Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Is Alan Milburn Thinking the Unthinkable?

When Mike Smithson posts a political rumour, I sit up and take notice. This may sound odd, but Mike is not a man to take a punt without having reason to believe a rumour has some truth in it. This morning he has written THIS piece suggesting that Alan Milburn will mount a leadership challenge to Gordn Brown in the aftermath of the Crewe & Nantwich by-election.

Would he be credible? To those of us outside the Parliamentary Labour Party, perhaps not, but there are many many Labour MPs who face losing their seats and may just be tempted to think the unthinkable if the Crewe result is as bad as the latest poll suggests (a 13 point Tory lead).

Milburn's detractors will point to the fact that he resigned from the Cabinet once, at least in part because he couldn't hack the pressure. He has been out of the frontline for so long that he might also be considered to be a little out of touch.

The other thing Labour MPs will be thinking about is this: Will the British public stomach two successive Prime Ministers who have taken office without the inconvenience of an election?


Anonymous said...

I think the public are open to suggestion when it comes to who leads this country.

The notion that voters are willing to put up with Gordon Brown for two more years is looking very ropey.

Anonymous said...

Any chance Milburn is acting as a stalking horse for another, more heavyweight, candidate? Straw or Milliband, maybe?

Anonymous said...

Think the unthinkable?

You are probably too close to Westminster then. Out in the real world people want Gordon and his Government gone, that is what they are thinking.

The only hope for Labour to win the next general election is to dump Gordon, put in someone fresh at the top and start again.

They have to do it now though, when Gordon is at his weakest and there is still time to turn things around before the General election.

Anonymous said...

Any sign of Milburn getting support from the likes of James Purnell et al?

Anonymous said...

How Brown must rue not going to the country last year! With zero credibility and no mandate, he is prone to such challenges. But the idea that an unelected Milliband or Straw would revive Labour fortunes in the long-term is laughable. Changing the salesman will not affect the product, which is way past its sell-by date.

Anonymous said...

"He who wields the dagger can never wear the crown." But Milburn knows this well enough - he would be happy with getting Brown out, so that he could be a front-bencher again.

Some speculate that Charles Clarke could be the 'stalking horse', but I see him more as a 'backroom boy' for the moment - he doesn't want to spoil his reputation, and I'm sure he would like to get a more senior job than he has now.

When you look at the PM succession betting there don't seem to be any real heavyweight candidates there - can anyone seriously envisage James 'photoshop' Purnell being an 'under the bus' candidate to replace GB?

And he is second favourite with Alan 'postie' Johnson, for heaven's sake ! The problem with the TB/GB axis is that a whole raft of Blair supporters have been sent out into the political wilderness, and you cannot have that in a party without excluding some of your best talent.

You couldn't now have a Premiership football team if you excluded all the foreign players - and Labour are waking up to the fact that they need Steven Byers, Milburn and the Heffalump far more than they do Andy 'Bonkers' Burnham, Harperson and Ed Balls.

My view on the topic is that David Miliband might be the 'favourite' at the bookies, but Labour should be taking a VERY close look at Ed Miliband as a potentially credible leadership candidate - he'd skip a generation far more effectively than some of the other lightweights

Patrick said...

This may be a clever thing to do.

If Brown blunders on like a bull in a china shop for two more years the electoral reckoning will put Labour out of power for a generation.

For the Labour party as a whole the best thing would be to go down now - but then remain a credible alternative in 4 or 5 years time under Milliband / Purnell / Denham / etc.

I suspect that the ulterior motive here is to try to force an early general election which, perversely, is now in Labour's wider interest.

The younger more capable ministers will be looking at their careers and realising that Brown must exit soon.

Matthew Paaris will be proved right that Brown can't last until 2010.

BrianSJ said...

David at 11:09 is on the nose about sell-by date.
The Greens have done their job; other parties are now aware of environmental issues. Unless they become green=red (as in Germany) they will stay fringe (the Milliband use of green=red was very interesting). Essentially job done.
Old Labour has lost relevance along with old-style unions and labour relations (thankfully) - now the specialist province of Tommy Sheridan and the like. New Labour was a marketing creation with soundbites and no roots. It has run its course. A return to Tory/Liberal (LD) debate is entirely feasible. The only downside is it will prove David Owen right (again).

Alex said...

If Milburn was elected, the pressure for a General Election would be immense, but some may figure that is Labour's best (only?) chance.

My guess is that a Lib/Lab coalition is more likely. Unpalatable to many, but the only way the Conservatives could be stopped. Won't happen though.

