Monday, April 10, 2006

 

Milburn and the Art of Political Signalling

Signalling what one intends in politics is not a science; it's more to do with nudges and winks. In the USA, intending candidates deny any intentioin of running for president before they suddenly rouse themselves to the country's call and decide to do just that. That's why Condi's recent denial of wishing to stand for her boss's job cut no ice. It's more or less the same over here. Blair's Melbourne comment a few days ago was regarded by many as a signal he would stay on and on; many others thought it meant merely that he had failed to still comment by pre-announcing his departure at the end of the parliament. That's the fun of politics to some extent: wondering precisely what was intended by the statement, the interview, the speech.

Which brings us to Mr Alan Milburn MP. This former Trotskyite is no political naif; he served as a loyal Blairite Cabinet minister for many years before retiring to 'spend more time with his family', the classic euphemism for someone who has resigned before being sacked. In his case though, it seemed to be heartfelt, which was even more of a shock in a way. Now he says on BBC television yesterday in response to the question of whether he would challenge Gordon Brown in a post Blair contest, that that is a 'really good question which deserves a really, really good answer'.(Good intro there Alan) He went on to say there was no vacancy at present, that such a vacancy was 'highly unlikely' but that 'that is a bridge I think we all need to cross'(very Delphic Alan, not to say pleasingly opaque). Check out the report in today's Guardian and see what you think.

Nothing categorical about standing- of course not, that would be breaking the rules of the game-but crucially, he did not rule out the possibility of his candidature either. Still not a definite 'yes'? By American standards it would probably have been interpreted as an unequivocal declaration of intent. But he could be playing a more subtle game. Remember Gordon does not like Alan and was well miffed when he was given the election manager's job in 2005 over Gordon's head. It might be argued that Milburn has realised that as a Blairite he won't get much of a look-in under Brown so is strenghtening his hand by threatening to stand against him. Gordon might decide to offer him a top job just to persuade him not to stand.

On the other hand, if he did stand and did well, Brown could scarcely ignore the claims of Blair's standard bearer to a very senior position. What is rather odd about the whole thing is that his desire to see his family growing up rather than mortgage every weekend for two years to his job, seemed genuine at the time. Has he decided to get ambitious again? Or is he just doing what some think he tends to do: act as an outlier for Blair, showing the old enemy that he won't face any pushover when the time comes and that the Blairite legacy will be something for which many Labour MPs are prepared to stand up an be counted?

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Who knows what Milburn's strategy is? The thing that doesn't really add up is that if he'd stayed in the Cabinet, he'd already have established himself as the natural heir to Blair, and a very geniune challenger to Brown. By leaving the Cabinet, twice, he condemned himself to being no more than a marginal contender. He'll get a few votes from the CLPs, but practically none from the unions or from Labour MPs who basically regard him as a dilettantist (posh word for someone who talks a good game but can't really hack it at the top.)

Milburn doesn't have to wait for Brown to offer him a job - if he wanted to come back in a senior capacity, Blair would have him back like a shot. The chances of Brown offering him anything are practically zero.
 
Who knows what Milburn's strategy is? The thing that doesn't really add up is that if he'd stayed in the Cabinet, he'd already have established himself as the natural heir to Blair, and a very geniune challenger to Brown. By leaving the Cabinet, twice, he condemned himself to being no more than a marginal contender. He'll get a few votes from the CLPs, but practically none from the unions or from Labour MPs who basically regard him as a dilettantist (posh word for someone who talks a good game but can't really hack it at the top.)

Milburn doesn't have to wait for Brown to offer him a job - if he wanted to come back in a senior capacity, Blair would have him back like a shot. The chances of Brown offering him anything are practically zero.
 
Agree they are zero-ish Paul but that's why I suggested the Machiavellian thinking behind the possible standing for office; not that he seems all that dedicated to being a senior minister, but he may wish merely to keep options open rather than closed. Maybe too fiendish... even for a Blairite?
 
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