So, then, Ken Livingston beating Oona King. Does this point to the way in which Labour votes have gone for their Leadership election? If not an absolute repeat of the post-1979 reaction to an election defeat, 2010 appears to have all the characteristics of a party in opposition needing solace. When the Labour Party are shaken by events, they tend to shunt to the Left.
The debates leading to today’s announcement – confirming the victory of a Miliband from social democratic stock, one less so than the other – shaped the direction Labour will take along the path to the 2015 general election. Neither Miliband are as ideological as the pre-announcement media would paint, and regardless the secret of electoral success after Margaret Thatcher has been distancing of ideology from the voting public. John Major – the ‘solo coalitionist’ in Peter Hennessy’s detailed study of Prime Ministerial history – could not have won the 1992 election as a ‘typical’ Tory. In 1997, Tony Blair would stride through the jibes – “I’m Tory, Plan B”, “Tory Tony” – to secure a landslide victory as a Labour PM albeit not as a Labour man.
David Miliband is the Blairite Continuity Candidate, whose leadership skills have been brought into doubt following two scuffed opportunities to depose Gordon Brown. His leadership would not detach the Labour Party from its recent history or some of the policy decisions from the past which remain today. For every nod to progressive policy announcements – the LibDem favoured ”mansion tax” for example – Dave would happily subscribe to the spend now, pay back later mantra of both Blair and Brown. He has told plenty of leadership hustings that ‘state knows best’, his only nod to something vaguely socialist. Where the Coalition try to cut down the size, shape and cost of central Government, David would walk right back in and press ‘reverse’. ‘Nanny state’ philosophy, such as it is, would not disappear under the older Miliband. His campaign video starts with spiel of assured management speak which reeks of Blair’s televangelist style;
New Labour did fantastic things for the country, never let anyone take that away. But what counts is Next Labour. Listening, passionate, engaged, committed, thoughtful, radical, decisive: Labour. That’s what this election campaign is all about.
His younger brother, broadly speaking, is ‘of the left’, perhaps acknowledging that no Labour leader has been celebrated by its membership as being quite Left ‘enough’. He is the ‘change’ candidate, whose campaign video is 90 seconds of breathless undoing of the reputation of Labour’s time in office. Talk of creating ‘good jobs’, whatever they are, of reshaping foreign policy by ‘values’, seems disconcertingly vague. It’s worked, though, his echoing Gordon Brown tapping in to the concerns of a Labour membership tired of small ‘c’ values pervading economic and social arguments. Lord knows Ed needs someone else to write his script, if this from his campaign video is any guide;
I am the candidate most willing to turn the page in this Leadership election. I think that is an important voice and I am an important voice in that contest. I think where Labour politics needs to go, it needs to show people that we can create good jobs and good wages for people because we have too many people who are struggling and working harder and longer for less in this country….
Ickle Miliband got to the Living Wage pledge before his brother, has hinted with fellow left-leaning candidate Ed Balls that the 10p tax rate abolition was disastrous for the core Labour voter, and will doubtlessly continue to support the Coalition’s plan to increase income allowance to £10,000. His brother has given no similar assurances.
Both Milibands know the shadow of Labour’s time in office will be hard to shift. The gap between rich and poor was widened not narrowed. Child poverty was focused upon but not resolved at anything like the rate envisaged or necessary. State Knows Best target cultures turned police officers into admin staff chasing spreadsheets. “There’s no money left”, the parting shot from Liam Byrne, remains a sick punchline to their economic joke. David and Ed will both take their Party and potentially the country away from this reputation; Dave to the centre ground with continuing flavours of Blairite and by extension Thatcherite economic medicine: Ed with a Brownite, socialist flavour.
It was possible for Blair to win with Labour in 1997 by topping off the long reinvention process initiated by Neil Kinnock and John Smith. Now the Miliband brothers have a fixed-term parliament to undergo similar amount of renewal. The time for misunderstanding the Coalition is done, now the long walk back into power begins.