Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Crying Wolf

A fortnight into the Great Phone-Hacking Scandal of 2011, and I can't help feeling that Ed Miliband is still missing his moment.

Obviously he's managed to raise his profile and improve his reputation. He's done enough to ensure that there won't be any whispering about leadership challenges during the autumn conference season. But there's still no distance between him and the bad bits of the New Labour legacy. Indeed the clumsy contributions of his mentor, Gordon Brown, last week only served to remind us all of the continuities with the past.

We've had a whole fortnight of righteous indignation, and I'm not convinced that Miliband has read the public mood properly.

As far as I can tell, there was genuine revulsion in the first couple of days, when the stories of hacking into the phones of murder victims and dead soldiers first emerged. But the closure of the News of the World changed things. Now it feels like the public are simply enjoying a great soap opera - the tone is mostly one of gleeful fascination with the decline of Rupert Murdoch and his associates. I'm not sure that there's the political anger in the country that Miliband seems to assume. It may yet come, but there will need to be further revelations to relight that fire.

And there will be more revelations. There's a long way to go. Things will calm down after Murdoch's appearance before the select committee this afternoon and the Commons debate tomorrow, but this is a story that's going to run and run. My suspicion is that Miliband would have done better to have kept some of his powder dry for the battles to come - he's in danger of looking like the boy who cried 'wolf'.

This was a good time for a little humility, to prepare the ground for relaunching the Labour Party as an alternative government. Just to concentrate on attacking David Cameron isn't sufficient. Let's hope that the parliamentary closed season will give time for a more considered approach.

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