Ed Miliband is staring at an open goal and I know just the pair of strikers to win it for him

Miliband, Cameron and Clegg are civilised creatures without a shred of malice between them. This is why they seem so inadequate to the demands of demented political age


I assume that this will lead to a police investigation, if not a sectioning, but the covenant of candour between columnist and reader dictates that I share with you the fantasy that has come to dominate the waking hours. Many details must be censored in the cause of decency, so suffice it to confess the bare facts that it involves kidnapping Ed Miliband; rendering him extraordinarily to my office shed in Shepherds Bush; strapping electrodes to the testes which were so impressive when it came to the fratricide, but appear to have shrunk alarmingly of late; and threatening to turn the dial to 11 unless he signs a legally binding agreement to take the two simple steps required to guarantee Labour a majority in 2015.

To these we will come in good time, but first it behoves us to pose an apparently nonsensical question. Does Ed Miliband want to be Prime Minister? By this, I do not mean, “Does Ed Miliband think he wants to be Prime Minister?”, which is something entirely different. Many times I have sat down to play in a poker tournament thinking I wanted to win. On the rare occasions when luck has brought victory into view,  this has proved an illusion, and I have semi-deliberately blown it by playing safe.

Sporting cliche-mongers often muse on the fear of defeat, but the fear of winning is a far more destructive emotion. Summoning the ruthlessness to destroy an enemy takes a degree of courage that is very hard to distinguish from a personality disorder, which perhaps helps explain why so many champions in all sports, including the matchlessly brutal one of combat politics, are borderline psychotics.

Ed Miliband, on the other hand, like David Cameron and Nick Clegg, is a peculiarly well-balanced individual for the arena in which he finds himself competing. Unlike Margaret Thatcher and Mr Tony Blair, no one would call any of  them a swivel-eyed loon. These are thoughtful, civilised creatures without a shred of malice between them, and to some extent this is why they seem so inadequate to the demands of a frantically confused and demented political age.

Mr Cameron’s failure to win outright in 2010 may be directly traced to the lack of killer instinct that led him to retain the post-Corfu George Osborne, rather than sacking a close personal and political friend and bringing in the trusted Ken Clarke as shadow Chancellor. Mr Clegg stood on the brink of a sensational Liberal Democrat breakthrough three years ago, but his nerve failed in the final televised debate. Rather than going for his rivals’ jugulars, he stood there herbivorously plapping out the mechanical platitudes that revealed him as a nice but pointless charlatan.

Both failures brought to mind Tim Henman in the 2004 French Open semi-final, when he had the Argentine clay court specialist Guillermo Coria at his mercy. Leading by a set and a break, and on the verge of his first Grand Slam final, vertigo struck. He promptly lost the next 11 games and the match.

With the Tory leadership flirting with meltdown and the Lib Dems trapped in a desperate rearguard action in an attempt to hang on to their safer seats, there is talk – if we might switch sports – of Miliband staring at an open goal. It is not a good analogy. Slotting the ball into an unguarded net  is a matter of instinct, because there is no time to think. Mr Miliband has too much time to think, and with his rivals’ appalling opinion poll figures failing to disguise the wretchedness of his own, he is visibly choking by omission.

By this I do not refer to his decision to omit speech from his range of activities. Keeping schtum on such incendiary matters as welfare and Europe, though hardly bold, makes irrefutable sense. These are battlegrounds on which he is a certain loser. Besides, he cannot say anything without the Edenoidal tones inducing a mass collective groan of “No way does that overgrown Adrian Mole belong in Downing Street”.

What he can do is hire people to speak for him, and dilute the doubts about his fitness for the highest office. It is exactly a year since I argued here that he should replace Ed Balls with Alastair Darling, and what was common sense then is an urgent imperative now. Although Mr Balls has always been electoral strychnine in Labour’s bloodstream, partly because of his perceived role as first horseman of Gordon Brown’s financial apocalypse  and partly because he is so obnoxious, his more Keynesian approach had been winning the argument. With the economy at last showing signs of a genuine recovery, what imaginable point to Mr Balls as an economic Jeremiah remains? Giving the shadow chancellorship to Mr Darling,  who won the public’s confidence (and a vicious smearing from the Balls gang) by levelling with them about the oncoming calamity, and later bequeathed a growing economy to Mr Osborne, is essential.

The second, equally crucial appointment would embarrass Ed Miliband as a clear admission that his rebranding of the party as a post-New Labour entity has failed. Even so, hearing Peter Mandelson talk about Europe on Sunday telly established in more crystalline clarity than ever what insanity it is to leave the old rascal’s epic talents untapped. To Gordon and Mr Tony, Mandy came and gave without taking, but Ed sent him away. Now he needs Mandy back, to kiss Ed and stop him from choking. The precise title and formal role are irrelevant. What matters is that Mr Miliband enters a civil partnership with a man so tribally loyal that he would jettison his altruistic jaunts to Africa to help developing nations redistribute their mineral wealth in order to steer his party back to power. Mandy is the only Labour colossus available, and while his private strategic counsel would be invaluable, the massively reassuring public presence of a grown-up, to counteract the callowness of a fourth-rate front bench, would be more so.

Darling and Mandy cut unlikely superheroes. There are probably dozens of compelling arguments against bringing back either, and only one reason for recalling them both. Their joint return is so bleedin’ obviously the path to a Labour victory that, in the fantasy, after Miliband signs the pledge, I give those gonads a nasty jolt out of pure frustration that he didn’t do so earlier.

Does Ed Miliband want to be Prime Minister, or is he content to be Tim Henman? One way or t’other, by action or inaction, he must decide soon enough.

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