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Big day for Labour

Posted on 25 September 2010 | 8:09am

The media keep saying that the Labour leadership election ‘has failed to capture the public imagination’, though how they define this judgement is entirely subective and based in  large part on an understandably bigger interest in the coalition, they being the government and all that.

Yet in recent weeks, and particularly in recent days, I would reckon that ‘Ed or David?’ has gone to the top of the list of questions posed by random passers by as I go about my business. There is a genuine interest in who wins this afternoon, because people understand we could be talking about the next Prime Minister, and we are certainly talking about the person who will lead the political debate against and about the coalition.

So it matters. As to the answer, I have maintained the position throughout that I hope it is David and I think it will be David. I have nonetheless been around long enough to know that bookmakers don’t get a lot wrong, so the closing of the gap in the odds, and Ed finally moving to a very narrow favourite, underlines that it is no foregone conclusion.

This is a difficult day for the five contenders. The votes are all in. The result is set and there is nothing they can do about it. And though it is widely accepted there are only two who might win, the results for the other three are not just about pride.

They will all be working out what to say, and how to handle themselves, according to the various scenarios that are possible. But for all of them, one central message has to go out to the public – that an essentially internal debate is over, now a very different kind of political debate begins.

Our system depends in part of a strong Opposition engaging in constant political battle, not always unfriendly, with the government. Both sides need that debate to be interesting, enervating, significant, so that the public engage fully in it too.

But the public, or a large proportion of the public, do not follow every twist and turn. Far from it. For the government, it is never that difficult to get attention, to set an agenda, to frame the outlines of debate. On the issue of the deficit, with Labour conducting its own debate, they have had a fairly easy ride. They have managed to persuade a lot of people that the cuts are needed. Labour has to persuade people that some of the cuts are needed, but that with George Osborne more in the driving seat than people realise, the scale of cuts has moved through neccessity into ideology.

But what won’t work is a catch-all na-na-na-na-na objection to every cut the coalition make. What could work are the big arguments about economic and social changes required to rebuild confidence in a vision of government founded on values that set Labour apart from their opponents. 

Despite the unfortunate timing of the announcement – football and all that – this is one day where people will notice Labour, and know that an important decision is being made. It is a day for Labour to start to set out those big arguments. The detail can follow, not least in the leader’s speech in a few days time.

Past leaders used to have all summer to work on their conference speech. David or Ed will have a couple of days. Days which have to be used to set the terms of a debate that will define the next election.

  • It would be good to think that whichever Miliband wins (for that, at least, is near certain) they will consider their co-contenders for meaningful opposition posts. That would give Labour what (IMHO) it needs – some real variety. Policies which are derived from debate, rather than nodding agreement, tend to be the more robust. Good luck to them all!

  • Er – I think two days to work on their conference speeches is a slight under-estimate: they and their speechwriters will have been at it for several weeks, and it will be interesting to see if they come up with anything as stirring as Neil Kinnock’s acceptance speech after Labour’s defeat in 1983 – which can now be seen on YouTube at http://su.pr/3w7Vgg

  • Robert Jackson

    Enervating?

    Most definitely not! 🙂

    Try energising.

    And on that list of the most impressive people in our lives?

    My family GP who knew instantly when my head was filled with the Hammer House of Horror mix of talking gods, dogs, demons and music that she could get it sorted out – she’s top of my list.

    Then I’d put myself on my list too – for ending my long term abusive relationship with booze – or atleast putting it on hold for a very long time.

  • Olli Issakainen

    The Labour party is lucky to have two excellent Milibands to choose from. Both will do well if elected.
    Labour lost the last election. After the Iraq war and and the economic crisis Labour needs a fresh start. The new leader must rebrand the party.
    Labour must change to win again.
    Going for bigger and more centralised state is wrong. We need a smaller, but active state. Not all cuts are regressive. There is ineffiency in public services. Labour must reform public services and reclaim mutualism. But some state involvement in health, education and social security is always needed.
    Labour must invent a new economic model based on fairness and more regulation on the financial sector. Labour must protect low paid workers from the effects of globalisation.
    Labour must be in tune with the mainstream public opinion. Cuts in public spending are needed, but how deep and at what speed?
    Labour must position itself in political centre ground, but also understand that the centre position has changed after the economic crisis. Leftist policies on tax and bonuses have been popular lately. The centre of the Labour party has also moved leftward since many Blairites have left.
    Whoever the next leader is, Labour must stand for PROGRESSIVE POLITICS!

