The Lost Leader

The long-running exchange of mutually abusive texts between us reached fever-pitch yesterday, all as a result of the Labour leadership contest. And, there’s no point in disguising the fact, my best friend is right. He, of hardcore Tory mindset, poignantly cut to the chase by sending through a final sermon, “you’re a member of a party that you can’t even vote for and treats you like a 2nd class hanger on….mental case”. Quite – the Northern Ireland dilemma, support UK Labour but vote for who, exactly? I’m utterly gutted tonight and am fleeting between moments of self-ridicule and not a little embarrassment for feeling this way. But I can no more change how I feel about the political ideology of the Labour Party, or the outcome of its leadership contest, than I can change what woman I was born to or what day of the week it is at any given moment. I can forgive myself for how I feel because I feel this way for the right reasons; there is no malice of forethought attached as a penance. David Miliband was my first preference choice for the Labour leadership, his brother Ed, second. The other 3 candidates had no chance. I have admired the abilities of David Miliband for a long time. He was at the heart of constructing the policies that delivered the Labour Party its thumping election victory in 1997 and he continued in that vein by employing his brilliant mind in new, innovative ways by developing ideas which benefitted and enriched our party and served our people through 3 successful and historic terms in Office. His time as this country’s Foreign Secretary was a period when he blossomed into Labour’s obvious successor. It didn’t surprise me to learn that on his visit to Britain in August, Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari, was reported to have actively sought out David Miliband, feeling more at home in his company in order to discuss his country’s profound problems, rather than that of our own Prime Minister, David Cameron. That isn’t to say I haven’t had my moments of doubt about David. Doubts that have had more to do with the manner and style he employs to express his ideas rather than the substance behind them. Inexplicably, during the Hustings, he at times looked disinterested, remaining silent when opportunities arose for him to confront the ideas and views of other contestants. At those moments, when you are instinctively motivated to move in for the kill, David Miliband failed to express the ideological passions that reside within and drive him. In contrast, his brother Ed was vocal and passionate throughout. Ed Miliband is, in a tactical, intelligent sense as unashamed an opportunist as you could reasonably expect to encounter. If there is one attribute that I’ve discovered in him in the last 4 months it is that. He recognised that his brother would fall victim to the accusation of being too closely aligned with Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and New Labour – a willing and loyal foot-soldier bound by conditioning and loyalty to remain ever faithful to its cause, regardless of the consequences. Ed Miliband positioned himself as the change candidate, committed to reconnecting the party once more with its core support and renewing the trust between the leader and the party’s grassroots. Secondly, and related to the New Labour issue, he identified a sizeable but frustrated core of support within the party that was not naturally cohering with the overtly left-wing tendencies of Diane Abbott. Ed Miliband duly obliged, looked the gift-horse in the mouth, and won them over. If David Miliband was initially disappointed and a little disconcerted by his brother’s decision to challenge his expected ascendency to Labour leader, he closeted it well. In retrospect, there was a definite Ides of March feel about how Ed went on to despatch his brother to the likely and ignominious fate of chancery on Labour’s back benches. What a tragedy, what an appalling and insufferable waste of outstanding talent. Ed Miliband won this campaign by playing a dangerous game that may come back to bite him and the party he has embarked upon leading. Getting the unions on his side and winning the leadership contest as a result of their votes, provides the Tories with top quality ammunition and charges of “Red Ed” during a time when it is they that should be under the spotlight. The label of “Left-wing Labour” sits perilously alongside a memory that has been plaguing me today – that now infamous Michael Hestletine speech at the Conservative Party Conference in which he won over the faithful with a devastatingly simple military analogy of a marching army, but with a twist, “Left!….Left!….Left! Left! Left! The greatest trick Ed Miliband pulled in this contest was convincing the disillusioned Labour supporters out there that he was not an inherent believer in New Labour. Now that he has assailed to leader, he has to deliver a left-wing agenda that he does not believe in and therefore simply can’t deliver to the unions and those more broadly who won the leadership for him. Indeed, he will probably spend the next few years facing down Tory and media accusations that he is old, left-wing Labour in both style and substance by feeling it necessary to continually prove by words and deeds otherwise. This dangerous cocktail of accusation and counter-measure will ultimately disappoint those who have supported him and cause untold confusion in the electorate at large. It is bound to undermine the chances of the Labour Party at the next election and beyond. My fear is that it will make Ed Miliband, and the Labour Party, unelectable – that and the fact that he is at times unconvincing. As for the other candidates in the race I got their final position by the end of play today spot on by the end of day one. About 4–6 weeks ago Ed Balls gave up the pretence of running for the leadership and instead set down his claim for Shadow Chancellor. He was extremely convincing in how he set about the Tories dogmatic economic agenda, dissecting it with ruthless efficiency; the inexperienced Tories were left reeling in his wake. Andy Burnham is a nice, down to earth labour Party MP. You’d have him in your Shadow cabinet and government as a safe pair of hands. He is not a leader. Diane Abbott led a cynical campaign which targeted her male contestants, their education and perceived privileged upbringing and that did little to encourage the membership to support her. As well as that, you simply cannot predicate an economic agenda based entirely on the eradication, desirable though it may be, of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. It looks unlikely now that she will be offered a job in the Shadow Cabinet, or at least it should look that way. I knew straight away when David Miliband walked into the conference hall this evening that he had lost. He simply is not the sort of man that would smile from ear to ear upon being told he was the new party leader. It would not be in his nature or style to act so crudely or be so insensitive to the feelings of those whom he had defeated. But tonight belongs to Ed Miliband. Before my personal disappointment this night is misunderstood as an attack on our new leader, let me say this. I’m letting off steam. I’m disappointed. I want to trust, support and fight for Ed Miliband. He is a good and honourable man. In these days of MP claim scandals and public cynicism in politics, Ed Miliband is a damn good alternative. I could enjoy a good pint and a conversation with him and feel right at home. I did, after all, have him as my second preference and for good reason. Ultimately, he will be facing the Tories in the Commons and fighting for the Labour Party and that in itself will intuitively win me over. He can expect my full, unwavering and loyal support from Northern Ireland. That is, except for tonight and for a little while thereafter. Tonight, I am a wounded soldier feeling sorrow for a fallen comrade, and it hurts.

