Andrew Grice: So Miliband believes in a 'new politics'. The trouble is, who doesn't?

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The Independent Online

David Miliband sent his brother, Ed, a text message warmly congratulating him on his Labour conference speech as soon as it ended.

At the time, David was blissfully unaware that he had been caught by an ITV microphone rebuking Harriet Harman for applauding Ed's attack on the decision to go to war in Iraq. It was a fair cop. But his text message shows he was being as gracious in private towards the brother who deprived him of the Labour leadership as he was in public.

Labour's psychodrama in Manchester was emotionally draining. The players are exhausted as they catch their breath this weekend. Ed Miliband's victory a week ago left no time for celebration. There was his brother's heartache and a political headache to worry about. David won more support than him amongst MPs and Labour members, but he triumphed because of his big lead among trade unionists, the third section in the party's electoral college. As a result, the mood in the conference hall was tense. At first, the football lovers in Ed's team compared it to an away match; his fans were outnumbered. Gradually, he won the crowd over. People who had supported his brother rallied round, accepting the result.

In the bars, it was a different story, especially after midnight. Some Blairities were bitter. "Ed is the Gordon Brown continuity project," snarled one.

It is true that Mr Brown's allies played a part in ensuring that the leadership campaign ended last week rather than in July, the other option. If it had been held then, David, the early front-runner and favourite, would almost certainly have won. Trade union members of Labour's National Executive Committee were lobbied to support a four-month rather than two-month contest. Brownites hoped a delay would give either Ed Balls or Ed Miliband a chance to catch David. "Gordon is against things – and he was against David Miliband," claimed one former cabinet minister.

Such wounds will take time to heal. But there is more to Ed Miliband than meets the eye. He is not a clone of Mr Brown. His ruthless decision to stop Nick Brown, a close ally of Gordon, becoming Labour's Chief Whip, shows that he recognises the need to have a balanced team and use all the talents. He will want to do the same when he names his Shadow Cabinet after next week's election amongst Labour MPs.

Although he worked for Gordon Brown for 10 years, he is a different animal, from a different generation. Unlike Mr Balls, he is not factional and somehow remained on reasonable terms with Team Blair when the Blair-Brown relationship was at its lowest points. Unlike Gordon Brown, he understands that today's politicians need charisma, the right temperament and style as well as the right policies. An opposition leader must also pass the "Can you imagine him in No 10?" test. There are lots of boxes for Ed Miliband to tick.

Ed Miliband's talk about his new generation delivering a "new politics" is more than another soundbite. He really believes in it. His problem is that David Cameron and Nick Clegg "get it" too. They are practising a new politics daily in front of the voters' eyes and people seem to like it.

Unlike many other speakers at Labour's conference, the party's new leader did not attack the Liberal Democrats or Mr Clegg, even though the delegates lapped up such broadsides.

Mr Miliband is playing a longer game. He criticised the Iraq war not to embarrass his brother but to send a powerful signal to Liberal Democrat voters. It appears to have worked. A poll of 1,023 people by the PoliticsHome website found that 47 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters have more respect for Mr Miliband as a result of his remarks about Iraq (as do 48 per cent of Labour voters). He also talked up his credentials on civil liberties and promised to back the alternative vote in next May's referendum.

Aides deny his speech was a carefully crafted love letter to Liberal Democrat supporters. They insist Mr Miliband was merely telling us who he is: someone who does not see politics on a conventional left-right spectrum and rejects New Labour's drive to push rightwards from the centre ground to shove the Tories further to the right. Hence his goal of reshaping the centre ground. Blairities fear that is code for a shift to the left. To Ed Miliband's admirers, however, it means Labour not being frightened of its own shadow, being "Bold Labour" not Old Labour.

The "new politics" means Labour must not portray the Liberal Democrats as crypto-Tories but lure them back into a progressive alliance, according to Roger Liddle, a former Liberal Democrat who became an adviser to Tony Blair and Lord Mandelson. He warns Labour colleagues: "A semi-permanent coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is something we should fear, not wish for. It detoxifies the Tory brand. It persuades voters that there is no practical alternative to the course of action the Coalition is following 'in the national interest' ". Many Labour MPs and activists hate Mr Clegg for joining forces with the Tory enemy. Mr Miliband must somehow persuade them to love the Liberal Democrats, and even be prepared to do a deal with Mr Clegg after the next election.

a.grice@independent.co.uk

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