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Monday, September 27, 2010 

Ed Miliband and the doomers.

For my sins, I support Arsenal. When I can't get a stream going I also, for my sins, tend to go to Arseblog and watch the arses (comments) go by (and even occasionally contribute, although not under this name, potential stalkers). Whenever we either aren't winning, or, rare as it is, are losing, the "doomers" turn up. The players are useless, Wenger's a moron who needs to be sacked, our season's over because we're losing our first game of the season, Fabregas is really going to leave this time because the rest of the team are hopeless lazy wasters, and so it goes. Should we then come back on terms, or win, the opposite is the case. If we actually end up losing, the amount of doomers multiplies exponentially. Such is football.

Such also is politics. For the Blairites and some David Miliband supporters, his brother's victory leaves the party doomed to defeat at the next election. MPs and the party members themselves rejected Ed, even if only by slight margins and due to the vagaries of the incredibly odd system of AV which Labour's electoral college uses. Instead it was the unions, who overwhelmingly supported Ed, who swung it for him. Already those most disgruntled at the result have been murmuring of changing the system for next time, or, as the intention must be, for in roughly 5 years time. The tabloids will moniker him "Red Ed" and bring up his union "bully boy" backers constantly, each week David Cameron will remind him of how his own colleagues on the green benches behind him didn't vote for him as they squirm uncomfortably, and the public, even as they suffer the cuts being inflicted by the coalition, will fear how the leader will be in the pocket of the far worse strikers and wreckers.

Some of this is, admittedly, my own immediate analysis. Winning thanks to the union section of the electoral college was hardly ideal, and it will cast a pall for a while over his leadership, but it's hardly going to lose Labour the next election on its own. The right-wing press, not just the tabloids, have already set out to make the "Red Ed" shortening a permanent one. That it is already tedious and tiresome, as well as ridiculous, will mean it will soon disappear. After all, if there's one thing the public hates, it's being told how they're supposed to view someone when they haven't even had a chance to begin to make their own mind up. Sure, the media influences how they make up their mind, and it will have an impact, but this isn't even beginning to approach the level of sniping and demonisation that went on in the 80s right up until the 92 election. If anything, it's simply pathetic: really Daily Mail, Ed hasn't condemned the "strike threat"? The fiend! He backs "higher taxes and wants to curb top pay"? Well, haven't they blown long and hard about the second part, except of course when it comes to Mr Dacre's yearly pay cheque? They actually seem far more concerned about how his son's a bastard and the father's name isn't on the birth certificate, which as usual tells you everything about the immoral Daily Mail's priorities.

At the same time, it's also difficult to see anyone who's really optimistic at this turn of events, despite what Dave and Laurie might think. Instead they're just accepting of it, and are waiting to see what comes next. All these claims that Ed ran the best, most inspiring and hopeful campaign are hogwash. He probably wasn't even the most competent. The choice essentially was between the unelectable in any form (Abbott), the Brown continuity candidate, even if he has a good line in oppositionism (Balls), the unrecognisable with no chance (Burnham), Blair without the charm (D Miliband) and the best of a bad lot and that's about it (E Miliband). Labour has spent the time after the election leading up to this, mostly doing nothing constructive, and the hope was that this result would leave it energised to take on the Tories, providing the kind of opposition which the coalition marriage of convenience desperately needs. If anything, the life seems to have been sucked out of it even more than after the election.

This was always going to be the problem when two personalities had so dominated the party over the last sixteen years, leaving it without anyone who could unite the two factions, and bereft also of anyone without allegiance who could move the party on from the New Labour era. All that's effectively happened, sadly, is that the soap opera has moved on from the TB-GBs which at times descended almost into a British equivalent of Kremlinology to now the sibling rivalry, with the shock twist of the upstart younger brother triumphing against the favourite. What's D Miliband going to do now? Is he going to petulantly throw in the towel and go off into the wilderness of academia and wait for Ed to fail? Or is he going to compliment his brother by becoming shadow chancellor, taking the battle to the wicked persecutor Osborne?

The best possible thing that could happen would be David deciding to leave politics entirely. That would frame it as a family tragedy, but would mean that Ed could get at least get on with the job, without having to put up with every slight detail of their relationship as ministers being scrutinised. It would also allow the new talent to rise to the top, if it can be described as that, and it's always worth remembering the advice of the sage Jarvis Cocker, who observed that shit floats. Labour desperately needs new blood, new ideas, a whole new generation.

For even while the "doomers" are almost always wrong, they do occasionally get things right in spite of themselves. Much of Labour's thinking (as well as that of bloggers and commentators) has been predicated on the public overwhelmingly rejecting the spending cuts and the damage that they inflict, or even if they don't, they will object to the economic impact they will undeniably have. What though if they don't? What if they decide that they rather like the coalition's reforms and if everything goes as the IMF predicts, they end up with some pleasing tax cuts come the end of the parliament? Labour is depending on everything going wrong, rather than anything going right, and there are no signs of them beginning to offer anything approaching an alternative. The Conservatives prior to the credit crunch were at least looking in different areas, and it emboldened them further, even if they hadn't and still haven't fully fleshed out the "Big Society" and other ideas.

Labour shouldn't be just planning on winning in 2015; it should be in contingency thinking about what should happen should it not win until 2020. When asked by an American I chat to (don't ask) about Ed Miliband, I rather patronisingly (for the American, not Ed) compared him potentially with John Kerry in 04; the Democrats believed that they could put up anyone and they would beat Bush. Kerry was a fine congressman and deserved to win, but didn't win over the American public. Labour isn't in quite such a deluded situation, but it isn't that far off. Ed Miliband could more than conceivably win in 5 years time, if he doesn't just move on from New Labour as he has rightly signalled but actively creates something which is more than just the sum of its parts. It has to be a party which is once again in tune with both the working and middle classes, a party which offers a genuinely bright future and a vision of a Britain which isn't just treading water but actively progressing. New Labour indulged and endorsed neo-liberalism until it became a conservative party in all but name, while at the same time having the worst tendencies of the authoritarian left. Ed Miliband seems to have understood that, but as yet has not articulated properly how he intends to change things. At the same time he needs to recognise that things might not go his way, and that the next generation needs to be groomed should he fail. If he does so he will have prepared his party far better for the future than the competing egos of Blair and Brown ever did.

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