Who will triumph in the bid to find a new Ladyship for Leeber? This was the question Andrew Marr posed to a confused nation this morning, and in keeping with that inadvertant spoonerism, he decided to interview Mad Elliband. For those of you who don’t keep up with the broad and democratic church that is the Party formerly known as Lou Neighbour, the contest so far is restricted to the Miliband family. But as the mater familias isn’t supporting either of the brothers (I’m being serious here) there’s a good chance others will enter the race.
Before Ed faced Marr however, helping the Beanpole discuss the contest in among Sunday newspaper stuff were Amanda Platell and Charlie Whelan, people you could describe as at opposite ends of the political spectrum. The only joyous thing about watching these two perform on the same set is the reasonable chance they might kill each other during the course of a gentle discussion about Unionising child chimney-sweeps. But today they were all smiles and agreement, having at last found something in common to hate – the ToryDem Coalition.
As Marr’s temporary anchorlady stand-in on the Sunday papers slot tried to persuade the two chums to talk about something interesting (Marr was hotfoot on his way back, having just interviewed Cameron at Number 10), Amanda and Charlie ignored her in favour of giggling about deficits and immigrants. They were getting on so well by the time Andrew returned, it occurred to me that in this, the new spirit of Country First, the happy couple might indeed form a Coalition of their own. Perhaps they could, depending on how many vowels there are in country.
Trying manfully to start the expected fight, the man who can’t pronounce ‘anti-depressant’ shifted them onto the subject of the Leeber Ladyship, and here at last they reverted to type. Platell (who would like to see a coalition between Sarah Palin and Paul Dacre) demanded confirmation that Whelan would support Ed Balls. Charlie said Ed was consulting with friends about whether to run, and Amanda suggested it would therefore be a brief consultation process.
As Andrew Marr turned to talk to Miliband the younger, it was clear that to be a potential Ladyship candidate for Leeber, you have to have either Ed or Miliband in your name. This made Marr’s guest very much the hot favourite; and within three minutes of the interview starting, one could see that Ed Miliband had all the qualities required to lead a left-wing Party in the UK.
To be precise, these are three in number. To insist that the Party has a monopoly on goodness. To alter history by 180 degrees. And to be, despite the obvious cynicism required to demonstrate the first two qualities, stunningly naive.
In that opening three-minute spell, Ed averred that his Party was as nice as ever, but he was the man to fine-tune the moral compass; that the LabLib talks had failed because the LibDems didn’t have their hearts in it; and that we all owe a debt of gratitude to Gordon Brown, and if we’d just had the patience to leave it all to him, we wouldn’t be facing this awful crisis now.
Ed was also clear (that is, on message) about the contest being a sort of gentle debate, a cleansing of the air, between good mates – and of course, entirely democratic. Given the last leadership duo was made up of a Scottish coronation and a peerage, the democratic part promises to be the only achievable part of the message; but for a New Labour message, one out of four is well above average.
The ‘New’ in Labour is, of course, what the contest is going to be primarily about: should we be old or should we be new? Or as they used to wonder in my day, should we be mad or should we be electable?
As this is the same old argument that tears the Party apart once every fifteen years, one got the sense from Miliband Junior that he would like to rebrand the Party as Only One Owner Labour. That is to say, pretty new but not untried, and with work done on the steering for which he could produce invoices. His Party would thus be timelessly right but traditionally Left, classically fair yet relevantly Green.
Quite what Ed Balls would want to call it is hard to fathom; probably Original Labour. But we can be clear that David Miliband would stick with New Labour, because he is quite obviously the heir to Blair. So if Ed Miliband has his wits about him, he’ll go for Young Labour. (Campaign line: ‘Why be Old when you can be Young?’)
Tradition dictates that the final decision should take place in a restaurant, but with the modernising element of people actually voting at some point. The last time I was in Fredericks the place was heaving with Labour MPs, and as its also a big joint within half an hour of Westminster, it ticks all the boxes.
Here’s my recommended format. The three candidates have to stump up for the 258-head meal between them, but without using any of their own money. There is a First ‘John Bercow’ Round based on which candidate’s expenses claim was the most inventive, plus whose circular begging letter from constituents was the most mendaciously persuasive. The two remaining candidates then go through to the second ‘Lord Ashcroft’ round, and vie to produce the best scheme for taxing fat-cat rich capitalists. In the event of a tie, run-off candidates then play the Lord Mandelson Memorial Call My Bluff game. The first one caught telling the truth loses.
I’m bound to observe, this is going to be a close-fought contest.