Greater Manchester Fabians said...

If it was a straight fight between Milburn and Brown, Brown would win. Milburn is unpopular amongst Labour members and lacks a power base.

Me vs Maradona vs Elvis said...

I would have agreed that Mike's judgement was sound a few months ago, but since then we've had a number of episodes that make me question if he's still got it. The article about Tessa Jowell as a potential leader and the bizarre attacks on the Tories - calling them 'pathetic' simply for drawing attention to Labour's class war tactics in Crewe - make me wonder if his stories are quite as valuable as they used to be.

Anonymous said...

Patrick 11.13 a.m.

Spot on the money. An election in the autumn?

Old BE said...

Why do you think that Byers and Milburn allowed themselves to be shown walking down the street in Crewe together?

Anonymous said...

In many ways, a wounded Gordon does the Conservative party more good. He and his party will only get weaker and weaker.

Milburn does not have any real appeal to the electorate - part of the North East hierarchy long detached from front line politics. Straw is too damaged by Iraq and his failures at Justice. Milliband has no gravitas or experience.

Succssion planning is vital to success in business. It is something that Labour (and almost all other political parties) should work on.

AnyoneButBrown said...

I still place great stall by Mike Smithsons posts.
Maybe I will revise my view that forcing Brown out was impossible. Perhaps the atmosphere is so febrile that a challenge is possible.
If Labour get hammered in C&N which looks a serious possibility then this will be Browns weakest moment before May 2010 discounting the local elections in June 2009 (too close to the 2010 election for a challenge) or some scandal emerging (e.g. linking Brown to dodgy party funding).
Personally I find it unlikely that Brown will quit under internal attack from ex-Blairites but perhaps Milburn et al hope that he sees sense and the utter disaster he is leading Labour to (imagine Brown v.s. Cameron in a general election campaign.....)

Paul Linford said...

Milburn would be a very serious candidate IMHO, not a stalking horse. He is far more well-qualified to be Prime Minister than Purnell, Burnham, Balls or either Miliband, and having been out of Cabinet since 2005 has far less baggage than the likes of Straw, Johnson et al. It is true that he lacks a power base in the party, but he's the right age, has the right blend of experience and charisma, and alone among Labour's big beasts has demonstrated an ability to think outside the box about the party's future. In my view, this could be his time.

Newmania said...

Hmmm if I was New Labour plotter I might be thinking of the Scottish play
""If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly." ...

I can believe this I really can. Its the smart move

Newmania said...

Hmmm if I was New Labour plotter I might be thinking of the Scottish play
""If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly." ...

I can believe this I really can. Its the smart move

Anonymous said...

What really annoys me in all this talk about replacing McBean is that we've had one Labour Prime minister replaced already without any say from the people of England (McBean was elected in Scotland) and now there is talk of a second change of leader.

If McLiebour want to replace their leader then fine. Do it and then call a General Election.

This government is a full of washed up losers.

Hey! Perhaps Harriet Harpie might stand as leader! After all she could campaign on.. er... er.. I know "Vote for me coz I is a woman"

Well that's original Harriet, although looking at you, I'd ask for a sex text first.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I loathe the posturing Milburn, who certainly in his own mind thinks he's the most able man on the planet, and to misquote Matthew Parris, combines the charm and menace of a Newcastle nightclub bouncer. I certainly did notice his circling presence at Crewe, like a leafleting vulture, with Byers yesterday.

He is however someone who has a brain and who has done a bit of thinking on how to progress the Blairite 'revolution' (sic) and appears to have the odd idea about what to do (cf G. Brown), - which is an argument for having in the Cabinet though not as a leader. Though his Blairism has, to me, seemed to stretch even to the point where, in interviews, at the despatch box etc, he consciously or subconsciously mimicked his old master's mannerisms, phraseology etc. Bit Creepy.

Like others, not sure he has the constituency in the Labour party to get that far, nor whether the public would want to vote for him if he got there.

North Norfolk Blogger said...

Interesting point that you bring up, about whether people would put up with a second change of leader. I wrote this a few days ago, it reflects the thoughts of almost everyone I know


Anonymous said...

I was told many years ago from a normally extremely reliable source that Milburn resigned not because of the pressures of the job but from the pressures of the media. I understood that a newspaper informed him they were about to print a story about his private life and therefore he resigned.

Interesting rumour though. A perfect nightwatchman for the upcoming election defeat. Why would anyone with ambition want the job now.

Anonymous said...

Alan Milburn resigned just before the invasion of Iraq. Luck or good timing?

