Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Strategy, friction and Ed Miliband

Christmas was clearly a helpful break for Ed Miliband. It was a useful break for his team to finally start getting their heads togeather and pull togeather a strategy. Since hiring Tom Baldwin and Bob Roberts there seems to be a new energy emerging from the Labour camp. Its still nascient at the moment but I'm increasingly convinced its there.

The media of course is his friend, they want an Opposition party because it makes a better story to have two sides. So much so that with Labour running silent the media has worked hard to create two sides within the coalition, with mixed results. Vince Cable's recent faux pas being the most successful.

The Miliband team seem to have realised something very important, namely that the coalition creates a new faultline in addition to the usual Government/Opposition division. Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are very different beasts and, as Tim Montgomerie points out, many in the Conservatives are uncomfortable with the increasingly cosy atmosphere between the two Party leaderships.

Clausewitz described this in terms of 'friction', the grinding togeather of two forces until one collapses. Miliband is actually lucky, he has the natural point of friction which is a perfectly natural part of the UK political system, but he also has the opportunity to turn both opponents against each other to his ultimate advantage. Like any good insurgent he can benefit as much from the discord of his enemies as his own tactical successes.

The Coalition also struggles to present a unified face, just as any coalition must. Unruly backbenchers are all to willing to give quotes to journalists which undermine the party leadership. Building an effective stance against Labour will be very difficult when it is so hard to keep all your ducks in a row back home.

Miliband and his team must recognise that if they have to wait 4 more years for an election it is unlikely their man will be the Party leader. I'm not saying that to be disparaging, for all his fault Ed Miliband is actually a decent politican in my estimation. I've seen him speak on a few occasions and he can be passionate, engaging and quite witty when in his comfort zone. However, the shelf life of Party leaders is not great, and I would imagine at some point in the next 4 years there would be a move against him, leading to his weakening if not his destruction.

However, if there is an election sooner, the Labour party would probably put away their hatchets and focus on actually winning, and a victory would put Ed Miliband beyond any reproach for a number of years.

The chessboard of politics is very different for the first time certainly in my lifetime, and Miliband has real opportunities to play the game differently. It would only take a few Lib Dems walking away from the table and the Government would collapse, thats simple maths, all political scheming aside. Vince Cable does have a nuclear option, although its not limited just to him.

It will be interesting to see if Miliband and his team can embrace this unusual insurgent mindset. They have to move fast, punch hard, and exploit the strategic weakness of their opponents. A wedge driven firmly between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats could so easily collapse the Government and usher in a new General Election.

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