Well, I think I’ve finally reached a decision on the Labour leadership. It’s always been a matter of “which Miliband?”, but I’ve been surprised at how difficult I’ve found it to choose between them.
On the face of it, it ought to be easy: Ed Miliband is the more obviously left-wing of the two, and I’m impressed by his emphasis on policies such as the Living Wage. David Miliband, by contrast, is widely seen as the “Blairite” candidate, the candidate of the Labour right, and in particular as being tainted by his support for the Iraq invasion in 2003.
So on paper, Ed is the better choice for me. But we’re not electing a set of policy proposals: we’re electing a leader. And in the end – having seen them both in action at the CSM hustings, and having read numerous articles and speeches (and watched a number of videos) by and about each brother – David strikes me as having greater credibility than Ed as a party leader – and as a prospective prime minister.
I say this with a degree of reluctance, and not entirely without misgivings. I don’t believe David Miliband is the “Blair Mark II” or “continuity candidate”, but there is something dispiriting about hearing New Labour nostrums about “responsibilities as well as rights” and so on given a fresh airing by him. (Contrast Andy Burnham’s formulation in his “Sun Cabbie” interview: “everyone looks out for each other but everyone does their bit”, which says the same thing in a fresher and more concrete way.)
I was impressed by his Keir Hardie lecture, however, and by his support for increased use of mutualisation. I also agree with him on the need for Labour to build a broad coalition again, as in 1997 – which means not completely burning our boats with Lib Dem supporters (and not patronising them, Ed). And while I find the term “community organisers” a little toe-curling – a little too obvious in its attempt to evoke Obama – David Miliband’s drive to train up 1,000 community organisers does at least show a concrete commitment to developing Labour’s grassroots campaigning – an area where New Labour was weak, and which is now essential both on the basis of principle (the sort of party we want to be) and pragmatism (the party is too financially embarrassed to engage in high-cost national campaigns).
More negatively, my feeling is that Ed Miliband is a little too “lightweight” to be a credible leader going toe-to-toe with David Cameron. Having seen him misjudge his audience at the CSM hustings by speaking in too impassioned a manner (and, more to the point, ignoring the actual question that had been put to him), my big fear is that Cameron would find it all-too easy to portray Ed as shrill and a bit gauche: “Calm down, dear!” The most effective weapon against Cameron is not spittle-flecked oratory but a forensic dismantling of his claims: a task to which David strikes me as better suited.
And in the end, there’s only one question that matters for me: which candidate has the best prospect of delivering a Labour government at the next election? One thing the coalition is demonstrating in its first few months in office is that even an imperfect Labour government is better than a Tory (or Tory-dominated) one. I’d rather have a Labour government led by David, but quite likely implementing many of Ed’s policies (such as his Living Wage proposals), than a Labour party whose leadership’s pronouncements are more congenial to my ears but which remains in opposition.
Note: This was written before I heard about Jon Cruddas’ formal endorsement of David Miliband yesterday. I agree with pretty much every word of what Cruddas says in his interview with New Statesman – including his criticisms of David Miliband. Like Cruddas, I am not completely sold on everything MiliD stands for or says, but still think he is the best candidate for rebuilding Labour as a more pluralist, communitarian and activist political organisation.
A part of me still regrets that Cruddas did not stand for the leadership himself, if only to enhance the level of debate. However, my support for the “Cruddas for Labour Chair” campaign starts here…