Friday, September 24, 2010

The Labour leadership

With less than a day to go to the declaration of the Labour leadership result, I thought it would be worth delving into the what the outcome could mean. I don't think there is a need to waste our time on the non-Milibands as the consensus from all sides is that Abbott, Balls and Burnham are out of the running.

So firstly, David Miliband (DM). He was clearly the front runner in the eyes of the Westminster media pack 3 months ago though I have previously pointed out that there was no evidence to back up this DM winning prediction. I suspect the Westminster journos were making predictions based on their knowledge of MPs in the Commons hothouse. They lack however any significant knowledge and often understanding of grassroots politics. As the Labour Parliamentary Party was mainly built up under Blair, then it is likely that a Blairite candidate would have more pull with the MPs. There could be a bit of a gulf between the MPs and the rest of the Labour party if DM is elected.

So will the election of DM the Blairite (despite attempts to distance himself from his former Leader) mark a continuation of a New Labour outlook within the Labour Party? My suspicion is that it will only be a partial readoption of what won Labour three elections. The genie is rather out of the bottle with Labour and my reading of the situation is that most Labour members are wanting to head back to the comfort zone of opposition and the sort of policies that lost them elections in the Thatcher years. DM will experience some difficulties in moving his party in the direction needed to win an election.

Nevertheless, DM as Leader at least implies a recognition by Labour that electability is important. And he has so far avoided the more extreme attacks on the Lib Dems whilst his fellow contenders, especially his brother, have engaged in a battle to be the most beastly to the Lib Dems. This is not just an interesting debating point. At the next election in 2015 the two most likely outcomes are a Conservative majority or no overall control. The chances of a Labour majority are slim. If Labour wish to return to office in 2015, they have to be open to coalition with the Lib Dems. DM offers Labour the best opportunity to do that.

That cannot be said of Ed Miliband (EM). He has clearly positioned himself as a candidate with left-leaning credentials. Whether or not he genuinely wants to take Labour in a more traditional left wing direction is not clear. I suspect he has agreed to carry the baggage of the old Labour supporters he has courted, even though he may not necessarily believe it is credible to rebuild Labour on such thin foundations. Nevertheless, EM has built up a massive head of steam behind a shift to the left and expectations will need to be satisfied. EM will have great difficulty stopping a full scale charge to the left by the Labour grassroots.

EM has also whipped up a fervour against the Lib Dems which will also make future coalition discussions extremely difficult. In effect, the choice of EM is tantamount to a declaration that Labour will reject coalition after the general election even though it is their only realistic route back to power within the next decade. The choice of EM has a wider impact on politics. It narrows down needlessly the likely choices before the British people of the political make up of the government in 2015: majority Conservative or Con Lib Dem coalition. It removes the option of a Lab Lib Dem coalition. Whilst I have serious differences with Labour, the people should at least have the option of choosing such a government in 2015.

The final point I make about the Labour Leadership is that DM is much more positive about getting a yes vote in the AV referendum. EM seems uninterested. He is also beholden to the likes of the GMB who are against reform. It will be much more difficult to win the referendum without the active support of the Labour party leader. It could be therefore that if Labour elects Ed Miliband they will be opting for a decade in opposition and wreck voting reform that could lock them out of power for an even longer period.
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