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

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Liberal Left should stop feeling guilty about flying the flag of St George and have no qualms about celebrating Englishness, one of Ed Miliband’s closest advisers said  

Don't sneer at the white van driving flag waving man

Stefano Hatfield
A customer holds his new iPhone  

How magazine websites for young women are filling a gap in the market

Ian Burrell
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin