What political leader in Opposition has ever stopped in its tracks what looked like irresistible momentum towards a disaster? No, I can’t think of one either.
Certainly not Cameron – can you remember any of the positions he took during the 5 years before the 2010 election, apart from slyly posing beside a dog-sleigh in the Arctic? Nor Blair, except his flying off to Hayman Island off Australia to pay sycophantic homage to Murdoch’s News International just before the 1997 election. Not even Thatcher who spent 4 undistinguished years as Tory Opposition Leader 1975-9 and failed to leave any mark whatever on the tumultuous struggles of the late 1970s.
Yet Ed Miliband has now twice outmanoeuvred some of the most powerful forces in the land and forced the government on to a humiliating defensive. By any standards, given the lack of executive power, that is a stunning tactical and strategic achievement.
Murdoch, the most powerful media mogul the world has ever known, was within days of doubling his empire by the takeover of BSkyB when he was stopped dead by Miliband’s decision to force a Commons vote on the issue in the light of the hacking scandal. Cameron was not only outwitted, he was deprived at a stroke of the secret pact he had made with Murdoch to buy political success for himself at the expense of handing over inordinate media power to Murdoch with all the evil consequences entailed, the depth of which we are only now beginning to understand. It was a huge risk on Ed Miliband’s part since Murdoch was almost universally regarded in political circles as unchallengeable. No other political leader has ever achieved such a feat, and probably never will.
Overturning the Hester heist is scarcely less. In the face of banker lobbying and City greed the bonus momentum seemed unstoppable. Cameron, as is his way, flitted around lighting like a butterfly on ‘popular capitalism’ and ‘shareholder power’; then deserting them almost at once by declaring that the RBS bonus was a requirement of the contract negotiated by Labour (which was a lie); and then once again changing course by the claim (almost certainly equally mendacious) that Hester and the board would resign and that this blackmail had to be bought off (Danegeld was implied though not explicitly mentioned) to avoid even higher costs to the Treasury.
A more demeaning posture for the government it is difficult to imagine. As an alternative, Just say No! comes to mind. Yet it was only Miliband’s intervention that finally forced a feeble and atrophied government, and an over-mighty and hubristic banking clique, to face reality.
No doubt Ed Miliband will not get the credit for this that he deserves. Far too many in the press lobby and in parliament are so entrenched in their prejudice – besotted by PMQs which is low-farce pantomime far removed from real politics – that their judgement is blinded. But having twice now taken on the mighty and felled them, most objective observers will see very clearly that this is a very significant and brave leader in the making.