Labour leader Ed Miliband going to a lunch full of political journalists in January would have been like chucking a rump steak into a gaggle of vultures. But the mood of politics has changed.

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The Ed Miliband that arrived at a Press Gallery lunch on Thursday was different to the one seen back then. He was natural, confident and not scared to put it about.

“I asked somebody recently what I should expect from the Press Gallery lunch and they said to me it’s the White House Correspondents’ Dinner for ugly people,” he quipped opening his speech.

Parliament’s journalists laughed. They even laughed when he said he did not mind if News International wanted him to lose the next election. After all, he wanted them to go to jail.

For a politician to say that to reporters whose colleagues were at that moment being questioned at a central London police station was bold.

Previously he had claimed the ‘era of Blair and Brown’ was over, but on the day of the lunch he appeared in the papers with Tony Blair, having offered the Labour heavyweight his first job in UK politics since leaving Number 10.

Then he said this about his meeting with former political prisoner and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi: “It was me and Aung San Suu Kyi in a room together. Years under a brutal dictatorship, oppressed day and night, and then she said to me ‘that’s enough about your time with Gordon’.”

The rest of his talk was about how the country was crying out for a hopeful ideology at a time when Britain’s institutions were failing – the next big story, he said, would be the failure of pension providers and the suffering of people ripped off by unexpected charges on their schemes.

It used to be David Cameron who foresaw the next big scandal. Not long ago he suggested it would be about lobbyists’ influence over political parties. He was right, though unfortunately the party implicated was his own in the so called ‘cash for access’ affair.

However, the point is that this was a boisterous Ed Miliband making a tentative move to position himself in the political centre ground; and in politics there is really only room for one party in the middle.

If the Labour leader sees a space there, it is because he thinks it is being vacated by the government; and he is not the only one.

The prime minister’s troubles, both practical and ideological, were very publicly highlighted by the furore over Lords reform this week.

Practically speaking, Mr Cameron is looking ever more like a man who cannot control his party and as a result, cannot pass legislation. In pushing Lords reform, a key Liberal Democrat policy, the coalition had planned to pass a “programme motion”.

This would have limited the amount of time debate lasted before a final vote took place. Without it, deliberations would be open-ended allowing opponents to talk until time allowed to pass the legislation ran out.

But such was opposition to the programme motion from his own MPs that Mr Cameron feared he would lose a vote on it and so he withdrew it. When it came to a vote to actually progress the legislation, Tory whips figured not so many of their own MPs would dare rebel. They were wrong.

Excluding ministers, only 80 Tories voted for Lords reform, whereas 91 opposed it. The vote was only won because it had the backing of Labour MPs.

One Tory backbencher told me this week that as the party went to vote the atmosphere was “electric”; with rebels and whips both haranguing Conservatives to the last second to vote their way.

Mr Cameron was so furious at the way some of his own MPs stood against him that he was seen giving one rebel ring-leader a public dressing down; that is the chief whip’s job, something below the prime minister.

But while legislative paralysis is dangerously close for Mr Cameron, the problem is underpinned by a deeper ideological issue. A large section of his party has had enough of coalition.

At the heart of that section is the Conservative right wing, but it is by no means limited to it. Meanwhile the right-wingers driving the rebellion are prepared to go to great lengths.

A Labour shadow minister told me this week that he was approached by two renowned Tory rebel MPs, Peter Bone and Douglas Carswell, and offered help on how to pen a parliamentary motion to cause most trouble for Mr Cameron.

“They want out of the coalition. They want an election and if they lose then opposition is better than government with us,” a senior Lib Dem told me yesterday.

“But they are making the mistake Tony Benn made in the 80s. They think that by going further to their side of the political spectrum they will win public support; most people in Britain are moderate.”

In order to keep the coalition together, something Mr Cameron’s political future depends on, the prime minister must prevent his moderate MPs from joining right-wingers who oppose him, but he must also follow the Lib Dem agenda that is pushing them away.

In the middle of that conundrum Mr Cameron’s caring conservatism is yet to show it has the structural integrity to resist the pressure. For him the recess cannot come soon enough.

In an attempt to show it is on top of the growth agenda the government will announce infrastructure investment on Monday, but it will be at the party conference later this year that the prime minister will get the chance to face down rebels.

Meanwhile the conference season will also be a test for Ed Miliband. This is probably the highest point of his leadership, but while his talk of ideology might be high-minded, it hangs like a veil over the empty space where Labour policy should be.

