Thinking further about what I was saying in my previous post, this in many ways comes down to the role of what used to be called “the soft left”. Ed Miliband has pitched himself as a standard-bearer for this tradition within Labour – the tradition with which I’m most comfortable identifying – and that may yet carry him to the leadership.
But is Labour leader the best place for someone like Ed Miliband to advance a “soft left” agenda? In many ways, the Labour leadership exists to disappoint and frustrate the hopes of the left, and Ed Miliband as leader would undoubtedly end up disappointing and frustrating many who now support him.
The Tories tried electing leaders who represented the political instincts of their base: William Hague and (even more so) Iain Duncan Smith. The result was a disaster, both for the Conservative party and the individuals themselves. They then elected someone (Cameron) who was, in many ways, a disappointment to their core supporters, with his sympathy for gay rights and support (however opportunistic) for “green” issues. However, behind the scenes of Cameron’s leadership, his more ideologically-minded colleagues have been able to regroup and develop policies that advance their agenda far more effectively than they were able to achieve by securing the party leadership.
The example of Iain Duncan Smith is once again instructive: disastrously ineffective as party leader, but now responsible for a significant area of policy on which he has developed his expertise and for which he has a clear passion (for good or ill).
Ed Miliband is no Iain Duncan Smith, of course, and would be far better as Labour leader than Duncan Smith was as head of the Tory party. But he may still do better service to Labour through his policy expertise, advancing a “soft left” agenda more effectively as an “éminence rouge” than would be possible as party leader.