Sunday, 26 September 2010

The right Miliband?

Well, it was always going to be one of them. Good luck to Ed as he takes on a very tough job. As regular readers will know, I supported David, but I'm not so churlish as to believe that no-one else can do the job, especially someone with not dissimilar politics (as, in fact, 4 of the 5 candidates had, let's be honest). I also had a lot of time for Ed's work in putting climate change on the national agenda.

But it's easy playing to the Labour movement - now the tough part. Can he win an election? Has he a clear vision? And has he the good judgement he needs to get where he wants to go?

On election-winning: it's too early to tell. He's got a long way to go in winning back voter confidence and he's unlikely to get it with a "clear red water" strategy with voters who made a decided move towards the centre in the general election. He's good interpersonally but lacks Blair's gravitas and Clintonesque gift for working a crowd. On the positive side, he inherits a party membership and machine in a much better state than Blair did, so doesn't have to spend years reworking the party. And truly, although change is necessary, neither can Labour be so far away from where it needs to be politically, or the Tories would have won a majority in Parliament.

On vision: if he has a policy vision which is as clear as Blair's and Brown's or even Smith's and Kinnock's, it's not clear yet what that is (at least, to me it's not). This needs to change, as most voters have a lot less interest than I do as a political anorak, and if I don't know his vision I'm sure they don't. This does not augur well.

On judgement: in his leadership campaign he has cuddled up to unions whose views he does not necessarily espouse, when he may have been smarter keeping his distance. He now has the stark choice either of distancing himself from what he said to them during the campaign (which makes him look unprincipled) or deliver openly on whatever deal he made (which makes him look unelectable to a public which is largely not union-sympathetic, especially at a time of strike stoppages).

The first 6 months will very likely decide whether or not Ed can win, as it did for Hague when the Tories lost office. And even then, his winning will still depend on the coalition making a poor fist of their time in office. If they're seen to do well, it may not even matter.

Despite the relative narrowness of our election defeat, it's not an easy place to start from, Ed. I wish you luck.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Can we just remember?

Look, I understand the need of the leadership candidates to move the debate on. I understand the need to acknowledge that we had an electoral defeat (albeit, in historic terms, a very narrow one) and change course. I also understand that in the Party at large, there is a groundswell of opinion which has never been entirely comfortable with the performance of the Labour government over the last ten years and feels it somehow wasn't "left enough". Oh yes, and there a bunch of people, inside the Party and out, who are sore about Iraq. Fair enough.

But, as we scramble to run in the opposite direction, can we just remember that, for all his faults or wrong decisions, this man won 3 general elections and was unarguably both the longest-lived, and for a long time the most popular Prime Minister we have ever had. And that, in many parts of the world, outside of the UK, he is greatly admired and respected (ask anyone in Kosovo or Sierra Leone what they think about him).

So, do we as a Party really need to scowl when we hear his name, up to the leadership candidates themselves? Do we really hate it so much that for once we managed to wield power for a long enough time to do something useful with it? Or is it just that we secretly love Opposition? Perhaps we could also do with a bit of understanding that, whatever the feelings of those in our rarefied little world of the Party thought, Tony Blair had a broad constituency in the country that we will certainly struggle to recapture. "We don't want to recapture it", I hear some say. Well, welcome to permanent Opposition, I say.

At the moment it seems that we are struggling to redefine ourselves, which is how it should be, as the tectonic plates slowly move. But, worryingly, in the debates and interviews to date, it is never on the basis of a radical new list of policies. The candidates are always defining themselves relative to what's gone before - a backwards-looking, unoriginal exercise which is hardly likely to galvanise the electorate, even with the own goals the ConDems are constantly scoring.
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