By Luke Akehurst / @lukeakehurst
I have some very good friends involved in David Miliband’s campaign. Generally they are my allies on the policy issues and internal elections facing Labour and I am very grateful that many of them have helped me get nominated for the NEC.
Whilst the campaign is being fought without the acrimony that has characterised some Labour leadership elections, the likely very tight result between the two Milibands is causing a bit of what I can only describe as naughtiness in the David camp in terms of how they are trying to portray Ed (and indeed Ed Balls).
There seems to be a concerted effort to paint Ed (and Ed) as wild-eyed leftists. This was evident in recent commentary by my friend Paul Richards and by Dan Hodges and in press articles by Phil Collins and Anne McElvoy.
The charge sheet seems to be that if you have secured the support of major trade unions, and you are trying to develop a policy agenda that moves us forward from where we have been, if you don’t believe in a high-Blairite marketisation agenda, and you want to take the fight to the Tories on cuts QED you are the spawn of Trotsky. We’ve come to a bizarre state of affairs when being supported by pragmatic trade unionists like the GMB (basically the industrial wing of the North East Labour right) and Unison Labour Link (the hardest-line bashers of the SWP and Respect in the business) is something to be attacked for in a Labour leadership election. On policy, I think if Blair was running now he’d be more likely to do what Ed M is doing – look for ways to modernise our approach in light of the objectively changed circumstances of economic crisis and climate change, than to think that the market-orientated approach which made sense in 1994-1997 still represented modernisation now. Real revisionists don’t stick to a stale formula – they constantly try to be radical and move with the times.
These attempts to paint Ed M into a left corner aren’t in the interests of the party because if Ed wins the Tories will use these caricatures as ammo to attack him and the whole party as having moved to the left, which it won’t have done. They don’t even make sense in terms of David’s campaign strategy – there’s something heroically kamikaze about trying to get votes from Labour and trade union members by hailing how ideologically pure a New Labourite your man is and accusing his opponents of pandering to… er…oh yes the party they are trying to get elected leader of.
The same mistake was made by Hilary Clinton’s supporters against Obama in the primaries. They misread and misrepresented his radicalism and profile as the change candidate as being on the left on a traditional left-right spectrum. They were wrong about Obama and the Davidistas are wrong about Ed Miliband.
Frankly I find the whole proposition that Ed Miliband is the left candidate laughable and ludicrous based on my own contact with him. I decided to back him after hearing him speak at the Labour First fringe meeting at Birmingham Spring Conference 2008 and the Labour First AGM at Brandhall Labour Club this year. His willingness to engage with a group of people who are the organisational descendants of 1980s Solidarity Group of MPs (in some cases the same people) doesn’t really put him on the left of the Labour spectrum. We put out leaflets backing NATO and the nuclear deterrent. He seems quite comfortable addressing our gatherings and got a fantastic reception. Ed Balls – equally maligned during this campaign as pandering to the left (for what, opposing cuts to BSF?) – has also addressed Labour First’s AGM and was nominated by MPs who have been attacked as “on the right” for decades.
Ed Miliband’s parliamentary supporters aren’t dismissible as leftie rebels. They include some of the brightest young modernisers in the party like Luciana Berger and Rachel Reeves.
Ed M has also been attacked because he might get elected on second preference transfers. But this is not a first-past-the-post election. The whole point of Labour’s electoral system is that you are supposed to get second preference transfers from other candidates. It is irrelevant who wins on first preferences because it is not a FPTP election. If you can’t get transfers you need to ask yourselves why and whether you should be running.
If Ed Miliband wins it will be because he has proved he can transcend the ridiculous Blair/Brown divisions of recent years and unite the party. Because he is acceptable to almost everyone and does not alienate people we need to motivate, enthuse and unite in the campaign to return us to government. Because he is as relaxed about going to talk with a Progress or Labour First audience as a Compass one. Because he can get people as diverse as me and Mark Seddon working together on his campaign.
I’ve been involved at the sharp end in the CLPs of every major struggle to drag the Labour Party onto the centre ground and defeat both the hard and soft left since I joined in 1988. I would not throw away 22 years of fighting to make Labour electable on a whim to back a candidate who would reverse that progress. I have spoken at GC after GC about the need to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent. I would not back a candidate who put our strategic defence at risk.
Disparaging comparisons are made with Neil Kinnock – not least because Neil is backing Ed. I can’t buy into some Year Zero 1994 analysis of Labour history that plays down Neil’s role in modernising the party. Tony Blair only achieved what he did because of the heroism of Neil Kinnock in taking on Militant and ditching unilateralism. If he had inherited 260 or 270 seats like Blair did, or like either Miliband will, he would have become PM. It is an honour not an insult to compare Ed Miliband to Kinnock.
I am proud to be on the moderate wing of the Labour Party and I am proud to support Ed Miliband as a candidate who understands that for Labour to be electable we need to re-modernise our policies for a new era, rebuild the 1997 coalition of core vote and swing vote in the marginals and retake the South from the Tories.
I respect colleagues whose judgement is that David can better do those things, but I would urge them to campaign for David on his merits, not to target Ed with silly smears that misrepresent his politics.
All of us on the centre and right of the party should be celebrating that we have four good candidates running from broadly our tradition and that there is no prospect of the hard left’s candidate, Diane, winning. Trying to artificially drive wedges between the four when they will have to work together under whoever wins is not a clever way forward and it needs to stop now.
Over the years I’ve been called a Kinnockite, a Blairite and a Brownite. I’ve been relaxed about all those labels and I intend to be equally relaxed after 25 September if accused of being a Milibandite – whether that’s under Miliband D or Miliband E.
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