The election of the next Labour leader has come down to the two brothers, David (on the right of this picture) and Ed Miliband (left). In my heart, fast sinking, I feel sure that David will win. But, if the Labour party is to have any chance of reinventing itself along non-Blairite lines, then Ed is it's only hope.
Seumas Milne has an interesting article in today's Guardian talking about David's inability to see where Labour under Blair went wrong.
I spoke at the time about Miliband's ridiculous threats to Russia over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He fell so quickly into the Bush/McCain camp on this one that it made me despair.
David Miliband, long Tony Blair's heir apparent, entered the campaign the undisputed favourite but has seen his lead whittled away. It's not hard to see why. The former foreign secretary is an assured politician, with more recognisably social democratic instincts than his mentor. But even after 13 years of New Labour in office, a catastrophic war against Iraq – for which he voted – widening inequality, a clampdown on civil liberties and the loss of five million Labour votes, he has not seen fit to repudiate a single significant decision of the governments of Blair and Gordon Brown. Beyond the broadest-brush self-criticisms and a reheated Blairite communitarianism, the elder Miliband appears, as Alan Johnson puts it, unable to think of a "single issue on which Labour got the balance wrong".
Which is hardly a recipe for winning back Labour's lost voters – or ditching the Blairite passion for deregulated markets, low taxes on the wealthy and neocon adventures that paved the way for the party's defeat. This is a man who as foreign secretary out-hawked George Bush over the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, and now faces difficult questions over complicity with torture on his watch both as part of the government's own inquiry and expected legal actions.
And I've written before about the extraordinary lengths which David Miliband has been going to to prevent the truth of what happened to Binyam Mohamed from ever becoming public.
If Labour are to learn anything from it's recent defeat, it is surely that Blair's attempt to woo middle Britain, whilst successful up to a point, moved the party too far to the right to the point that Labour found itself losing seats like Glasgow East; the 25th strongest Labour seat in the country.
I spoke at the time of why I thought that defeat had occurred:
This problem started under Tony Blair who used to speak of "Guardian readers" as a form of insult. An extraordinary way for a political leader to speak of his supporters, but Blair consoled himself that, come election day, we had no-one else to vote for other than Labour, so he didn't have to concern himself with what we thought. He could concentrate on appealing to the floating voter somewhere in the middle.David Miliband was very much a part of the mindset which led to Glasgow East deciding that the SNP were more in tune with their political heart than New Labour were. It would be disastrous should the party decide to elect him as their next leader.
The election of Brown was supposed to change all that, but it hasn't. He still concerns himself with pushing through 42 day detention bills and, most recently, reforming the benefits system in order to make people clean graffiti and perform other menial tasks before they can collect any form of benefits. Glasgow East has let him know what it thinks of these regressive policies.
For too long the Labour Party have taken it's core voters for granted, pushing Tory policies upon us whilst fully aware that we did not want them.
And yes, rising oil prices and the cost of food will have played their part in this disaster, but this is no longer a case of the middle class losing their faith in New Labour, this is the Labour heartland finding that the SNP represent their values much more than the Labour Party do.
He is, of course, backed to the hilt by the New Labour establishment and the rich city financiers who also backed Blair, but this should be seen as a warning rather than endorsement.
His brother is an altogether different proposition.
Blair's New Labour was unashamedly centre right, which is why the collapse in support for it came from the working class. They knew Tory policies when they saw them.
By contrast, his brother has at least begun to absorb the lessons of New Labour's failure and rejected its triangulation, social authoritarianism, embrace of flexible labour markets and support for tuition fees. He has also taken the essential step of denouncing the Iraq war, which he opposed at the time. Most important, the former energy secretary has recognised that most of the votes Labour lost were working class – and of the middle-class defectors, the majority went to the Liberal Democrats.
It is only by addressing that failure of representation and rebuilding an electoral coalition of working class and middle class voters that Labour will return to power. But in response to even these cautious common sense shifts, Ed Miliband has absurdly been accused of "Bennism" and retreating to Labour's "comfort zone" by Tory pundits and Blairite opponents. But as the younger Miliband argues, "remaining in the New Labour comfort zone would consign us to opposition".
Of course it's essential to capture the centre ground to win elections. But when the Cameron government is straining to present itself as "progressive", and the Brown government's most popular policy was raising the top rate of tax to 50%, New Labour's veterans have evidently lost track of where the centre ground now actually is.
Should Labour elect David Miliband over his brother Ed, then they will be showing us that they have learnt nothing from that collapse in their support. It collapsed because New Labour stopped representing the people who believed in it's central message. Even the "Guardian readers" started to look elsewhere, possibly towards the Liberal Democrats, a mistake I feel sure that they will never repeat given Clegg's betrayal of Labour and Liberal values. A betrayal by which he managed - amazingly - to outdo Blair's.
Seumas Milne brilliantly describes the choice on offer here:
The election of Ed would offer Labour the chance to begin to carve out a genuinely progressive alternative to what is already a savagely regressive administration. The risk of a David win is the entrenchment of a New Labour politics whose time has gone – and a retreat to a better yesterday.New Labour was the lefts answer to 18 years of electoral defeat. But, the public now fears the Conservatives as much as it feared Labour during the eighties, which is why it denied them an outright victory.
Labour does not need an eighties answer to a 21st century challenge. We need to be brave. We need to reject the mistakes of the Blair years, and electing David will mean that we have learned nothing.
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