The Labour Party Conference moves forward today after its much contested leadership is decided with an election result worthy of the coalition government. The younger Miliband has succeeded over the elder with a 1.3% lead. Ed Miliband is the first leader or deputy leader in Labour history to be elected without the majority support either of his MPs or of his party members. He won the first-preference vote in only 72 of the 635 Labour constituencies whilst his brother beat him in each round of constituency votes with 55,905 first-preferences to Ed’s 37,980. It was Ed’s success in the union section, worth a third of the vote, which placed the victor’s laurels upon his head and the millstone of union favour around his neck.
David Miliband was self-effacing at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester; he told reporters that today was ‘not about [him]. This is a conference about Ed’s leadership of the party’. The elder brother repeatedly said that his decision on whether to serve under his younger brother was yet to be made. David stated that he had been planning ‘a slightly different week’ in Manchester. Now that his itinerary has a gaping hole where ‘Deliver leader’s speech’ originally stood, he said he would need time and space in order to come to a decision about his next move. David has been widely praised for his dignity in his defeat by his younger brother but his decision whether or not to remain in parliament will be a difficult one. Outside the conference David held his silence to reporters, not wanting his decision and the media furor surrounding their sibling rivalry to upstage his brother in his moment of glory.
David speaks at the conference in his position as shadow foreign secretary and is anticipated to report his intentions at the close of the conference. The Guardian have provided a live feed of the conference and in his speech today David affirmed that ‘You don’t run for the leadership, you don’t do anything like that in politics or in life, unless you are 100% committed to winning.’ The elder Miliband was also pragmatic in his defeat, stating ‘I’ve also learned something else in life: you never go in for something, especially something so important, unless you are sure in yourself that you are reconciled to the prospect that you might lose. That’s life. So to those of you who have been coming up to me in the last few days – don’t worry, I’ll be fine.’
David’s position at the heart of the Labour party and in parliament is now questionable. Will David be able to serve under his younger brother? Such a position would be both personally difficult and the subject of huge public scrutiny. Any differences on policy between the two brothers will be the centre of media attention and such issues, held up to the light, may well prove divisive for the party.
Ed will be choosing his Shadow cabinet over the next weeks and the position of Shadow Chancellor appears to be a shape that David could well fill. David’s presence in Ed’s new vanguard will help counter claims of a lurch to the left under ‘Red Ed’s’ leadership. Ed Miliband said that David ‘needs time to think about the contribution he can make. I think he can make a very big contribution to British politics, but he needs the space to do that.’ David’s presence would lend credibility and popular support to the party. He would also bolster leadership lauded by some as a doomsday scenario or a Tory miracle.
Conservatives are gleefully rubbing their hands together, dubbing Ed a stooge of the unions that boosted him into power. Labour’s new leader has asserted that he is his own man after a barrage of questioning but supporters can only hope that this defensive claim proves to be a central tenant of Ed’s leadership. When interviewed on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show Ed claimed to be ‘for the centre ground in politics’ but dubiously added ‘but, it is about defining the centre ground’. Through this rather sophistic statement we are reminded that the centre is always a matter of where you are standing, perhaps Ed will relocate centre after a surreptitious step to the side.
If not David there appear to be another two obvious candidates for the position of Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls and his wife Yvette Cooper, both of whom are using their time post-leadership election to outline their economic stand points.
If Leader and Chancellor is made a duo of Ed’s rather than Miliband’s it would signify a drift away from the economic policy outlined by Darling prior to the election. Balls wants less severe cuts and a slower pace in cutting the deficit, abandoning Darlings plan of cutting the deficit by half in the next four years. Whilst this economic policy did not win Labour an election the public recognise a need for action to heal the over £900 billion national debt. Ed favours an increase in taxes over dramatic cuts and wants to stand up for the ‘big injustices’ facing squeezed middle England. The Labour party needs to retain a credible approach to the deficit and whilst these policies seem rather vague, ideally they will be outlined in more detail tomorrow.
Ed has a rocky path ahead of him but also has the opportunity to be the non-divisive leader that could rebuild Labour’s glory days. Ed does truly need to be his own man; a leader kowtowed to the unions, opposing any and all cuts will not have a leg to stand on should election time roll around again with cuts and the coalition be responsible for reduction of the deficit. This is to say nothing of the internal rumblings and disruptions such behaviour would cause. Whilst the Conservatives pop champagne corks a new era of Labour begins and the era of New Labour dies. The party will ideally unite behind their new leader, one big brother hopefully in the front row.