Also, he isnt big enough to be a Newcastle night club bouncer.

strapworld said...


Please check and you will discover that I have said this many times over the past couple of months.

Milburn is very articultae. He sounds like Blair, is as smooth as Blair. He could promise a referendum on the EU (even though he is for the EU) He could completely turn around the Brown Boat and also the fortunes of the Labour Party.

He was a very effective Sec of State for Health. A polished media performer. Good Sense of Humour and a real threat to Cameron.

It will happen.

Stephen Byers/Charles Clarke/Blunkett/ et al will all be back giving their front bench a look of gravitas compared with the childlike appearance it has now.

Politics has suddenly got very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Iain, your last point is crucial to the debate; this is about how we can have an un-elected Prime Minister at all.

Alex says,
"If Milburn was elected, the pressure for a General Election would be immense". Yes it would. He would be morally obliged to seek a mandate, no question of it. Unfortunately he too might want a bit of time to outline his "vision" and so the whole march towards this police state would move inexorably on and more public money would be spent on Blears, Prawnarolo and Harperson's mad politically correct schemes.

I doubt many Tories would argue that Brown is their best man for the general election. He is a dead man walking already, nevermind Crewe.

If Brown had a shred of integrity he would go to the country.

Anonymous said...

Iain - I don't think it's a matter of whether Clarke or Milburn are the right choice or credible - it's personal. They both despise Brown to the core of their being. A leadership contest now would be the last throw of the dice for either of them - what have they got to lose?

Labour MPs are now struggling to imagine a worse situation than the one they are already in, with Brown now attracting such ridicule it will be hard to recover. Many now believe that more humility and better leadership in the run-in to a few years in opposition would limit the damage in 2010.

Paul Linford said...

ferretskink 12.31

The flaw in this theory of course is that no such story ever appeared. No newspaper would be deterred from running such a story in these circumstances by the fact that the minister concerned had already resigned.

I genuinely think that Milburn made a long-range calculation about his chances of succeeding Blair, correctly realised that Brown had it in the bag, and resigned to spend more time with his young sons at what was a critical age for them (they are older now.) I always believed he would return to frontline politics at some stage however.

Unknown said...

Any chance Milburn is acting as a stalking horse for another, more heavyweight, candidate? Straw or Milliband, maybe?

I love the idea of Straw or MIlburn as heavyweights. That really is clutching at Straws.

Brown does not look very well though. An enlarged prostate may be keeping him up through the night. I think Labour might learn from the Tories and bring in the Doctors.

Anonymous said...

Milburn was at the root of and tainted by too many scandals and allegations of corruption and incompetence to become party leader.

Alliance Medical Ltd, the company he worked as a consultant for sold £95 million of MRI scanners/services to Milburn's former department many of which sat idle because the NHS Could not afford to use them.

The privatisation of services involved was in breech of government undertakings too.

Then there was body storage scandal when there was no mortuary space for corpses, the theft of
childrens' body parts scandal
and the cash for beds scandal, when Milburn had the NHS paying to send Brits overseas for treatment the NHS couldn't cope with because wealthy and not so wealthy overseas citizenswere flooding the NHS with treatment demands.
Privatisation scandal

So he could surely never be more than a stalking horse as Wallenstein says.


There are some uncanny parallels between Britain and NZ.
Liarbour has been in power for 9 years here, almost at the end of a third term.
But Liarbour NZ, under Dear Leader Helen Clark, is 26 points behind in the polls.
The National (Conservative) opposition has a fresh young leader John Key is is much like Cameron.
New Zealand groans under heavy taxation and Dear Leader presses ahead with some environmentalist tax increases while abadonning others.
And now senior Liarbour figures are plotting against Dear Leader.
Yet our election is but months away.


Anonymous said...

Labour could do worse than put Milburn up there. The way it is now anyone is better than Brown. Also, as regards England, Alan Milburn is English and doesn't speak with a Scots accent. This is not being divisive . It is now simply become fact that the English are heartily cheesed with that accent(in politicians)

He wouldn't win though.

Now if they were to put Frank Field up, they would be in with a chance!

Anonymous said...

Even as a Conservative supporter, I have always thought that Milburn is an appealing politician in a similar vein to Blair. Actually I used to wonder if he was deliberately apeing Blair's mannerisms. I think he would be a far stronger leader than Brown in terms of public appeal and a more potent opponent for the Tories.

To those that mention stalking horses, don't forget you need 70-odd MPs to be a challenger which effectively rules out "stalking horses". Anyone that can get that support is inherently a serious challenger.

