Diary: Could David breathe new life into European Socialism?


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The Independent Online

Europe's social democratic parties have been going through a dire period, the former Foreign Secretary David Miliband pointed out in a speech earlier this year. He named six countries – Britain, Sweden, Germany, France, Holland and Italy – which he described as the "historic heart" of social democracy, and in all of which the social democrats have lost power.

"Not since the First World War has there been this kind of domination from the right," he added. "Left parties are losing elections more comprehensively than ever before."

The reason for reviving these words, spoken in the spring, is that in Brussels, interested parties have spotted an opportunity for the older Miliband to do something about the problem he laid bare.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark – the one European country that has turned to a social democratic party and where Neil Kinnock's daughter in law, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is Prime Minister – is stepping down as President of the Party of European Socialists (PES).

His interim replacement is the former Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev, who may decide to stand down at the next PES Congress, in Sofia, in autumn next year. There is talk in Brussels that David Miliband, pictured, would make a heavyweight full-time replacement.

"Certainly David's name is floating around the system," Glyn Ford, the long-serving, Brussels-based, former Labour MEP said, though he warned: "In the current circumstances any Brit will have opposition and it might pose serious political problems for Ed."

A Panda put-down that's hard to bear

Following David Thomas's tirade in Monday's Independent on the general uselessness of pandas, a contact was told by a French female friend: "So the Indy says pandas are anti-social, boring and rubbish at sex. No wonder the British love them so much..." Ha, ha, trés drole.

After losing streak, 'why change now?'

The last I heard of the former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik he was on Westminster Bridge, a week ago today, dressed as a pantomime horse, taking part in the Pantomime Horse Grand National, which he lost to Kerry Katona.

Losing is very much a part of his life lately. This year, he competed for the nomination as Liberal Democrat challenger in the 2012 London mayoral election, but lost to Brian Paddick.

Last year, he lost his seat in the general election, went on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, got bitten by a snake, and was the second contestant voted off.

Earlier, the curse of Opik hit two leading MPs, Charles Kennedy and Mark Oaten, whose careers went down in flames straight after they had received Lembit's unqualified backing.

So pity the poor Greeks. To add to all their other troubles, the Jonah of the Lib Dem party has turned up in Piraeus. "I'm over here on a fact-finding mission," he said, adding with an endearing show of self awareness: "I've been associated with a few lost causes in my time in recent years, so why change now? I met one Greek politician and suggested I'd happily offer one pound for the Greek economy – providing I got some change back."

A poet and a pair of giggling princesses

The satirist Craig Brown and historian A N Wilson did a double act to amuse guests at yesterday's lunch hosted by The Oldie, each doing silly voices as they recounted the story of how Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI, took her two young daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, to a wartime poetry reading, given by T S Eliot, among others.

Many years later, as Queen Mother she met A N Wilson, and told him how her daughters had had fits of giggles, which she was unable to stop herself in joining, at the spectacle of "a rather lugubrious man in a suit" reciting a poem.

"Was called The Desert?" she wondered. A N Wilson suggested The Waste Land as a more likely title. "He looked as if he worked in a bank," said the Queen Mum. "I believe he did once work in a bank, M'am," Wilson replied.