if he were returned with a Tory majority, his government would be much nastier on just about everything, and much more bonkersly isolationist, especially on Europe.

    So “continuity Cameron” versus Miliband is a false choice. Don’t you have to weigh more carefully whether majority Miliband isn’t preferable, after all, to Cameron concentrate?

  • Simon Delancey

    Presumably one of these days Rentoul will come out of the political closet and confess to us that he’s now a Conservative; it won’t be much of a leap from being a Blairite apologist.

  • Pacificweather

    “2. Who has the better ministerial line-up? Cameron has Michael Gove and Theresa May.”

    Both of whom approve of murder by ministers of the crown. You were giving them as examples of a poor ministerial line up I presume? Oh, no, you don’t dissapprove of murder or torture by ministers either do you?

  • reformist lickspittle

    Yes, there are ultra-Blairites who want to see an outright Tory win at the next GE. Partly because they are blinded by bitterness that the “wrong” person won the Labour leadership in 2010, but also because (from the beginning in 2005 in many cases) they totally bought into the guff about Cameron being “heir to Blair” and a “progressive” (whatever that supremely meaningless term means)

    Any resemblance to our blogger in the above is purely coincidental, honest :)

  • JohnJustice

    Blairite for Cameron? I don’t think you are doing TB any favours by putting it that way JR.

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