So, after the speech, we now have a much clearer idea of what kind of leader Ed Miliband will be.
With regard to the three points from my last post, he’s doing ok. Does he have a vision? Yes, I think he does. Although it borrows ideas from New Labour, it’s a shift. And despite his “broad church” efforts to maintain “it’s not about right and left”, and a righteous refusal to oppose every Coalition policy for the sake of it, it seems clear that it is a modest move to the left. What’s not clear is whether this is calculated crowd-pleasing for the benefit of Conference, or whether he really means it, but I'm not sure it matters.
When we say the left, we don’t mean, of course, the hard left of the eighties (thank God). It is the soft left, the Kinnockite left, the left of Compass and the more moderate unions. In fact, this was amply demonstrated by the unusually partisan comments of the great man himself – “we’ve got our party back”, he glowed. Leaving aside the fact that such a comment is spectacularly unhelpful in the current political climate and undoes at a stroke his loyal support for the leadership through 13 years of government, it shows that Kinnock was never truly comfortable with New Labour from the start – something you could have also predicted by a close reading of the Campbell diaries.
However, much as we love the man and what he did for the Party, and understanding that perhaps he deserves a moment of vindication after all these years, are he and his politics really the model for a Labour victory? Not meaning to be overly mean, but…he did lose us two general elections, didn’t he?
And so to whether Ed can win an election. We’ll gloss over his stage persona – although at times his speech felt a little like a conference speech from an over-enthusiastic sixth-former (shades of the teenage William Hague’s “the thcourge of thocialism”) – he’s new to big stages. Let’s stick to the realpolitik. If we take the lesson of history, we can see one thing clearly: you don’t need to drag the Labour Party to the left – it’ll go there all on its own if you give it half a chance. You need to drag it to the centre – because there lies power. If you hold it, you hold the initiative and you push the Opposition to where you want them, like on a squash court.
The Tories currently hold the centre, by cleverly using the Lib Dems as cover: those not that interested in politics, like a friend of mine, think the Coalition is in the centre, not the right. She told me the other day that she liked the coalition because the Lib Dems were acting as a brake on the nastier aspects of the Tories. It’s not like that in practice, of course - politically the government is Tory in all but name - but that’s how it’s perceived. And that’s why the Tories have got the centre sewn up right now.
We have to take it back.