By Peter Hoskin
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There is, as Harriet Baldwin suggests, an air of humour about Michael Gove’s article for the Telegraph this morning. Its headline, after all, reads “Ed Miliband is a blancmange in a hurricane”.
But don’t miss the core of gelignite behind all the windswept gelatine: Mr Gove is launching a serious and considered attack on the Labour leader. In fact, it satisfies three of the weightier prescriptions in Andy Coulson’s GQ article from yesterday:
Expose Ed Miliband’s weaknesses. Is the Tory leadership going personal on Ed Miliband? To some extent, yes: this article exists to give him a shoeing. But the personal stuff is leavened in two ways. First, by Mr Gove’s sprightly prose, which creates a sense of mischief more than malice. And then by the fact that the personal attacks have a political basis. Mr Miliband is a “blancmange in a hurricane” because he is not “clearly defined”, which is in turn because he lacks “a programme of concrete policies”. The thing about this attack, however many times we’ve heard it before, is that some Labour MPs may agree with it. Coupled with Mr Miliband’s poll ratings, there are some who will think their leader is a drag on their party’s chances, not a boon for them.
Sell the Coalition’s good work. Labour’s lack of concrete policies is here set of against the Coalition’s own, rather rich, record. As Mr Gove himself puts it:
“Contrast this with a Government – and PM – that has reduced the deficit, made the tax system more competitive, reformed the welfare state, cut net migration, reduced crime, made the NHS more efficient and compassionate, secured progress on the EU budget, repatriated European powers, freed millions from dictatorship, created a million new private sector jobs, presided over the largest number of business start-ups in a 12-month period in recorded history, restored rigour to GCSEs and A-levels, created 2,000 academy schools and ensured that no one on benefits earns more than the average wage.”
We are now, as I’ve said before, in the phase of Government when the incumbents cannot just blame the last lot, but must also point to achievements that have already been made, and those that are yet to come.
Sow division where you can. In GQ, Mr Coulson advised the Tory leadership to aggravate any tension between Eds Miliband and Balls. There’s a touch of that in Mr Gove’s article – he talks of “Miliband’s passivity in the face of his shadow chancellor’s operating style” – but he goes further in pointing out wider divisions in the Labour Party. Halfway through the article, he writes “there are substantial figures in Labour’s ranks who are capable of fleshing out worthwhile alternative courses,” before adding, “But, at the moment, they are on the margins.” And, at its end, he names names: “Jon Cruddas and Maurice Glasman are gifted, fascinating thinkers, but are held in scorn by Balls and the Brownite restorationists.”