It might be true to say that Milburn doesn't have a powerbase, but did Cameron? He made a good speech at conference, got the media on side and the Big Mo carried him along. Put Milburn alongside the Dour One in a few debates, have a few polls showing the public prefer him and I think it's quite feasible that Labour MPs would conclude he has a better chance of keeping them in employment than Brown.

Anonymous said...

I find Straw decidedly creepy. I'm sure he believes he's God's gift to women, yet he isn't even an interesting nerd. Johnson's a joke. And Miliband will never recover from the effects of that video of his arrogance when he was pressed about the Lisbon Constitution. Harman has tainted herself over her expenses scandal and too many lies and too much spin.

So who exactly do nulab have to put up as a candidate for PM now? No one.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought, if Alan Milburn became PM.....could that be an opening for Blair..to enter the Lords. Lord Blair of Knottyash, and for Blair to become Foreign Secretary!

Stranger things have happened!

Anonymous said...

Milburn may not be Scottish but he has the misfortune of being a walking reminder of the North East.

North East and Labour equals 1 think - Northern Rock

Blair may have been educated in Scotland and represented a North East constituency - but he did not adopt any particular accent (other than his attempts at Estuary English) - this gave him a broader base in terms of supportability.

I don't think Milburn would be an easy sell to the South East

Anonymous said...


Cameron may not have had a power base as such, be he did have one advantage; he was Michael Howard's much preferred choice. In fact, while a lot of people in the party are still convinced Howard's attempts to take leadership votes away from members were just part of a control-freakery, the explanation is much more subtle. He didn't want another IDS-type election, and was convinced that the membership would go for 'anyone but Cameron'. I don't think his attempt to block members voting was a wise or acceptable call, but I can sort of see why he wanted to do it.

Without the current Labour leader (obviously) not wanting to endorse a dark horse, I can't see one coming through.

Roger Thornhill said...

I have always thought that Milburn stood back in part due to sleaze rumours and also to keep his powder dry for a moment such as this. As others have said, he has little baggage of the fag-end of Blair and the disaster that was Brown.

Clarke to stalk, Milburn to follow through.

Ross said...

They should merge with the Lib Dems and make Vince Cable their leader.

Oh alright that is never going to happen but failing that Alan Milburn is their best bet of avoiding annihilation at the next General Election.

Anonymous said...

Milburn is an old CND hand. Was active in the NE trying to make it a 'nuclear free zone'in those cold war Ruskie neutron bomb days. He nicely hitched on to Blair New Labour band wagon for the road to power. As health secretary against his shadow Liam Fox sounded like an used car salesman. Liam Fox once in an exchange said somewhat like this: "when I was a junior doctor working 72 hours a week in a hospital ward, you were busy distributing CND pamphlets. I do not take pep talk from you". Milburn is a light weight, like Hodge and Benn junior a left-winger, invented himself as New Labour to join Blair. Bring him on!!

Chris Paul said...

Milburn himself would crash and burn. His chum Clarke has also been throwing his weight around and chuntering about take Brown down.

I agree with Graham our Fabian - Brown could see either of these two off and if that were the limit of the challenge he could well contest and win it.

But the youth might want to pile in now though as in many cases NL MPs are the most vulnerable. And Paul Linford has a point. Milburn is an opportunist and this could be his only chance.

But Brown vs Milburn full stop, Brown wins.

Whether Crewe is very good or very bad I'm not feeling a sense of a significant group of either ministers or back benchers giving up on Brown at this stage.

Conference 2008 is going to be very interesting.

Man in a Shed said...

The nightmare for Labour (yes it can get worse) is to have a leadership challenge that fails.

The Lib Dems can then look forward to being the main opposition after the next general election if that happens.

John Pickworth said...

Mmmm I'm not sure about this...

Firstly I do think Brown is done for and always was from the moment he failed to call a General Election. Blair promised a full term, fine, change your mind but you also lost the mandate to rule. Nothing less than a GE would have done and without one he's always going to be a lame duck.

I just can't see Brown wanting to go now though - no matter how much he's persuaded.

There's also no one powerful enough within that could force his hand, short of a unanimous Cabinet walk-out (won't happen).

The heavies outside; Milburn, Clarke and Straw? Nah, I just can't see them getting enough traction to make Brown jump (or give him a push).

Its not that Brown is too strong (far from it actually) but if he decides to dig in, the Labour Party is going to have to draw knives... and I just don't believe there are enough of them prepared to act in unison or have the stomach for a blood bath.

