Andrew Grice: Why Labour's voting system puts Miliband junior in pole position

Inside Politics

Share
Related Topics

"Cameron's coming," said the former Gordon Brown aide, spotting a familiar Special Branch face in the Prime Minister's advance guard. A gaggle of former Downing Street political advisers were lunching in Portcullis House, the bustling market place of the Commons, time on their hands for the first time in years.

The Labour aides looked on enviously as David Cameron and his entourage snaked through the crowded atrium. Two weeks earlier, they would have been part of the power crowd. A civil service speechwriter took pity, risking a sneaky handshake behind the new Prime Minister's back with a former Brown adviser who called out to him. Mr Cameron marched purposefully, looking every inch the statesman, but then threw a big smile and a thumbs-up sign to a coffee-drinking Conservative MP.

Labour is on the margins as the Liberal-Conservative coalition sets the political agenda at a cracking pace. But Labour has an important decision to make too: it must choose a new leader and potentially, the country's next prime minister.

David Miliband, the shadow Foreign Secretary and front-runner, was first out of the traps and wanted the party to make a decision by July. Labour has wisely put it off until September. It needs time to think and recent leadership elections suggest a party that does so makes the right choice; Mr Cameron would not have beaten David Davis in a quick Tory contest in 2005. David Miliband should have nothing to fear from a longer campaign. His backers say he has the experience, judgment and intellect to "win" in the country. But can the former Foreign Secretary win over his party?

Critics claim David Miliband lacked decisiveness in not toppling Mr Brown before the general election; his backers reply that the bloody civil war could have produced a worse result. Secondly, he is too "geeky". Allies admit people might not want a pint with him but insist focus groups see him as a steely leader. He is stuck with an unwanted "Blairite candidate" label even though he regularly disagreed (from stage left) with the boss he served as policy head and minister.

Mr Balls must carry a similar millstone, inevitably being seen as the "Brownite candidate" after 16 years at Mr Brown's side and therefore too associated with the ruthless Brown machine. Critics don't doubt his intellect or steel but the other bad part of the Balls caricature is that he is tribal Labour, a pugilist too aggressive for the public's liking, who would put Labour at the head of every anti-cuts march. "Ed doesn't do nuance," says one rival.

I detect a strong Labour desire to move on from the Blair-Brown era that could work against David Miliband and Mr Balls – at first glance the two candidates most likely to win. It could help Ed Miliband, who somehow managed to remain neutral in the Blair-Brown wars while working for Mr Brown. He is right to challenge his older brother; they would work well together if either man won. In 1994, Mr Brown gave Mr Blair a free run and wrongly felt deprived of the prize. With hindsight, the two modernisers should have fought it out, as the Milibands do now.

Ed Miliband's supporters do not like comparing him to his brother and there is a noticeable absence of war (and major policy differences). When pressed, they say David offers brains without charisma while Ed offers both and can therefore reconnect with Labour's lost supporters while uniting the party. Ed Miliband's critics claim he lacks the experience or instant judgement to handle unexpected events and would offer compromises rather than strong leadership – more Neil Kinnock (one of his main sponsors) than Mr Blair. Mr Brown is said to have described Ed Miliband as "a cross between an academic and a preacher". Quite a lot of Labour members may like the sermon.

Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, cannot be discounted, although he may be crowded out by the Miliband brothers. Left-wing contenders Diane Abbott and John McDonnell may struggle to get the required 33 nominations from MPs.

Forget the bookies' odds, which make David Miliband the favourite. The crucial thing is not only who has the votes but the voting system – the alternative vote, on which the coalition Government has promised a referendum for Commons elections. People mark candidates in order of preference. Unless any candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the votes (unlikely in the Labour race), he or she can easily be overtaken; the candidate coming last is eliminated in each round and the second preference votes of those who backed him or her are redistributed until one candidate secures more than 50 per cent.

We don't need a crystal ball when we can read the book: Harriet Harman did not come top in any round in Labour's deputy leadership election in 2007 but pipped Alan Johnson in the run-off. The person most likely to benefit from the voting system this time is Ed Miliband.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week