What has felt at times like a mammoth parliamentary session is now over. The assumptions of mere weeks ago have been challenged, and in some cases changed. As we take a breather, it’s time to take stock and consider how the last few weeks will affect the next few months and shape the narratives to come.
Ed Miliband had a bad strike, but a good war. He was in a difficult position over the strike (though less difficult than some that are coming. These unions were not affiliated to Labour) but while his message was probably the right one tactically, even a staunch loyalist like me won’t say he delivered it well. Sunny Hundal is right in his contention that that kind of interview is hardly new, but media practices are changing, and that interview left Ed looking flat-footed, tongue-tied and struggling to achieve an understanding of that new reality.
What a difference a crisis makes.
Ed’s handling of the NI affair has been superb. He’s been able to use his strongest weapon against Cameron – his grasp of detail – to devastating effect. Labour (led by Ed, but it would be supremely churlish not to use this space to praise Tom Watson and Chris Bryant) have made all the running, and have won every concession they sought from the Government.
In the long term, this matters for two reasons, the narrative about Labour and the narrative about the Tories.
Ed has rightly started to use the crisis as a jumping off point for a conversation about the responsibility agenda he has been shaping. Pulling together a narrative that encompasses the bankers who threaten our economy with their unreformed practices, journalists who threaten our privacy for the profit of oligarchs and politicians -of all parties – who threatened our democracy to line their pockets. I also have no truck with the glass-half-empty malcontents who read that speech and focus only on what is being asked of those at the bottom (which boils down to enforcing rules to protect the integrity of the welfare state) without understanding or acknowledging the tectonic shift that a senior politician talking this way about the responsibilty owed from those at the top of the pile to the rest of us.
Ed has in the last two weeks earned the right to be listened to and cemented his leadership. He has also opened up the ears of the public by being on thier side at a time when he has some useful and important things to say. There will – of course - be a few last drinkers in the Bitter Bar, whining and anonymously briefing their pet gossip-mongers, but Ed has won the leadership and has now earned himself the space to lead.
Meanwhile, Cameron’s stock is seriously – though not fatally – damaged. He got this wrong from the start and worse failed to notice quickly enough how wrong he had got it. He has had two problems over the last week, both of which do him considerable damage.
Firstly, he’s let Ed Miliband make all the running. He gambled that being on the side of NI was the safest place to be and failed – until it was far too late – to see that the world there had changed. So he not only ended up doing all the things that will annoy the constituency he was trying to court so assiduously, but he also clearly did them at the bidding of his opponent.
Secondly, as Deborah Mattinson lays out in this report from recent focus groups, he has undone most of the good work that he had done pre-election to change the image of the “same old Tories”. The public may once have briefly thought they wanted coalition, but after thier outright rejection of Nick Clegg and thier new distaste for Cameron’s dithering and disillusion with his platform they are using comfortable familiar language to define Cameron and his Party – which is a disaster for the Tories.
Finally, let’s be honest about where we are not. Cameron has been damaged and the sheen is now off him, but I don’t think he will be forced to resign. Certainly the rumours of backbenchers calling for his blood proved to be sound and fury only. This issue has changed the mood music, it hasn’t brought down the Government. We need to be cautious that we don’t over claim or be over optimistic.
Cameron will continue, and he will have other good days. Ed will continue and he will have other bad days. Labour have earned the respect of the public on this issue, but the hard part will be translating that to a decent hearing for and support of our broader agenda. That will take a continued hard slog.
Tags: David Cameron, Ed Miliband, News International