A brief series where, for my own amusement (and possibly ensuring I never work for the Labour Party again), I set out the case against each of the Leadership candidates. The eleventh commandment of internal elections is “Never speak ill of a fellow party member”. It gets broken just as regularly as the other ten, but I shall try to be constructive, not merely critical.
Ed Miliband. First off, the lads got guts. Can’t be easy deciding to run for leader.
Forget that the leading candidate was his brother, that’s just psychodrama, better suited to a Andrew Rawnsley sequel than hard headed political analysis.
No, Ed Miliband’s real problem was that it was hard to see what ideological and political space a putative Ed Miliband campaign could occupy.
After all, here’s a man whose entire professional life has been spent at the service of New Labour (Brown variant), a Treasury special adviser who got a safe seat (though he had to fight for it), and then a rapidly promoted golden child charged with developing the policy agenda for a fourth Labour term.
Not much space for building a new political movement with that CV. Jon Cruddas he ain’t.
But he did it.
Of course, there were those who saw him as a possible leader some time ago. They saw in him a personally engaging man and a potential candidate who believes passionately in social democratic values, someone not afraid of givign the Labour party a bit of that old time religion that inspires and lifts and causes the believers to shout hallelujah.
But for his old muckers in spaddery and Cabinet the Ed Miliband who has emerged over the last few months – the Iraq war oppossin’, New Labour attackin’, Union lovin, ‘ Manifesto slammin’ Miliband – has come as a shock, and not a pleasant one.
These differences can be overstated. As the reliably centrist Luke Akehurst has said, Ed Miliband is committed to Trident. He is basically yet another moderate Sweden adoring social democrat. If Ed Miliband is positioned to the left of the other credible candidates, it’s by a notch, not a country mile.
So you might be suprised to discover that despite my own flaming centrism, I don’t think the case against Ed Miliband can be built around perceived leftism.
If that was the case, then any candidate who ever tacked one way to get selected and another to get elected would be verboten. Elections are for winning, and I don’t blame the younger Miliband for doing what he needs to to win.
No, the case against Ed Miliband is built on the question of what happens after he wins.
The energy and drive in Ed Miliband’s campaign comes from his passionate call for a return to Labour values. Specific policy pledges are part of that (Living wage, and so on) but it’s stylistic too.
Ed Milband is the candidate of votes at conference, more consultation, more internal democracy, more of a voice for the unions in policy making and a more consultative, collaborative leadership style. He’s been courageous and bold in setting that agenda. (I think it’s because it’s what he really believes, freed of the constraints of subservience to patrons.)
As Luke says, this means Ed is the candidate acceptable to everyone. That is an ambiguous position. It has a lot of negatives to it.
In order to win Ed has had to assemble the support of union general secretaries, former Brown advisers (No 10 seems to have decamped en masse into the Ed Miliband campaign team) and virtually everyone on the soft left of the party.
In other words, an Ed Miliband leadership will owe a lot of favours.
Well, so does any leader, you might say. True enough. But the Leader of the Labour party in opposition is remarkably weak, structurally. They don’t control the shadow cabinet, they don’t control the national executive, they don’t even control Conference – even Tony Blair wouldn’t have got new clause four without bringing John Prescott and the Unions with him.
And here’s the rub. The party hierachy, the unions, the office of Deputy Leader are all in a very different place than they were in 1994.
It’s not that they’re more left or right wing*, it’s that they’re more confident, more assertive, more willing to make use of their rights and powers.
We haven’t lost three elections in a row. Nor, unlike the eighties, is there an obvious, internal radical force to unite the soft left and right against. Derek Simpson is not Derek Hatton. Compass is not Militant.
Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour party will largely owe his election to people who rather agree with Unite and Compass. He’s acceptable to everyone. Equally, he’s confronted no-one.**
As a result, the new leader of the Labour party might well find himself constrained, circumscribed, hemmed in by his supporters and allies.
So the question about Ed Miliband is – how will he lead? Won’t the boldness and radicalism of his leadership bid prove to be what limits him as leader -binding him to a soft left political strategy?
In other words – Can Ed Miliband lead the party in any direction it doesn’t want to go in already? Could such a platform really be electorally successful?
It’s easy to promise votes at conference, but what happens when you lose?Imagine Ed Miliband, two years hence. He believes that without a clear policy on subject X , he can’t win the general election. His advisers tell him that the unions are dead against, and the Conference vote will certainly be lost. What then?
In short, the case against Ed Miliband is that even if he is personally bold, his political strategy means he will end up not being a Leader, but a figurehead for the desires of a Party he cannot master.
Now there are two counter arguments here.
First, any Labour leader would be constrained. Tony Blair was, and John Smith, and Neil Kinnock. At least Ed Miliband would have the benefit of warm, close relations – and the ablity to persuade. That’s true.
But other candidates will have clearer mandates to lead. Whether Ed Balls or Andy Burnham, they can point to an agenda that is their own. They could use the power to use a referendum of membership to go around opposition on key policy issues. Ed’s agenda is that of the soft left centre of the party, and it’s hard to see how he can back away from that agenda now.
The second argument is that Ed’s soft left political position could well be popular. New Labour is as much of the past as Militant or the CLPD, and the party needs to change- reach out and renew. Issues that Ed has touched on, often mocked as intelligensia issues, are really touchstones for those we’ve alienated that will help us renew. Again, this is true.
I think a social democrat, soft left strategy will be popular.
I’m just not sure it’ll be popular enough. It will be too easy for us to take pleasure in being at 37-40 in mid term polls, when we will need more to secure a majority, or even to force the Lib Dems to deal with us***.
Being in the high thirties will feel like success – we’ll win back lots of councils and Scotland, and probably London. But will it be enough?
We’ve fought a lot of elections under Soft left banners. Some of Ed Miliband’s team have been key advisers in such fights.
We usually lost.
Why would it be different with Ed?
* Is Harriet Harman more left wing than John Prescott? No, she has a different policy emphasis)
**An exception: He’s confronted ex-leaders, but that doesn’t count. They won’t fight back!
***40%would be enough to secure a majority under current boundaries and no AV. But I’m assuming some swingback from a midterm peak, and that boundary changes will hurt Labour
I’m doing this series in the order of total MP and CLP nominations, I’ve done David Miliband, next up is Andy Burnham, then Diane Abbott and Ed Balls next.