Thursday, September 05, 2013

Ed Miliband: the death of leadership

David Aaronovitch is magnificently scathing about Ed Miliband's leadership (or, more accurately, abject lack of it) over Syria in the Times this morning. The more one examines Miliband's conduct over the Syria vote, the less defensible it appears. That can best be illustrated by Martin Kettle's attempt to do just that in today's Guardian:
Last week, Miliband did the right thing in the Syria debate. He put forward an amendment which stressed the need to complete the weapons inspectorate's work in Damascus and the observance of proper United Nations processes, while retaining the option of supporting military action against the Assad regime. That amendment was defeated, whereupon Labour voted against a government motion which was less specific.
So there's the justification for the amendment: i) it stressed the need to complete the weapons inspectorate's work in Damascus; ii) it stressed the need to go through UN processes; and iii) it left open the option of military action. That's why Labour couldn't support the Govt motion. The following lines are from the Govt motion:

This House... Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;
Welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus. Whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;  
Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken. Before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place.
The only substantive difference between this and the Labour amendment was that the amendment required 'compelling' evidence that Assad was responsible. What exactly 'compelling' meant was undefined. It was evidently not felt that the JIC report showing that Assad has used chemical weapons 14 times since 2012 met this standard. Far from the Government motion being 'less specific' as Kettle has it, it was the Labour amendment that featured a fatally ambiguous component. This wasn't a principled voting down of a motion, it was a shabby political fudge. Aaronovitch concludes by saying:
His technique for victory to is follow behind the leader, wait for a slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes. He did it to his brother. He hopes to do it to David Cameron. He is neither hunter nor prey, he is scavenger. He is a political vulture. Mission creep? His mission is all about creeping.

And though you can just about see how in a bad year Ed Miliband could become prime minister, what I cannot any longer pretend, after three years of his leadership, is that he would be a good one. On the contrary. I think he would be a disaster. Strangely, I think both the country and his party already know it.
 And, in Kettle's piece defending him, you can see that Aaronovitch is spot on:

Here are Miliband's ratings in a YouGov poll taken this week: decisive 5%; strong 4%; a natural leader 3%; charismatic 2%.
God help us.

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