Here come the Milibandits

FIRST we had had the Blairites. Then New Labour gave us the Brownites. Now a new marching band is busy preparing to burst onto the stage - let's hear it for The Milibandits.

Graham Dines

FIRST we had had the Blairites. Then New Labour gave us the Brownites. Now a new marching band is busy preparing to burst onto the stage - let's hear it for The Milibandits.

Supporters of Foreign Secretary David Miliband are making vulpine howls from deep in the woods about the alleged insufficiencies of Gordon Brown.

I'm not sure whether Tony Blair is lead trumpeter of the group, but there is a determined mood in certain quarters which augers ill for the Prime Minister.


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Miliband - who says he has no regrets over a newspaper column he wrote on Labour's future which has been interpreted as the opening shots of a `dump Brown' campaign - has spent his summer break in Menorca with the family, although he did break off to make an appearance in Brussels for an EU meeting on the deepening crisis in the Caucuses.

Heading home for Scotland at the end of his own two weeks' family holiday near Southwold, Brown was greeted by the worst possible news. John MacDougall, the MP for Glenrothes - the constituency which abuts the PM's Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath seat in Fife - had finally succumbed to his long fight against cancer.

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That means another awkward by-election, and it will take a swing far less than that which occurred last month in Glasgow East for the Scottish National Party to snatch victory.

If Labour loses the by-election - expected in November - then the tenuous hold Brown has over the parliamentary Labour Party will almost certainly be severed.

Brown would be critically wounded. No matter how stunning a speech he gives to Labour's Manchester conference next month, the loss of Glenrothes in the autumn would encourage the Milibandits to force a leadership contest.

Like the putsch which saw the end of Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith in 2003, the moves against Brown will not come from the grass roots.

Duncan Smith was doomed when Tory MPs collectively decided the party could not survive under his leadership. The groundswell for change surfaced at the Tory conference in Blackpool. It baffled and angered the activists, the rank-and-file party members who had given Duncan Smith a decisive mandate two years' previously.

Tory members were then further annoyed when denied a leadership vote as MPs coalesced behind Michael Howard, who was elected unopposed.

Last year, Labour rallied behind Brown as Blair's successor. The cry went up that Gordon deserved his chance at the top. Constituency parties queued up to nominate him - and one of the first to give him its unqualified backing was Ipswich.

Suffolk's county town is typical Labour territory. More often than not, it sends a Labour MP to Westminster. Yet if the national opinion polls are to be believed, Ipswich will fall to Tory candidate Ben Gummer.

Certainly if David Cameron is to become Prime Minister, the Conservatives will have to win Ipswich and other marginals in the East of England such as Harlow, both seats in Thurrock, Stevenage, Watford, and Bedford.

But talking to senior Labour figures in Ipswich, I can't detect any support to ditch Brown. If a coup is staged, it won't come from the constituencies - the Milibandits will have to stand up in Westminster and be counted.

But those batting for Brown have come up with a ploy which could knock the wind out of Miliband's sails.

It's said that Brown is planning a cunning Cabinet reshuffle, taking the opportunity to remove the ineffective and colourless Alastair Darling from the Treasury and replacing him with Miliband.

As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Miliband would not be able to distance himself from the quagmire in which Brown now finds himself and would find it difficult to force a leadership challenge.

The voters of Glenrothes will have much to ponder when they go to the polls. In particular, do they really want to destroy Brown, who was born and raised in Fife and who has been one of the kingdom's MPs since 1983?

If they did elect a nationalist MP, it would set in motion a leadership nightmare for Labour, almost certainly lead to David Cameron entering Downing Street, throw Scotland's relations with the rest of the UK into turmoil, and - if independence for Scotland does follow - throw thousands of Glenrothes constituents on to the scrap heap when the Royal Navy retreats from the Rosyth repair yards to its bases in southern England and the RAF abandons its Leuchars base in the county for the safe havens of East Anglia.

NEWSPAPER `IGNORING' CLAIMS MP

WHEN MPs, assorted journeymen politicians, and political nonentities complain about newspaper coverage and alleged lack of balance and impartiality, then journalists know they are doing a good job.

Having upset a fair number of politicos over the year, I'll take no lectures from anyone on the difference between impartial reporting, comment and analysis

But any angst poured over my head from time to time is but nothing compared to what the Willesden & Brent Times - also published by Archant - and its editor Tim Cole, have had to put up with by from Labour MP Dawn Butler.

She has written to the Press Council to highlight “the disproportionate reporting and bias” of the paper's reports. “The ignoring and lack of reporting by the W&B Times on events and stories that I as the local MP for Brent South have undertaken on behalf of my constituents in Brent can no longer be passed as circumstantial coincidences but only as a bias against me.

“Your readers deserve to know that I send your paper on average two to three press releases a week, and moreover attend several community events throughout the week where a member of your staff or a photographer for your paper is usually present, yet despite this, I hardly have a mentioning at all.

“I find it very insulting to be continually omitted from your paper and consider it rather unjust to the community to be completely ignored in articles of events where I was present.”

Ms Butler continues: “On July 21 I held a gun and knife conference in the Houses of Parliament. Not only was this conference on a topic of great interest and importance to the people of Brent, but it was also attended by numerous organisations and individuals from Brent, such as Not Another Drop-the local government's anti-gun, gang and knife crime organisation . It also received messages of support from the Prime Minister and was attended by a high-level panel, including Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor of London with responsibility for policing and was covered in several nationwide newspapers.

“When I forwarded the story to the paper on the Tuesday evening, it was not included in that week's edition. However, I was stunned to see in the next edition (July 31) a story on page 5 titled 'MP puts gun/knife crime in the spotlight'. This reported that the Liberal Democrat MP for Brent East, had `used the final debate before summer recess to raise the area's [Brent's] critical problem of gun and knife crime.'”

Willesden and Brent Times editor Tim Cole commented: “We will continue to be as critical of politicians as we can be and no doubt continue to offend them in the coming months and years.”

Well said, Tim.

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