‘Red’ Ed and the long road back

Posted on September 25, 2010


At long last, Labour have a new leader. Ed Miliband, who at the start of the lengthy leadership campaign was seen as the underdog to his older brother David, today begins life as the official leader of the opposition. We all knew it would be a Miliband leading the Labour Party during the remainder of this Parliament. The question that now vexes observers, and probably Ed himself, is whether or not both Miliband brothers will be spearheading the Labour challenge to the coalition government.

On the face of it, Ed’s task isn’t too difficult. Tough spending cuts, and potentially a double dip recession, will inevitably make our Tory masters unpopular in the coming months. The true harshness of George Osborne’s spending cuts is yet to be revealed, but it is a safe bet that public services will be bludgeoned. The Liberal Democrats will be unpopular by association, and Labour only stands to gain from the ongoing progressive desertion of the third party. Look more carefully, however, and the younger Miliband has a lot of hard work to do.

He must reunite a party that descended into infighting during Gordon Brown’s premiership. Opposition has a habit of doing this, particularly if the government is as distinctively conservative and callous as that of David Cameron. This will begin with his conference speech. Never has a new party leader had so little time to prepare such an important speech. Ed Miliband, elected primarily through the support of the unions, must do enough to prove to the rest of the party that he will be a leader in his own right. At the same time, he must appease the unions and show himself to genuinely be the man he elected. Tough choices lie ahead, particularly as the unions prepare for their challenge to spending cuts. Will Ed stick to his guns and back strike action, or retreat into the ‘new’ Labour that he himself is a product of, and betray the unions in the way that Blair and Brown did?

It is not simply a marriage of unions and MPs that he must effect. The personalities of the leadership contest must be effectively forged into a team capable of usurping the Tories. Ed Balls, who has been ruthlessly effective in opposition and fought a valiant campaign, is the obvious choice for Shadow Chancellor. If we are to take the campaign at face value, his and the new leader’s economic policies seem to compliment each other. Andy Burnham, who has neither gained nor lost anything from his campaign, will no doubt be content with another middling position. Diane Abbott, who portrayed herself as the true left-wing candidate amongst the contenders but finished miserably last, will not be lucky enough to earn anything other than a position on the sidelines. Thee major difficuly for Ed Miliband, however, has been and always will be his brother.

First big test: David (right) is crucial to Ed's future prospects (Pic: Guardian)

First of all, a familial relationship must be rebuilt, but most importantly David Miliband must be incorporated into the ‘new, new’ Labour. A competent Foreign Secretary, he was so often the obvious candidate to succeed Brown. Indeed, only a lack of bottle prevented his from effecting a coup on two occasions before the election. His leadership campaign was by no means a poor one, his appeal just wasn’t wide enough to earn him enough union votes. The big question now is what his next move will be. Can he be effectively used as a Shadow Home Secretary, a position he might justifiably feel is below him? Or will he find serving under his younger brother too bitter a pill to swallow? Ed Mililand must move fast to resolve this. With the two brothers, so narrowly separated in the leadership contest, spearheading the attack on the Tories Labour can realistically hope for a return to government soon enough. If David were to quit, Ed not only suffers an early blow to his leadership claims but also loses one of his heavyweights, an intellectual, political and moral strongman the likes of whom form effective government.

Labour has undoubtedly taken a step to the left with this election, something which I have argued for previously here and applaud now. Yet, even in defeat, Ed Balls and David Miliband are crucial to Labour’s prospects at the next election. It is also time to bring Jon Cruddas into the fold, who, in spite of his support for David, will feel more comfortable with the leftist politics of Ed. How ‘left’ Ed will remain is questionable. Wooing the unions is all very well in the relative comfort of a leadership contest, but it remains to be seen whether he will stick to his guns in the cold light of opposition. I for one hope he does. With painful cuts ahead, the less fortunate of this country deserve a Labour leader who will stand up for them and the unions. Ed Miliband must now prove he is that man. He has talked the talk, but now he must walk the walk.

Posted in: Politics