For him the summer recess offers a chance to work out how much to say about his policy plans; then we will see if his new found boisterousness has any bite.

12 comments

  • today the mail carried the headline the uk to lose its AAA rating and osborne to be replaced by hague. If the uk doesnt balance the books soon the IMF will come in and do it for us and we will not like that

    Report this comment

    milecross

    Sunday, July 15, 2012

  • Nice to see Ed has now got his own privately educated dripping wealthy posh boy in the guise of one Tony Blair as an adviser. I think Ed has lost it big time. What on earth was he doing taking on Blair as an adviser. Miliband was never wanted by Labour MPs and there are still a large number of Blairites in the Labour party who would do anything to get rid of him. Once the media has got rid of their ire out of their system over the Leveson Inquiry, all Miliband has to do is to make one slip and the media will descend on him like a pack of wolves. Enter stage right, one Tony Blair. A conservative in all but name, ready to take over the Labour party again.

    Report this comment

    BG

    Monday, July 16, 2012

  • george osborne needs to balance the books very quickly to sort out labours thirteen year nightmare . He doesnt realise how little time he has left to sort this mess out . Sort this mess out by spending only what you have got coming in or britain faces financial armagedon very soon

    Report this comment

    milecross

    Sunday, July 15, 2012

  • where is my comments from this morning?

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Sunday, July 15, 2012

  • Labour's Ed milliband must be loosing his senses , its obvious. How else can he invite back the person lied to Parliament over the 45 minute threat, approved of torture and intentionally thrown countries into perpetual deadly chaos.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Sunday, July 15, 2012

  • If there is one thing the current and any future prime minister should never do and that is to hold a Leveson style inquiry into the media. It`s been payback time by political hacks for months now and Miliband is reaping the reward. Rather ironic really as milecross has already pointed out. Miliband was a member of the last government and many of the problems it left are now causing David Cameron a great deal of trouble and perversely a rise in the polls for Miliband. Some of the reporting has been outrageous by editors and political pundits in favour of Labour. However we are in uncharted waters with a Coaltion government and no doubt DC and Cleggie will regroup and come back refreshed after the summer recess. Miliband on the other hand is starting to learn that there is no such thing as a free meal in life and as time marches on the unions will want more from him than just a speech at the Miners Gala. He hasn`t got one single policy which sets him apart from the other parties. The unions however will make sure he has plenty of theirs by the time of the next election.

    Report this comment

    BG

    Saturday, July 14, 2012

  • Ed "wallace" Milipede is an opportunistic hypocrit. He was party to the creation of the financial mess we're in , but wants to know when somebody else will rectify the situation. He doesn't offer any solutions but continually whines negatively at all efforts to clean up after him and his hopeless nuLabour cronies.

    Report this comment

    Tudor Bushe

    Monday, July 16, 2012

  • what did Ed Milliband sense when he welcomed war monger and liar to Parliament, Blair back? He has thrown Iraq into chaos and has left the Middle east in tatters, not to speak of the financial mistakes that happened under his reign. His clause 4 moment left the Labour party without principles, another party of big business and vested interest.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Monday, July 16, 2012

  • I am very pleased Ed took the time to speak to 100,000 people at The Big Meeting in Durham over the weekend and making such an inspirational speech in support of the working class and their representatives.As far as the Coalition government is concerned,if U-Turning was an Olympic sport,David Cameron and George Osborne would already be going for gold.In fact,this government has to be the most incompetent in living memory.Keep up the good work,Ed,and let's win the general election which,as the Coalition collapses daily,is now more likely to be in 2013.Bring it on.

    Report this comment

    Peter Watson

    Monday, July 16, 2012

  • why is it that comments reporting facts are censored or holed up time and time again. The EDP ought to wake up to the fact that its limping behind other public information channels, and that this might be the reason for their falling sales.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Sunday, July 15, 2012

  • yes the coalition have no idea how to sort this gigantic mess left by the last labour goverment . A goverment ed milliband was part of

    Report this comment

    milecross

    Saturday, July 14, 2012

  • He must also be sensing that Mr. Bliar is breathing down his neck because he feels that Ed is not as ruthless as his brother David, a pushover. The main parties have lost the people's trust, they have lied cheated and misappropriated, hence voters are not coming out and its about time that people take politics back to basics by electing independent candidates.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Saturday, July 14, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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