Labour leadership: A pox on all their houses

A Labour balloon drifts into the sky on the first day of the election campaign in Bedford. Labour election failings have been front-and-centre of the leadership debate. Photo by Dominic Campbell.
A Labour balloon drifts into the sky on the first day of the election campaign in Bedford. Labour election failings have been front-and-centre of the leadership debate. Photo by Dominic Campbell.

By Ian Dunt

Accusations of Labour comfort zones were flying thick and fast today after Ed Balls intervened in the increasingly acrimonious war of words between the Miliband brothers by branding both men "caricatures".

His volley comes after a dramatic day in the leadership contest, with David and Ed Miliband breaking their commitment to a friendly contest and launch thinly-veiled attacks on each other.

David Miliband gave a speech yesterday evening saying the party could not afford to slip into a centre-left comfort zone, while Ed Miliband shot back, arguing that the centrist agenda of New Labour had become the real comfort zone.

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In an interview for Left Foot Forward, Mr Balls effectively wished for a plague on all their houses, saying the debate was at risk of falling into the old Blair/Brown paradigm which had beset the party for a generation.

Mr Balls, himself a close ally of Gordon Brown, said the party was re-running debates of the past.

"From candidates who said they wanted to move beyond the New Labour/old Labour debates of the past, there is a danger of walking into caricatures," he told the website.

"What we actually need to do here is put together a programme that is credible on the economy and on interest rates but at the same time will deliver the decent public services and the fairness that the majority of lower and middle income families want.

"The idea that we should either only focus on unskilled working people on the one hand or only focus on middle England on the other, I think both those things are pretty out of date. I worry that they're re-running the debates of the past."

The intervention is unlikely to convince many Labour members, who still associate Mr Balls strongly with Mr Brown - a factor which has been to his considerable disadvantage since the leadership race began.

A ten-point charter on increasing the democratic culture within the Labour party failed to make much of an impression, and many commentators are treating the battle for the leadership as a two-horse race between the Miliband brothers - a factor which is presumably to blame for the increased hostility between the two siblings.

The absence of support from any of the three major unions, all of whom opted for Ed Miliband, was a devastating blow to Mr Balls.

Asked if he still thought he could win, he insisted "you wait to see how the votes fall", but he did admit that he had not put the work in at a local level.

"I never had the early organisation to compete with David or Ed on CLP [constituency Labour party] selections," he said.

"To be honest our energy in June and July went far more into the campaigning work we were doing in parliament rather than the big effort on ringing around CLPs and maybe that was my mistake.

"Maybe I should have spent less time focused on Michael Gove and more time ringing up officers and CLPs around the country because I do know that it does make a difference."

The race has become markedly more intense and emotional as it enters its final month. Ballot papers will be sent out next week, and the last remaining MPs are finally declaring their support.

Mr Balls has received the support of Ken Livingstone, former - and possibly future - Mayor of London.

David Miliband secured the backing of Jon Cruddas, a seasoned left winger with a loyal following in the party.

The surprise development raises the possibility of a Miliband/Cruddas 'dream ticket', which could unite both wings of the party.

Cruddas backs David Miliband

Ed Miliband, who secured the support of the New Statesman magazine, further cemented his left-wing credentials today with a piece in Pink News calling for the introduction of gay marriage.


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