Generals, especially American generals, rarely get a mention in Westminster or Whitehall. But over the past 72 hours, George Patton’s comment that when “everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking” could have resonated through Labour’s senior ranks.
When Ed Miliband’s leadership qualities were under scrutiny and when it looked like Labour might be marching, unthinking, to an old 2003 Tony Blair tune, the whole battlefield arithmetic changed. This wasn’t forecast – by anyone.
Miliband is often seen as having two sides to him: one the political thinker, heavily influenced by his academic father, Professor Ralph Miliband; and two, the pragmatic policy-oriented politician. The two don’t match.
But across a week of error-strewn misjudgements by David Cameron, Mr Miliband – at least according to Labour’s official verdict – was able to park the politician and appear driven by his own moral philosophy, the desire to do the right thing, a determination not to ignore the UN, and to take advantage of Cameron’s wrapped gift – to exorcise the ghosts of Iraq, Blair and George W Bush.
Many in Labour’s parliamentary party saw what was coming. Demonstrations in the streets, and a repeat of accusations that blind support for a Tory-led policy shouldn’t be happening, yet again. But that hasn’t happened. Instead the anointment of Mr Miliband as a victor, an accidental general, a leader in command, someone who out-manoeuvred Downing Street, has transformed the mood in Labour ranks.
The party conference season is almost here. Much of that was supposed to be taken up by shadow talks on who could replace Mr Miliband, who could avoid another defeat at the next general election. Instead all that angst and retribution has, almost miraculously, been shifted from red to blue. It is David Cameron’s leadership that is now at risk.
Critics might say this all happened without a decision having been taken. They are wrong. Mr Miliband eventually chose not to follow; he chose to think – and not like Blair.