Well. That was unexpected.
I went to the Christian Socialist Movement’s Labour leadership hustings this evening, and it may well have changed my mind as to who to vote for. I walked in to the meeting as an Ed Miliband supporter, but on the night I was far more impressed by his brother David.
The hustings covered five main topics – Labour engagement with the community, the economy (with a supplementary question on child poverty and inequality), climate change, home affairs (particularly reducing the prison population and ending detention of the children of asylum seekers), and the values of Christian Socialism – with a “free-for-all” of questions from the floor at the end.
I felt that David Miliband did far more than Ed M to engage with the questions. Yes, he got across his main talking points, but he seemed to have a depth and range of responses, of engaging with the specifics of policy, that went far beyond that of his opponents.
It’s revealing also that, having put aside my pen out of weariness once the “free-for-all” started, David M’s answers got me writing again. In particular I liked his emphasis on the role of the community as a corrective against abuses of power by both business and the state – while recognising that the so-called “Big Society” will do far more to harm communities than the last government even at its most statist.
He also made an excellent point about how a revival in trade unionism is needed to increase working class involvement in politics, with the current 15% trade union membership level being “far too low”.
Finally, I respected his openness about his own atheism at what was a largely Christian event. He came across as having a genuine respect for Christians and those of other faiths, without trying to exaggerate his own sympathies or affiliations with religious belief.
As for the other speakers, Andy Burnham came across better than I’d expected, though he is still not leadership material. Diane Abbott seemed to get the warmest and loudest applause, and her involvement has certainly improved the quality of the debate from what it would otherwise have been.
Ed Balls was probably the second most impressive candidate tonight, but he has too big a mountain of public unpopularity to climb to be a realistic leadership prospect. I remain of the view that he will make an excellent shadow chancellor.
The biggest disappointment for me tonight, though, was Ed Miliband. His answer to the first question was disastrously misjudged, completely ignoring the question in favour of giving us his elevator pitch. He also started the evening speaking a little too ardently for the crowd, it seemed to me: the other speakers, particularly David Miliband, did a better job of pitching what they said to the particular audience they had.
I still warm towards Ed Miliband’s policies and overall philosophy more than David Miliband’s: but I came away thinking David might be the better leader, and by no means a “Blair Mark II”.