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5 thoughts on “The Lost Leader

  1. Read your comments and fully understand.
    I felt the same about David, yes he had failings but they were outweighed by his tremendous talent, he was going to be the scourge of Cameron and Clegg. He would have been a much harder target for the Murdoch press and the Tory sniping. My night was very gloomy but the reality is we have Ed and like you I will give him my full support.
    At the moment I am trying to not rise to the bait of the Ed brigade crowing, I know I would have been doing the same about David.
    Your prognosis about the future of Labour being tainted with the Red Ed/Union link is such a gift for the Toties and such a handicap for us Murdoch and co will have a field day.
    We have to hold our nerve and just talk honestly and earnestly to people about justice and concern for our fellow workers and communities.
    This is going to be a hard slog.
    Chin up!

    1. Jane,

      Thanks, Jane. Let’s not forget that in political terms David is a young man with plenty of time. I believe he could have been, and still could, be the best Prime Minister that the Labour Party ever produced. Very much an individual, honourable and passionate and, I believe, more to the left of Brown and Blair than his critics, both within and outside the party, believe. 🙂

  2. I think through your disappointment over the result, there still holds much promise for Ed Miliband.

    It’s fair to say that Ed M’s campaign was to the left of David’s, but it represents a form of break from the New Labour that voters abandoned and David Miliband cannot disassociate himself from. During his campaign, Ed Miliband also sought to appeal to more Liberal voters (which I’d identify myself as) speaking on respect for individual freedom balanced with social justice, which New Labour spectacularly failed to do during its 13 years in office, especially since 2001.

    The charge of “Red Ed” looks desperate and I think it will eventually fade. Unions are by no means in wider public favour at the moment, but Tom Clarke of the Guardian pointed out that David Cameron spoke not too long ago on his apparent desire to see “primaries” and local people not connected to the party selecting Tory candidates. Something similar happened with union and society members voting and represents a level of reach in the leadership contest the other main parties cannot match.

    It’s becoming clear that David Miliband lost his chance to take on Gordon Brown before the last general election, and I really do believe that with a new face in the Labour leadership before May 2010, the UK would be governed by a different coalition by now.

    Either way, I’m pleased and relieved the long, drawn out and, frankly, mostly boring Labour leadership contest is over, and Labour, with some 250 MPs and so close to power, can finally get on with being HM Opposition, which is good for democracy.

    1. Thanks, Tim.

      There’s plenty of time for Ed to prove himself to me and those who have their doubts! Knowing me as I do I’ll feel immediately better about him the first time he faces up to Cameron in the Commons. Sometimes I warm to people when I see them in a particular context. I agree 100% about the long drawn out nature of the contest which appears to have contributed, in part, to David Milliband’s defeat as Ed rallied late and strongly towards the end. A really interesting time in British politics don’t you think? 😉

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