If Ed wins…

There seems to be a growing consensus that Ed Miliband is going to win the Labour leadership (Guido Fawkes reports he’s the “bookies’ favourite”). Obviously we won’t know for sure until tomorrow afternoon (unless there’s a leak – anyone fancy starting a sweepstake on when? 😉 ), but Mike Smithson gives a fairly convincing analysis here of why MiliE may well edge it.

As I’ve said before, if this were a campaign to choose a policy platform, Ed Miliband would be my first preference. However, I’m still afraid that David Cameron will find it all-too easy to make mincemeat of him, not least if he can be painted as “everybody’s second preference, nobody’s first (except the unions’)”.

That said, if Ed Miliband can get through the artillery barrage from right-wing newspapers and bloggers over the next few weeks without ending up being perceived as a combination of Michael Foot, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith (read: electorally-toxic activists’ favourite) then there are a number of ways in which he could be very good for the party. Here are a few that spring to mind:

  • He will have a better chance of freeing Labour from the baggage of Iraq and its dreadful record on civil liberties in government (post-2001 – let’s never forget that New Labour pre-2001 was the party of the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act, of restoration of union rights at GCHQ and so on).
  • He’s more likely than David to make Ed Balls shadow chancellor: surely a complete no-brainer of an appointment, but one which you get the impression David Miliband is inclined to avoid if possible.
  • He has a ruthless streak (as evidenced by today’s Guardian front page) that is perhaps lacking in David, and which will do him no harm in taking on the Tories (and indeed in establishing his authority within the Labour party).
  • If he can get Labour into government (and that, for me, is still the overwhelming big if), it has the potential to be a better Labour government than we’d have under David – one which is more committed to increasing equality and opposing the encroachment of the market into our lives. If there’s one thing the first months of the new government is showing, it’s that the Tories are far more effective at using government to drive through radical change than were New Labour. At this rate, the next Labour government, even if we get back in by 2015, will be forced to rebuild social democracy pretty much from the ground up, rather than cautiously defending its (by then non-existent) remnants.

So, we’ll see. If David turns out to be the winner, I’ll be relieved but perhaps a little uninspired. If Ed wins, I’ll be more fearful – bluntly, I’ll feel like we’ve just condemned ourselves to a decade or more of opposition – but at the same time hoping that he can prove my fears wrong.

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