Ed Miliband returns as Labour leader – for a night


Ed Miliband, standing in for Keir Starmer, deftly defenestrated Boris Johnson’s cavalier approach to law, order, and the EU.

More than five years after he was outmaneuvered by David Cameron in his final outing at PMQs, Ed Miliband returned to the despatch box tonight in the guise of an opposition leader, if only for an evening. 

Standing in for Keir Starmer and responding to Boris Johnson’s opening statement on the Internal Markets Bill, Miliband was lit by indignation as he methodically outlined the government’s oscillations and inconsistencies over the Withdrawal Agreement – the Brexit departure deal that Johnson is now threatening to circumvent.

When he is not speaking, Miliband still too often sits on the opposition bench looking either perplexed or lost in faraway thought. He has never learnt the imperturbable pose of the most effective parliamentarians – Disraeli was said to wear a constant half-smile during debate. Starmer wears more of a half-scowl, but sits calmly; Sunak also knows to sit still.

And Miliband, when he does speak, too often talks too fast or with unwarranted emphasis. But so does Johnson, and, unlike the prime minister, Miliband came to the chamber tonight with something urgent to say. In contrast Johnson’s speech, as so regularly with him, felt perfunctory. “A year ago,” he warned the House, “this parliament was deadlocked”. That House had had the temerity, Johnson argued, to challenge the last government’s negotiators, regularly weakening their hand (Johnson was, of course, one of the era’s regular rebels).

This House, Johnson averred, should never make that mistake again. His government needed latitude to act – and besides, the bill before the House only gave his government the authority to break the law. That authority that would have to be exercised in a second, later vote, he assured Sir Bob Neill, one of the Tory rebels. Backing the bill tonight would not break the law in a “specific and limited way”, as the minister for Northern Ireland stated last week.

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Miliband accepted none of Johnson’s calm. He started hurriedly, launching into the two questions posed by Johnson’s bill. The questions soon fell by the wayside, to be replaced by the three reasons Labour opposed the bill (it wasn’t right, necessary or beneficial). Neither list gripped the House. Nor particularly did Miliband’s crediting of Cameron – a man he thought very little of during their years opposite one another – as a way of discrediting Johnson. 

But as his speech rumbled on Miliband began to slow down; giving space to a series of sharp, well-briefed attacks. Johnson, he said, having promised to unite the nation, had only succeeded in uniting his five predecessors as prime minister (all of whom have spoken out against the bill). The UK, continued Miliband, rightly condemns China for skirting the international rules-based order, but how, he asked – picking up on an issue dear to many conservatives, including Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, who was in the chamber – will the UK lecture China or anyone else in future? …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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