John Rentoul: Ed is lost if Merkel pulls it off

Yvette Cooper is waiting in the wings should the eurozone survive and the Labour leader run out of friends

Share
Related Topics

I wonder whether David Cameron, when he went to Paris last week, had that feeling we have when we watch sport. We know that we cannot influence the result, yet we behave as if we can. Either we will our team to run the ball rather than pass (sorry, I watch American football), or we decide that we have jinxed our team and that if we carry on watching, they will lose (but we carry on watching all the same).

The Prime Minister's purpose in going to see Nicolas Sarkozy was to be photographed with him, to make it look as if Britain is a player, when really we are spectators only of the great battle to save the euro. It is the sort of thing that Cameron is good at: the use of language, including body language, to give the impression that he is in control. But Cameron knows that Sarkozy did not even think it worth their holding a news conference after their talks because they would have nothing to say; they both know that the big match is tomorrow, when Sarkozy meets Angela Merkel. That is hardly a meeting of equals either, but at least Sarkozy is on the pitch and not watching from row P, seat 34.

Almost from the moment he formed his government, Cameron has been in the strange position for a Eurosceptic of observing a crisis in the European Union and hoping that it doesn't get worse. The weekend over which the coalition talks were concluded, of 8-9 May 2010, was the very moment the Greek economy went phut (a technical term in macroeconomics).

For the past few months, as the break-up of the eurozone seemed more and more likely, Cameron has been reduced to saying that it would be bad for Britain if it happened in a "disorderly" way. At the same time he has not been able to offer any advice on how the euro might be broken up in an orderly way because: (a) he is a Eurosceptic; (b) Brits are not allowed to have an opinion on the euro because we chose not to adopt it, as Sarkozy told Cameron at their previous meeting; and (c) questioning the euro's survival is against the EU religion. Never mind that the euro's fate is of direct economic interest to us, fellow members of the EU.

So Cameron watches, waits and pretends to be engaged in important talks to "protect and enhance Britain's interests", while Merkel decides (with Sarkozy allowed to make suggestions about the numbering of clauses) what sort of treaty changes might be needed.

For a moment, early last week, it looked as if the euro might soon collapse. Wolfgang Munchau, European economic columnist of the Financial Times, gave it 10 days. When George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement, the forecast from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility suggested that Britain would avoid a second dip of recession over the next six months. But the forecast was heavily qualified by a footnote, "Unless the euro goes belly up, in which case all bets are off," or words to that effect.

So, yes, it may be that the eurozone banks will collapse, the euro will break up in a horror story of law suits over liabilities, and the whole of Europe be plunged into what Ed Balls warns could be a depression as bad as in the 1930s.

However, it is also worth looking at another possibility. What if it all goes better than expected? What if Angela Merkel does know what she is doing, and manages to save the eurozone banks and keep the euro together, at least for a few years, which would be enough to allow confidence to return? What if the OBR's forecasts turn out to be wrong because they are too pessimistic? What if we have hit rock bottom already? What if continental and British economies start to grow again? What if last week's good jobs figures in the US are the cock-crow of a new dawn of boom?

The trivial consequence will be that George Osborne's Plan A will be back on target: to clear the deficit and go to the election offering tax cuts. But an interesting effect will be on the Labour Party. If Labour falls behind the Tories in the opinion polls – it is currently only three points ahead on average, with the polls having been stable for the whole year – then Ed Miliband's position becomes precarious. At that point, only two things hold him in place: "there's no one else" and "Labour doesn't get rid of its leaders" (or "it's very hard under the rules to get rid of a Labour leader", which is a variant of the same thing).

Well, there has always been his brother, although I had assumed that he would not want to try again. But last week he made a short speech in the House, which took apart the Autumn Statement with such clarity and style that Labour MPs almost audibly groaned at the implied contrasts with both the leader and Shadow Chancellor.

His cautious readiness to be considered may not be enough to persuade the party to switch, but there is another candidate. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, could have won the leadership last year had she not decided that her husband should run. She felt it was the wrong time for her, but her top place in the Shadow Cabinet election – a popularity contest among Labour MPs that has now been abolished – suggested that she could have taken Ed Miliband's anti-Blairite vote and added to it.

Since then, she has done no wrong. I don't say she has done well, but she has not made any big mistakes. One Labour MP, who would support her, said: "She'll have to change her voice for the Chamber, like Thatcher did," but thought that she would beat David Miliband in any contest. Ed Balls has said that it is her turn.

As for Labour not getting rid of its leaders, that used to be true. But the MPs did not vote for the leader, and they know that party members didn't either. I think that, this time, they would be unsentimental in disposing of him if they thought anyone else could do better.

Ed Miliband should be praying for the eurozone to go down the tubes.

twitter.com/JohnRentoul; independent.co.uk/jrentoul

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Copywriter / Direct Response Copywriter

£20k plus sales linked bonus. : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Copywriter to j...

Recruitment Genius: Accounting Technician

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has bec...

Guru Careers: 3D Creative Designer

Up to £26k DOE: Guru Careers: A Junior / Mid-Level 3D Creative Designer is nee...

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Website Digital Marketing Manager - Fashion / Retail

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You'll be joining a truly talen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michelle Mone attends the annual Serpentine Gallery summer party at The Serpentine Gallery on June 26, 2013 in London, England.  

Michelle Mone made millions selling bras and now dares to enter the House of Lords - what would Lord Sewel and Alan Sugar say?

Kate Maltby
Jeremy Corbyn could be about to pull off a shock victory over the mainstream candidates Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall (AFP/Getty)  

Win or lose, Corbyn will set the agenda unless Labour speaks up

Isabel Hardman
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen