The Thick of It


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Labour: a family party. Part two (of many?)

As David Miliband prepares to tell the world what he plans to do after losing out to his brother, Ed, in the Labour leadership contest there are a plethora of views about the benefits to the party of him staying or not. 

What is clear after David yesterday rebuked Harriet Harman for applauding Ed's denouncement of the Iraq war (she voted for the war remember) is that were he to hang around he would likely be a focus for the media, keen to spot any division and dissent. Blair versus Brown becomes The Miliband Brothers. The Times ran a poll yesterday suggesting that more people in the country feel that David has leadership qualities than Ed. This reminded me of the poll before the 1992 election that showed voters preferred John Smith to Neil Kinnock. We could do without these distractions. 

The key question is whether Labour can do without its (arguably) biggest hitter on the front bench? I'd argue not as does Mary Riddell, among others; though David himself and many others disagree. If he did stay there would need to be some convincing rubbishing of any split between the Milibands. How to do that? Ed can show that he wants to lead a strong team and to give his brother the profile and portfolio he deserves. The media might continue to show up the differences between the two but Ed can counter that by being a strong leader. This wouldn't be the first and won't be the last time that a heavy hitter has been beaten to a party leadership but has carried on in a significant post. That is what politics is all about. 

And so to Ed. What should he do? He would do well to heed Alistair Darling's advice on tackling the deficit. Darling as Chancellor took the deficit seriously, he wanted to go further than Brown to tackle it, but in order to protect the fragile recovery, understands that the Tories are going too far, too fast. Ed Miliband says he wants to move on from New Labour but he should heed to key lesson of the Blair/Brown years: that to win an election Labour must occupy the centre ground. 

Ed's first leader's speech yesterday shows that he can forge his own agenda. Having overcome the formidable barrier of his brother and the party he now needs to start talking language that will appeal to the country. The early signs are encouraging. His brother is feared by the Tories because he most closely resembled David Cameron but would have faced a divided party from his proximity to Blair. Ed will be more likely to take Labour to the centre ground precisely because of his distance from Blair/Brown which will mean he will lead a united party.

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