Moving left isn't the problem it used to be. The new Labour leader is the right man in the right place at the right time.
By Ian Dunt
There's a lot of nonsense being talked about Ed Miliband this evening. He's Red Ed, too far to the left. He's too geeky to be elected.
If it sounds rehearsed it's because it is. The right wing press, Blairites and the Tories have been practising these arguments for months. Like journalists preparing two different stories for the result this afternoon - one for Ed and one for Dave - they were ready to be deployed as soon as the announcement came. The conclusion is always the same: Ed Miliband can't win a general election. This is Labour retreating to the left, as it did in the eighties.
It's nonsense. Firstly, Ed Miliband is tough. He stood against his older brother, who was widely regarded as the natural successor. He demolishes Commons opponents.
He is able to articulate a given message well - particularly on immigration, a key weak spot in the Labour armour. He is likeable, which has an effect on the journalists who will try to tell readers what to think of him. He is not a left-wing radical. He was responsible for the last Labour manifesto, which was hardly a little red book. His policies are not extreme, unless you think Iraq, 90-day detention and ever-rising inequality constitute a centre ground. He has said nothing - precisely nothing - during the campaign which deserves the 'Red Ed' moniker which the tabloids will anoint him with.
There is something geeky about him, to be sure. But we are not in the business of reducing politics to show business just yet. We have been down that road with Tony Blair, if you remember, and the messianic turn he took should not be disassociated from it.
Ed Miliband is to the left of his elder brother, who the media and the parliamentary party wanted to win. The Tories were said to be more fearful of the centrist older brother, or at least that's how they briefed the press. This is an old and exhausted political assumption. In fact, the British political centre point has shifted to the left. The establishment, and certainly the media establishment, has been slow to realise, but since the financial crisis voters do not accept arguments about the efficiency of the market or the inequality of society. We have consistently underestimated the game-changing nature of this event. To brand Ed Miliband's approach 'old' Labour is ironic, because it's a view that's behind the times.
Many right-wingers secretly understand this. The financial crisis banished forever the view that the market was more efficient, more modern, than any alternative. It also brought the issue of social justice to the forefront of political debate in a way it simply wasn't during more certain economic times. When people's sense of aspiration is challenged, they are more likely to take a critical view of the rich. The view that any move to the left, no matter how moderate, is politically fatal is simply wrong. But it is in the interest of many of the people who propound that view that we continue to believe it.
The next election hinges not on charisma, or left and right, but on the 2010 Budget. If its forecasts are accurate, Britain will be recovering by 2015 - when we next go to the polls. If the coalition got the economic argument right, the public will re-elect the Tories (the Lib Dems won't get the credit. It's one of their many problems). If the coalition got it wrong and the economic malaise drags into 2015, Labour will benefit - but not if it is too consensual on the economic agenda. Ed Miliband can unite the left against cuts in a way his brother simply wouldn't have been able to. He can use the rhetoric and the momentum of public disenchantment in the most natural and vigorous way. David Miliband would have been more cautious, for fear of being labelled a leftie. If the coalition gets the spending cuts argument wrong, he is the candidate best placed to take advantage.
The mock anger about the unions' role in getting him over the finish line is similarly misguided. These are not dark union barons in secret smoke-filled rooms anointing a Labour leader. These are members, paid up, making up their own mind. They are not somehow exempt from constitutional standards of political association. The tone taken towards unions by much of the broadcast media today seemed to suggest they were innately malevolent forces.
In the Commons, Cameron is going to have some very tough times with his new opponent. Ed Miliband is an impeccable parliamentarian, able to use logical arguments, lucidly expressed, to reduce an opponent to rubble. As William Hague found out against Tony Blair, success at PMQs does not necessarily translate into success in the country, but it is a vital arrow in the quiver. It nudges voters one way while watching the evening news, if anyone does indeed still watch it.
His victory is also good for the country. Ed Miliband's views on civil liberty rule out a return to the bad old days should Labour win the next general election. For those of us who care about such things and who spent the last decade or more tearing our hair out at the way New Labour treated British freedoms, today marks a sigh of relief. We won't be returning to the darkness anytime soon. We should stay vigilant, but the battle is well on the way to being won. Break open the bubbly.
The leadership decision also marks a more significant shift in the political history of Britain. The defeat of David Miliband means there will be no return to Blairism, the strategy which consciously robbed political debate of meaning and reduced it triangulation and strategic manoeuvres. Left and right are words which designate views about the allocation of resources, not tags to be avoided. We are tantalisingly close to returning to an era about ideas and debate. It won't be pretty, but with a coalition in power and Labour taking a more principled, left-of-centre stance, we are heading towards something more healthy and appetising, or so it appears.
Let's be clear. There are faults with Ed Miliband. He switched from Labour manifesto writer to civil liberties advocate a little too quickly for my liking, suggesting some chameleon tendencies. He comes across much better in person than he does on TV. He has not developed that intangible but vital quality of appearing prime ministerial. The first might be wrong and if not wrong, irrelevant. The second is surmountable. The third may change given four years of opposition.
Tomorrow, the attacks begin. The media will savage him, as it does anyone succeeding on the left, in a more vicious and aggressive manner than he had imagined. All intellectual arguments fall to nothing when the media succeeds in these tasks, because they create reality. If they convince enough people he's a limp leftie incompetent, then people will vote on that basis.
But my hunch is they will fail. He might just be smarter. He will begin, I predict, with a piece for Middle England - probably the Telegraph or the Times. Look to that for how successfully he manages to evade and defeat the forces ranged against him. Ed Miliband may just prove to be the right man in the right place at the right time.
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