  • Quinney

    This leadership election has taken far too long, while we got emails, mailshots and invitations the Condems were cutting services and jobs daily. We needed to be out there telling the public that the Cindems had got the economy wrong before the election and were still getting it wrong now. All the figures show we are on the egde of going into a double dip recession. The IMF, OECD and many economists are now saying that the deficit does not have to be cut as soon as even we would have done it. Where were we on this?

    The silence from our lot was deafening.

  • MJF

    I met Ed at Hay Festival and wished him good luck – he being the candidate of my heart, but in the end I voted for David, guided not least by two things – AC’s endorsement (reading Prelude to Power convinced me of his judgement) and the Kinnock’s endorsement of Ed. Sorry, but we need to look forward, learn from Blair’s dominance and get back to power, not just talk about it. To date, on David M can do that.

  • Anonymous

    Haha, like both of them haven’t been working on their acceptance speeches since they were 12!!!

  • Julie

    I feel that the length of the campaign has allowed voters to really get their teeth into the debates. I know lots of people have been die-hard Balls or Abbott fans from the beginning, but I have gone round the houses with my support. I’ve spent at least a week on each one of them thinking “Yes, that’s it I’m definitely voting for Andy/Ed/Diane etc’. My vote eventually went to the candidate I started off supporting – David, but I’m sure Ed M will be equally as brilliant and I think we’ve been lucky to have such a strong field to choose from. Today, my nerves are akin to those usually reserved for a Merseyside Derby. If Everton are leading at half-time at Fulham, I’m going to take that as a good omen.

  • Janner

    Carter USM wrote a song back in the early 90s called ‘Whilst you were out’. i alsways took it to be an attack on a Labour party that, while it had self indulgently fought internecine ideological battles, had given the Tories the political sea-room to dismantle society at their leisure. In the dark days of the Thatcher government, some in the Labour Party betrayed the people they professed to safeguard for the sake of juevenile 6th form debate. The hiatus of the Labour leadership election has brought memories of that terrible time flooding back…Labour’s response to Lansley’s white paper on ‘liberating’ (privatising) the NHS springs to mind – shamefully weak as the party’s big guns concentrated on leadership campaigns rather than fundamentals such as healthcare free at the point of delivery. To paraphrase Carter USM, “Labour, whilst you were out, our whole future was in doubt.” So I look forward to the end of the leadership election and a return to opposing a dangerously right wing government using the deficit as convenient cover to dismantle society all over again. (PS, and sorry to be a pedant, but AC, did you really mean ‘enervating’ in terms of the debate we now need to see?)

  • John Howarth

    A big day indeed and one made more so because from today the relationship between the two brothers becomes the most important of all the inter-relationships between the party. It could break Labour for a generation or it could be a great source of strength. Internal debate is still needed, but it will needs be about what positions Labour for the future, what is our distinct offer. That won’t come through overnight, or by Tuesday

  • GST

    Do agree with Quinney, it would have been good to have a strong and definitive leadership over the last couple of months to lead the ‘attack’ on the condem cuts, but sure whoever wins will be a good leader, and suppose it is good that all members have baan able to put a lot of thought into who is best to take us forward, and hopefully win the next election

  • Mark Wright

    Whilst my politics lean towards David his baby brother seems better at emoting when giving a speech. There appears to be a passion there that big bro lacks. For that reason I think Ed will win by a nose.

    David should have had the courage of his convictions and stood against Gordon Brown. By not being decisive before he’s actually emulated one of GB’s least good assets…dithering. I think this has harmed him.

    Are any of the candidates prime minister material? Not at present. But that’s what makes this quite exciting. We will see a new team evolve and the coalition genuinely have no idea how Labour in opposition are going to be. That can only be an advantage to Labour.