Oh and here's a thing... I'm sure Brown is smart enough to realise that he could greatly strengthen his position if he could gain a scalp or two; the question is, who's going to risk becoming his prey?

Beyond that, I still say Brown will never recover but will try to limp on at all costs. But I still believe he won't make it to the next GE, by that point the PLP will have discovered their stomachs for a revolution... it'll doubtlessly be messy.

Anonymous said...

Paul Linford,

Do you really think it's just Brown the electorate are sick of, or is it the Labour party in general?

Personally I think it's the latter and Brown merely provides cover for the rest of them.

If you look at recent polling in Scotland and Wales,traditional Labour strongholds, you see much the same effect as that observed in England.

Labour is finished for the forseable future regardless of who the leader is imho.

BrianSJ said...

Don't forget they are broke. If they are to survive financially, it will need to be someone who can bring money. Given that anyone who is sensible enough to have a few million isn't daft enough to give it to NuLiebour now with the level of scrutiny it will have, there is just the unions left. That means a return to old labour and becoming the third party.

Richard Nabavi said...

I'm still sceptical about this.

The problem for Labour MPs is that, if they push him out, they've no real idea who they'll get in his place. Unless the bulk of the MPs can somehow manage, in advance, to unite around one single candidate, which is all but impossible, there will have to be a genuine leadership contest. Who knows who would stand? If I remember correctly, the electoral college is one third Unions and one third Party Members, so they could end up choosing someone even less electable than Brown (I know, it sounds like an oxymoron...).

It would be a VERY high-risk strategy, made worse by the inevitable period of in-fighting and back-stabbing.

I might be wrong, and all bets are off if Brown himself throws in the towel. Somehow, I don't think he will. I'm not betting on it, though!

Anonymous said...

Unless Labour are too afraid to see the truth, Brown will destroy the party if he lasts for another two years and must (absolutely must) be replaced as soon as possible.

This, as Alex says, would force a general election.

That the Tories appear unready for this offers Labour their best hope of winning, or not losing too badly.

Personally I think the Tories would cream them now, but in 2010 they would be wiped out.

Adrian said...

Interestingly, according to Nick Wallis http://darlingtoncouncillor.blogspot.com/ AM has just relaunched his website. Nick also has a recent interview with AM on his blog: http://darlingtoncouncillor.blogspot.com/2008/03/exclusive-alan-milburn-interview.html

Anonymous said...

I bought a Saab off a very senior NHS official a few years ago. He happily told the intermediate ebay trader (who told me) the full story of why Milburn suddenly left office and legged it back to the NE.

It is what you'd think....and I can't imagine why it was never run in the papers, though a couple of female broadsheet columnists got pretty close to spilling the beans.

I think Milburn - if he does run - will do it knowing that he won't get the main prize, but that isn't the point. A leadership race could be a win-win...

1. Gordo could win and strengthen his position - now he has been voted for.
2. Gordo is tipped out and Labour gets a new start, which should reduce the size of their defeat at the next election.

Anonymous said...

Milburn was not a good SOS for Health.

If his medicine for the Labour party is as good as his prescription for the NHS then Labour will soon be even more poorly than it is already.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6.56 pm:

Iain (probably quite wisely) decided not to run my comment about Alan Milburn's sudden desire to spend more time with his family a few years ago.

You have managed to express your thoughts in a far more subtle way than I did and so got under the Dale lawsuit radar.

I guess that if you want the real stories, without fear of censorship, you have to go over to Guido's.

Now - let's see if you publish this, Iain...

Anonymous said...

Why did Milburn resign? I demand to know why. Now!
Someone said it is what you think. What was he caught having it off with farm yard animals while wearing a satanic head dress, and declaring he supported the UKIP. So what he can do what he wants in his private life.

Anonymous said...

If a politican had an affair I can eventually take that, and Milburn should be honest about it if it is worse than that people should know and tell him where to go.

Anonymous said...

Milburn should admitt if the more serious rumours are true or fake. I would not vote if the more serious rumours were true. I hpe they are lies.

Anonymous said...

and if Milburn decides to answer the West Lothian Question and hoist England's flag aloft, New Labour would win an election.
Cameron does not like us sour little Englanders any way.

Tapestry said...

Milburn is too associated with New Labour and Blair. Labour needs a fresh face and a new approach if it is to stand a chance of escaping oblivion. Step forward, Kate Hoey.

neil craig said...

He would be a fool to sek Labour leadership in curent circumstances. It would be the first instance of people fighting to drink from a poisoned chalice. Much better to aim to be PM in 7 years.