I’m sure Tristram Hunt knows his Civil War history – he ought to, since he wrote a book on it. So when he attacks Ed Miliband’s advisers “who have served him badly”, he is presumably aware that this was the very tactic used by the parliamentarians to indirectly criticise Charles I. Expressing concerns about poor counsel allowed rebels against the King to level criticism but still claim to be loyal to the Crown.
In fact, there is another parallel between Labour’s internal strife and the rebellion against, and eventual execution of, Charles (aside from the fact that in both tales the whole thing began because of a leader’s political incompetence). Each is a gradual, cumulative process, not a sudden moment – and both rely on gathering a complex combination of variously powerful figures to succeed. No one person alone can bring about Miliband’s demise.
I wrote the other day about the way the Labour system makes it difficult to defenestrate even a disastrous leader. What political combinations would be required?
Backbenchers and grassroots: For the Labour foot-soldiers to unseat their leader is almost impossible – it would need near unanimous rebellion, all at once. It would be the equivalent of the 17th century London mob bringing down Charles without leadership or military support.
Shadow ministers: We heard over the weekend that 20 shadow ministers were considering going public with their concerns. That would be notable, but it would be unlikely to be fatal on its own – there are scores of shadows, and they lack the political clout to do the deed without help. The minor gentry and east country squires made up the backbone of the parliamentarian cause, but even they needed troops below and big beasts above to finish the job.
Shadow cabinet: Now we start to get into the power league – the equivalent of the Dukes and prominent revolutionaries who not only funded but also rallied the war against the King. No single shadow cabinet member has the power or following to push Ed to the chopping block, as we saw with reports that Burnham and Cooper are conspiring to do it. Even those two together evidently aren’t sufficient. It seems it would take either an outright majority or a unified move on the part of the major players – Burnham, Cooper, Balls, Umunna, Hunt, Khan and perhaps more.
Alan Johnson: The Cromwell in this particular analogy, currently this is a revolution lacks the backing of the commonly agreed alternative. Time and again there are calls for the former Shadow Chancellor to step forward and agree that he would wear the crown if it were plucked from a wicker basket, yet he has refused to do so. Without him as a Lord Protector, it’s hard to see the rebels getting much more traction than they already have.
At the top of this post is the Death Warrant of King Charles I. Getting to the point of putting him on trial took money, blood and leadership. Finally doing the deed took the signatures and seals of a variety of people – all had to dip their hands, metaphorically, in the gore.
While the Labour malcontents are certainly numerous enough and sufficiently spread throughout the party to cause damaging headlines, I’m not convinced they are yet a sufficiently powerful alliance to actually finish the job. That could see the whole thing fizzle out, or – more likely, given the chances of Miliband messing up again in the next few months – it will sputter on and flare up throughout the General Election campaign, a distraction and disruption for the Leader of the Opposition but not quite his cause of death.