It is just like the good old days. The days when there were votes in defence. The days when Labour’s muddled commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament was an easy vote-winner for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives – along with still vivid memories of the Winter of Discontent, the town hall loony left, trade union bully boys and shaky socialist plans for higher taxes and spending.
Neil Kinnock and Co tied themselves in knots back then. Kinnock told David Frost’s Sunday morning TV show that faced with a Soviet invasion, the Brits would take to the hills and wage guerrilla war against the Ruskies’ tanks. Then Shadow Foreign Secretary Denis Healey went even further down sell-out ally, choosing a trip to Moscow during the 1987 election campaign to opine that the Kremlin was praying for a Labour election victory.
Perhaps that’s what Defence Secretary Michael Fallon had in mind when he literally twisted the knife over Ed Miliband’s defence policy. He wrote in The Times:
“Remember: Ed Miliband stabbed his own brother in the back to become Labour leader. Now he is willing to stab the United Kingdom in the back to become prime minister and put our country’s security at risk.”
Fallon, an old style political bruiser and a veteran of those 1980s nuclear wars, made the perfectly pertinent point that Miliband’s lust for power was so great that he would do a deal with the anti-Trident SNP to secure the keys to No 1o.
Not to be outdone the younger generation in the shape of Skills Minister Nick Boles also weighed in, claiming, in an echo of Denis Healey, that mad Vlad, the Russian tyrant, wanted to see young Ed as the next British Prime Minister.
Dave backed his street-fighting ministers while leaving the impression that he found the whole thing a touch distasteful. Miliband meanwhile, sensing that in today’s PC world such old-fashioned electioneering, at least from the ‘nasty’ Tories, was beyond the pale, climbed to the very top of his very high horse. Fallon had demeaned himself and his office and Mr Cameron should get a grip on his “gutter” campaign.
Miliband played the victim, as just about every other embattled celebrity does in today’s selfie-obsessed world. Suddenly, this was not about Labour’s red line – that it would insist on renewing Trident – colliding with Nicola Sturgeon’s red line – that she would never support a governing party wedded to keeping the weapon that has successfully defended this country for decades. No, it was about whether the Tories were playing dirty by reminding us all that Miliband Minor knifed his own brother, the more senior and experienced David, to gain the leadership of the Labour party five years ago. It is matter of record that Mrs Miliband was deeply distressed by the whole business and that David decided he had better flee the country rather than hang around as a permanent reminder of his brother’s ruthlessness.
Some commentators are suggesting that the Tories had better make up their minds. Either Ed is a dithering weakling or he is a back-stabbing monster. But I don’t see why you cannot be both at the same time.
For all that, Labour has probably judged the mood of the times more acutely. The faux outrage of the unfairly maligned young Ed is more closely attuned to the holier than thou Twitter mob and the fastidious liberalism of the TV editors than the rumbustious language of Fallon and Boles.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has reportedly said that there are no votes in defence, a view widely disputed on the Tory benches. But today’s sally, diverted by the row over back-stabbing and gutter politics, has missed the target.
Meanwhile, three new polls issued last night gave Labour a lead over the Conservatives of between two and six points. Contrary to the hopes of Tory strategists, Ed is not buckling in the glare of the campaign spotlight and his appalling personal poll ratings have picked up a bit since battle was joined.
Lynton Crosby will be keen to get the debate back on the subject of the economy. But if the SNP continue to sweep all before them in Scotland and consolidate their status as Labour’s likely bedfellows in a minority government, then we can expect to hear more about the ransom Sturgeon and Salmond will demand for propping up Miliband. Is England really going to stand idly by while the tartan tail wags the British bulldog?
Faint-hearts, shocked by yesterday’s trench warfare, should brace themselves for uglier scenes to come.