Labour leadership: There are several in the shadow Cabinet who would be better than Ed Miliband

With the party now in opposition, it ought to be easier to organise a change of leader than five years ago. But will it actually happen?
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The Independent Online

It is five years ago all over again. The Labour Party is heading for defeat and making up reasons for not doing anything about it. There is no provision in the rules for changing leader, they say. That is true. Formally, a challenge requires a motion at the party's annual conference. But if enough Labour MPs said they had no confidence in the leader, Ed Miliband would have to resign.

It is too late, they say. But it never is. In 1983, the Australian Labor Party feared it would lose under Bill Hayden so it ditched him and installed Bob Hawke three weeks before the election. He won, and kept winning.

There is no viable alternative, they say. Well, that is just insulting to the dozen or so Labour MPs who would be a better leader than Miliband. It may be true that Alan Johnson is, sadly, not available. He repeated yesterday: "I have no intention of going back to frontline politics." That is hardly the full Sherman pledge ("I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected") but he also said a month ago, more significantly, that being Prime Minister is a "god-awful job", and that he "hated" his stint in the Shadow Cabinet "because if you're not enjoying it and your heart's not in it then it shows that you're not doing it properly". I think that's a no.

It is particularly offensive to Yvette Cooper, an unexceptional minister in the last government who has matched Theresa May point for point and who has thus earned the right, just as she has, to be considered leadership material. Chuka Umunna is more flawed, but would also be more exciting. You could go through the shadow Cabinet and list at least four others who would be better than the incumbent.

Because the coup led by Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon failed in January 2010, it is generally remembered as a feeble flop. But the important thing about it is how nearly it succeeded. Harriet Harman, Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson were on the brink, briefly withholding their support from Gordon Brown. All it required was a bit of steel from David Miliband or Alan Johnson, but they shied away.

One person who appreciated how dangerous that moment was for Brown was his former special adviser and junior member of his Cabinet, Ed Miliband, already calculating his chances against his brother.

So the one person most attuned to the possibility of a coup now is Miliband. Which is why he reshuffled his shadow Cabinet last week to make the bunker walls thicker. He brought in Lucy Powell to what is now the important job of running the election campaign. She was his chief of staff and ran his leadership campaign, but came into the Commons only two years ago in a by-election and her rapid elevation to the shadow Cabinet has gone down badly with longer-serving Labour MPs.

Just as significant is that Michael Dugher was moved out of the election job to make way for her. Notionally, his move to shadow Transport Secretary was a promotion. But I suspect that Miliband wanted him out of the way because he is a Ballsite. Ed Balls and Miliband are still getting on badly, and Balls's wife, Cooper, is the leading rival for Ed Miliband's job who actually wants it. Dugher is also, incidentally, a friend of Dave Watts, the chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party who is therefore the recipient of complaints about the leader. You may think this is absurd Kremlinology, and so it is, but it is how the people in the leader's office, including the leader himself, actually think.

The appointment of Jon Trickett as "senior adviser" to the leader is less important but just as telling. He is possibly the only MP who is genuinely devoted to Miliband. He was already a member of the shadow Cabinet, but now he gains a position in Miliband's office. He recently wrote an article for the New Statesman that was pure Russell Brand without the jokes, in which he said that Labour should be the vehicle for "dissent from the attempted reduction of human interaction into a set of self-interested commercial exchanges". I doubt if Miliband will put that in his planned "comeback kid" speech, but presumably he takes some comfort from having one person in his office who admires him and who doesn't hate everyone else there.

Miliband is not paranoid. They really are out to get him. That is why he took the unusual decision to go on television to describe speculation about his leadership as "nonsense", which encouraged journalists to speculate even more about his leadership, but which forced Labour MPs to recite the catechism about divided parties losing elections and to rally round.

Until the next juddering slide in the opinion polls and the next wave of the rolling rebellion.

It is five years ago all over again, with one important difference. This time Labour is in opposition, so it ought to be easier to organise a change of leader. But I doubt that it will happen.

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