New Labour's dead cat bounce.
In fact, Burnham has been the surprise candidate in that he's at least tried to think differently even if still within the Blairite prism: his "aspirational socialism" might be risible intellectually and in practice, yet using the "s" word in the current climate when Vince Cable gets derided for daring to make even the slightest critique of capitalism takes a certain amount of bottle. Embarrassing by contrast has been Diane Abbott, who's ran an invisible campaign and seemingly treated the entire thing as a joke. We have to make an allowance for how it takes money to do anything political these days and she's had almost none pledged in her direction, but that's no excuse for not even seeming to put an ounce of her heart in it. It has to be remembered that John McDonnell stood down in favour of her, who just might have managed to drag the debate leftwards and make the party's apparatus think about those who have been systematically abandoned and marginalised by New Labour. Instead Abbott's acted as the party's false conscience, sitting in yet contributing nothing. When Abbott is the face of the Labour left, that section of the party shouldn't be surprised when it finds itself derided and ridiculed.
The fear from the beginning was that it would be personalities rather than policies which would be the main topic of debate and so it has proved. Admittedly, when the two main candidates are brothers it's always likely that the media, already about as interested in the leadership contest as it has been with the floods in Pakistan, was going to focus on that to the detriment of everything else; the problem has been that it's been their camps which have been playing it up more than anyone else. Their relationship might well have turned poisonous if we're to believe Neil Kinnock, and the interventions by Blair and Mandelson have hardly helped, yet still the entire fixation on it has been dispiriting.
What then, if despite all the speculation surrounding his brother and second preference votes, it does turn out to be David Miliband who becomes Labour leader on Saturday? Having been anointed as the only apparent successor to Blair and Brown, it would be a vote for a continuation of the New Labour project, even in its current decrepit state. Moreover, it would be an endorsement of all that Miliband stood for while he was a cabinet minister, and especially his record as foreign secretary. While much has been made during the campaign of how the elder Miliband continues to support the Iraq war in the obfuscatory Blairite fashion of having made the right decision at the time while Ed apparently opposed it, that ought to be the least of concerns. Far more significant is how he didn't just frustrate the attempts by Binyam Mohamed to find out the contents of the "seven paragraphs", which detailed that MI5 were fully aware of how he was being mistreated by the Americans and their proxies, he authorised Jonathan Sumption to criticise the legal opinion of Lord Neuberger for getting far too close to the truth.
Some of Miliband's actions in blocking the Binyam Mohamed case may have been down to protecting our relationship with the US, supposedly in danger due to our breaching of the "control" principle, whereby another country does not reveal intelligence shared with it without authorisation. The same cannot be said for Miliband's apparent authorisation of intelligence-gathering operations in countries with atrocious human rights records, as revealed by the Guardian today. For Miliband to have apparently returned to the Foreign Office to revisit his decisions is an indication of how serious he himself considers the allegations. It's one thing to defend the actions of your predecessors and the intelligence services they were responsible for at the time; it's something else to potentially give the OK for MI6 to seek access to information obtained via torture.
At the outset of the leadership contest it was clear that Ed Miliband was the best realistic option for leader, as in the potential to actually win, and absolutely nothing has changed since then. None of the candidates has shown a real willingness to take the few things that New Labour achieved and build upon them by revitalising the party's relationship both with its members and the public at large, and none has yet demonstrated anything even resembling a real alternative to the cuts agenda as articulated by the coalition. Ed has done the bare minimum required to deserve to lead the party, as Labour itself so often did when it was in power. Whichever brother triumphs, 2015 remains a year which the party and indeed the country should fear rather than look forward to.