Leading article: A leader for the post-New Labour age

Share
Related Topics

Ed Miliband secured the Labour leadership by the narrowest of margins, and his first instinct was, rightly, to extend a hand to the 49.35 per cent of the party that had preferred his brother. But the early messages he sought to convey went beyond a simple effort to unite the party around him. He said much that Labour, and the country at large, needed to hear.

His first point was that he would be his own man, "not Bob Crow's man". That Ed Miliband outpolled David thanks largely to the votes of trade union members gives the Conservatives a stick with which to beat him, and it is one they lost no time in applying. Being "in hock to the unions" is bound to be a charge that dogs the first months of his leadership, but it will attach itself to him permanently only if he allows it to. He has to show that he will not let the trade unions dictate to him, but also that he will not dismiss out of hand the legitimate concerns of the people they represent.

His second point, distinct from the union question, was that he will speak for the mainstream and not take the party sharply to the left. This required a degree of repositioning – less because of what he had actually said during his campaign than how what he said then had been perceived. Hence his promise, an echo of Blairism, that the party would be on the side of the "squeezed middle" and "everyone who has worked hard and wants to get on".

His third point, though, was to turn his back on the Blair-Brown inheritance and insist that he represents the future: "a new generation that understands the call of change". That is a useful formulation, signifying – as it does – a desire to move on, rather than demolish. As he put it so emphatically yesterday, "the era of New Labour has passed".

And a fourth point, from his victory speech, was that he would not oppose the Coalition for the sake of opposing; he would pick his fights. In so saying, he is emulating David Cameron's approach when he first became Conservative leader, but also – in the new context of coalition government – wisely not seeking to make enemies gratuitously.

The danger here is that Ed Miliband's Opposition could lack definition and bite. His support for electoral reform and a graduate tax, along with his acknowledgement that, even under Labour, there would have been public sector cuts, leaves quite a hole where points of disagreement might be. The task will doubtless become easier after the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review have been announced, but as Opposition leader, Mr Miliband must be able at once to attack and to present a reasoned alternative.

The rejection, albeit narrow, of the elder brother, also says something about where Labour does and does not want to go. While Ed Miliband successfully courted trade unionists, this need not be the sole explanation for his victory. David was the heir to Tony Blair; he was associated with New Labour and the Iraq war. He had twice dithered about challenging for the leadership, and his public manner could be awkward. David now has hard decisions to make. As someone who staked so much on becoming leader, it might be better if he now envisaged a future outside British politics.

In what happens next, much will depend on the elections to the Shadow Cabinet. But the party is now Ed Miliband's to shape. And he has much, beyond victory, on his side. After a thrashing at the ballot-box and years of destructive rivalry at the top, Labour is in a mood to unite. His will be a different party from the one it might have become under David Miliband; potentially fresher, more forward-looking and imaginative. The immediate task, though, is opposition. What the past decade has shown is the desperate need, in our parliamentary system, for a strong and purposeful opposition. Ed Miliband will be judged by his ability to provide it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: We are winning the fight against extreme poverty and hunger. It's time to up the ante

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron addresses No campagn supporters in Aberdeen  

Scottish independence: Cameron faces a choice between destroying his country or his party

Matthew Norman
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