Paul Linford: You can get 33-1 on David Miliband being the next PM after Cameron

Paul Linford on the Labour leadership contest - and a possible route to power for the former MP for South Shields

Yui Mok/PA Wire David Miliband
David Miliband

For the time being, David Miliband remains officially the President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Rescue Committee, overseeing the agency’s relief and development operations in over 40 countries from its headquarters in New York.

But despite being on the other side of the Atlantic, nobody should be in any doubt that the former Foreign Secretary and South Shields MP is once again a major player in British Labour politics.

John Prescott this week urged him in his customary style to “shut up,” suggesting rather unkindly that the “Miliband era” is over – not that it ever really began.

But as the latest battle for Labour’s soul gets under way in earnest, it is clear Mr Miliband intends to play a leading role in the fight to return the party to the centrist position that brought three election victories under Tony Blair.

“It’s 50 years since Labour won a majority at a general election without Tony as leader. It’s important to have this in mind,” he said this week.

Actually that was slightly historically inaccurate. It is in fact 49 years since Harold Wilson won a majority of 97 in 1966.

But despite the remorseless logic of Mr Miliband’s argument, the idea of a return to New Labour is currently about as popular within the party as the proverbial lift passenger with bowel difficulties.

And for that, Mr Blair really has no-one to blame but himself.

Yes, he was the most electorally successful leader in Labour’s history, and yes, his government did good, social democratic things like introduce the minimum wage and increase spending on schools and hospitals.

But by taking Britain to war on a false prospectus in 2003, he ultimately toxified his own brand to the extent that both his successors have felt compelled to disown his legacy. The contradictory impulses that face Labour in the current party leadership election were best summed up by the writer Will Hutton in last weekend’s Observer.

“It is obvious that the Labour Party will only win again around a refashioned Blairism. But Blair is so discredited that his party threatens to disown any leadership candidate who says so,” he wrote.

The Blairites hoped their candidate in the contest would be the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, but he belatedly decided he didn’t want the media scrutiny that comes with the territory.

Instead it has fallen to the relatively callow shadow care minister Liz Kendall to be their standard-bearer.

In contrast to Mr Umunna, Ms Kendall is tough, feisty, and also has some very bright ideas on devolution, but as her leadership rival Yvette Cooper put it this week, she appears to have swallowed the Tory manifesto.

She has previously made it clear she has no problem with privatising the NHS, and this week she said she saw no problem with George Osborne’s ludicrous and economically illiterate plan to outlaw government borrowing.

The Blairites know they are unlikely to win the leadership election, although given the desire of many activists for a fresh start, Ms Kendall may well push Andy Burnham closer than many are expecting,

But they are already making contingency plans – namely with the proposal to subject the new leader to a confirmatory ballot or vote of confidence in three years’ time.

No less a figure than Mr Blair’s former spinmeister Alastair Campbell popped up this week to say he would “lead the charge” to get rid of an under-performing leader in the run-up to the next election.

This would, conveniently, create a vacancy into which, freed from the shackles of International Rescue, one D. Miliband could easily slip.

Mr Miliband has already announced plans to make a major speech in October, shortly after the special conference at which Labour’s new leader will be crowned. In it, I fully expect him to reveal his intention to seek a return to the House of Commons as soon as a suitable by-election vacancy occurs.

A quick browse of the Paddy Power website reveals you can get odds of 33-1 against David Miliband as the next British Prime Minister after David Cameron.

In the circumstances, these strike me as rather generous. If I were a betting man, I’d take them.

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