August 27, 2010
(KATAKAMI / GUARDIAN.CO.UK) — David Miliband poses the greatest threat to the Conservative party of all the candidates in the Labour leadership contest, David Cameron has said in private remarks that could change the dynamic of the campaign just days before millions of ballot papers are posted.
To the likely delight of the older Miliband, who enters the final stages as the frontrunner, the prime minister has made it clear he believes the shadow foreign secretary stands the best chance of reaching out to middle Britain.
A well-placed source told the Guardian: “David Cameron said the candidate he hoped for was Ed Miliband, and the candidate he most feared was David Miliband.”
Ed Miliband, who is thought to be slightly behind his brother in first preference votes, but who hopes second choice votes will propel him to victory, is likely to be irritated by Cameron’s remarks, which echo those of supporters of Tony Blair: his backers believe that his elder brother is being supported by what they describe as the “Blair machinery”.
Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
Tory high command believes David Miliband is flawed and lacks the easy manner of Tony Blair, who was regarded by Cameron and George Osborne as unbeatable. But Downing Street believes that the senior Miliband, who this week told the Labour party to abandon its “comfort zone”, stands the best chance of reaching the sort of voters wooed by Blair.
Tories believe that Ed Miliband is an intellectual heavyweight, but showed the influence of his mentor, Gordon Brown, this week when he in effect attacked his brother with a warning about remaining in the “New Labour comfort zone”.
One senior Tory said: “Labour needs to rebuild the coalition that gave Tony Blair three successive election victories. David Miliband appears best placed to do that. He at least gives the impression of being able to lead.”
One minister said: “On the whole we would prefer if Ed Miliband won. His analysis that Labour has to go for a traditional Labour vote, rather than the middle classes, is absolutely wrong. The Ed Miliband analysis will lead them into big trouble.”
The Tories are cautioning that they would not regard a victory by David Miliband in the way they were terrified by Blair’s win in 1994. John Maples, a senior Tory, wrote an internal memo saying that Blair posed a grave threat to the Tories.
Senior Tories have also expressed satisfaction that the Labour leadership contest appears not to have enthused the public. “It really does remind us of the Conservative party in the late 1990s,” one senior figure said. “The contest has not energised anyone outside the party and is seen as a bit of a joke.”
The remarks by the Tories show that while the party does not believe Labour presents an immediate threat, they will need to assess a David Miliband victory with care.
Cameron was overheard making his remarks about the Miliband brothers at Rupert Murdoch’s summer party in June.
The prime minister often talks in private about the Labour leadership contest. One of his familiar jokes is to say that he is praying that Ed Balls will win, on the grounds that he would love to face the political successor of Brown across the despatch box every week.
The views of the Tory party came as tensions between the Miliband brothers deepened today when Ed Miliband warned that supporters of New Labour were “out of touch” with voters.
In a speech in London, the shadow climate change secretary said: “Traditional New Labour solutions won’t work, and that is why I am the modernising candidate in this election. New Labour fell into the same trap as old Labour, clinging to old truths that had served their time. We got stuck with old certainties, bad policies and became out of touch. The New Labour modernisers became the New Labour traditionalists – and that’s why we need to modernise again.”
The Miliband brothers have traded blows, though not by name, over where to position the party. David Miliband said that Labour needs to reach out to mainstream voters and abandon its “comfort zone”. Ed Miliband threw this language back at his older brother by saying the party needs to steer clear of the “New Labour comfort zone”.