There is no inherent harm in the opposition defence spokesman accepting ministerial defence cuts. From a party committed to Trident replacement, it might be a faint, late virtue. There is every possible objection to coupling it with talk of rejecting populism (whatever that means here) and hinting at readier general acquiesence.
The effect (and presumably the intention) of Jim Murphy’s comments is a nasty little slash at the arm of his leader. David Miliband’s former campaign manager says one, innocuous thing, conveying to an eager media another, consciously injurious one. The same media stress ‘concern’ at Labour’s modest showing in opinion polls and the need to abandon ‘left’ policies.
As for being ‘left’, one would hope so. There are liberal Conservatives to the left of the authoritarian Blair record. In respect of polls, the coalition was elected 18 months ago. It enjoys the tolerance usually afforded new governments and is sustained politically by the economic crisis that burdens it economically. Conservatives may benefit from falling inflation and suffer from prolonged unemployment. Intelligent argument should address that interesting future. Labour’s modest poll figues, like their good performances in by-elections, are irrelevant to the elections of 2015.
But Blairthink is sunk in the shining and finished past. In the 1990s, New Labour embraced Tory essentials, preoccupied themselves with presentation and won the huge victory of 1997. Charm and anaemic policies were minor factors in that victory. The Conservatives had spent four and half years after the ERM exit in open, self-destructive war between Thatcherites and non-Thatcherites, pro and anti-Europeans. The Tory Party was slit from the nave to the chops. Yet today, chattering voices, columnists, backbenchers and loyal colleagues contemplate a similar slicing of the Labour Party.
Blairites can’t understand why they lost the leadership. Their trouble is an affinity with exiled royalty; Ed Miliband’s succesful candidacy has been treated as a sort of Orléanist family treason. The reason is different. David Miliband, starting as heir presumptive, was rejected as Blair-compliant, a sparrow on the wrist. He embodied everything Jim Murphy seems to want for his party: assent to what a Conservative government does and yearning to do it oneself. Without discernible point, it is careerism transformed into Clause Four, yet a cause for which people are whispering and arming. David Cameron looks on.