    However, the announcement being made today I see as a good idea. It will subsequently dominate the Sunday newspapers/Andrew Marr/politics show etc tomorrow and set the media agenda for the week. If they’d left it until tomorrow or later no doubt the coalition would have launched some ‘Sunday’ initiative to grab the headlines. This way there’s a chance to make the whole week Labour, Labour, Labour. Let’s just hope whoever wins has got their policies and angles of attack sorted.

  • Jean Winslet

    Quite enjoy reading what Alistair has to say but do us a favour could we make the print larger please. I might come back for another dose if you can. Thanks. I have always been a fan

  • Tatsjhana

    A few words only on today’s blog :- It is bloomin’ fantastic 🙂 and spot on !
    Oh and I have been rivited by this whole honourable campaign …

  • Artemisia

    Ed M. is looking like he’s swallowed a frog. Is that his happy face? What is going on?

  • Jacquie R

    Today is the first time I can ever recall being deeply moved and elated by the election of any party leader. Ed Miliband has the values and qualities to become a great prime minister and to make Britain a fairer place. Watch him grow in stature. Watch him connect. Trying not to make comparisons with Obama’s election, but that feeling of hope just won’t go away. (Starry eyed, I know, but we’re allowed to be this week!)

    • DeadRed

      You don’t remotely know what you’re talking about.
      Remember my saying this at the election of 2015. The election of the wrong Miliband will cost us, the Labour party, between 60-90 seats at the next election.
      Go study the last 7 General Elections.

  • Hi Jean

    You will be able to make the print larger with your browser.

    Look through the “Help” for how to do this.

  • Paul Darlison

    and the verdict on red Ed….

  • Stevebrundish

    I know we are all supposed to ge behind the new leader. But as a very small fish I think it wont spoil the party too much to say Labour has just probably lost the next election. All because of the crazy voting rules that allowed Trade unions to send out masses of campaign material for thier favoured candidates. I understand that some of them sent out campign leaflets with the voting slips which may be agaisnt the rules. The result is many TU members who take little interestst in politics voted as directed. For instance the CWU supported Ed Balls 7k, DM 3.5K, EM 2K, GMB supported EM 19K, Ed Balls 2.5K, DM 9.7K. USDAW supported DM 8K, Ed Balls 800, EM 1.5K. So its clear the TU vote closely followed the leadership endorsement and we are now saddled with the result (Not really OMOV). Unfortunately the Tories wont miss this small point (especially as DM won the MPs and members votes). The Murdoch press will join in making the name Red Ed stick and likening EM to Wallace with the TUs as Gromit. Cameron will assume (depending on events) that he has the next election in the bag. I have the feeling this is the 80s all over again. It just goes to show what a one off Tony Blair really was and comparisons with Ed Milliband are just embarrasing.

  • G Force

    You can zoom in on a web page by pressing ctrl and +

    Not life changing but dead handy 🙂

  • Teresa

    I did think David would make the best leader, he seemed to have a sense of authority about him, but when I watched Ed do his speech today I felt a real warmth for him, he seemed so genuine, and I think two highly intelligent politicians working together who happen to be brothers is really intriguing.

  • Jamie McNamara

    Dear Alastair, I’ve just woken up in Beijing to the news that Ed Miliband has won the leadership election. I am genuinely shocked and very worried that Labour has consigned progressive Blairite politics that safe guarded public services and brought ten great years to our country to an end. In my mind this result now allows the Conservative party to finally regain the initiative it lost during the mid 1990’s which will mean Tory dominance of the U.K’s political landscape once more. Unfortunately I can now envisage a long period of wilderness for Labour.
    Please provide me with some hope here Alastair and tell me that I am wrong…it feels like a sad day.

  • Dgginnes

    Not sure what drugs you’re on but it’s great to be 12,000 miles away from the danger of another Brownite regime. Ed was on the standard copy list for submissions in the Treasury so is fully implcated in all the New Labour disasters-Iraq, electing Brown, Afghanistan, buying lots more arms (planes and carriers). Could be in the wilderness for a very long time…