As I blogged back at the beginning of this incredibly long leadership campaign (not that the length in itself it is a problem) I wanted to be swept off my feet, caught up in the giddy rush of new love with an impressive, exciting leader. This hasn’t happened. Rather, it has been a case of a slow building relationship, starting as friends before beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, this could be something special...
Ok, I’m going to quit the incredibly cheesy romantic references there before we all die of forced saccharine overdose. However, I think that the analogy stands, in that my belief that David Miliband should be the next Leader of the Labour Party has been slow to build, fuelled partly by vision of the direction of the party, and partly by the approach of his main opponent.
I’ll get the negative out of the way first. I started this campaign fairly evenly split between the two brothers, not quite sure who should win. I leant towards David through policy and stature, however thought Ed could be a positive new figure, a breath of fresh air following the unending rumour and innuendo surrounding David Miliband during the Brown years. However, I think Ed Miliband has taken the wrong tack with his campaign, the impression of negativity towards any of Labour’s record not filling me with confidence or pride. Don’t get me wrong, Labour needs to own up to mistakes, particularly in regards to the disconnection that we fostered between the electorate, the membership and the party apparatus (for an interesting article about the price politicians pay for failing to apologies, check out the Post’s article about Adrian Fenty’s fall from office as Mayor of Washington DC). However, the enthusiastic dash to appear removed from anything vaguely uncontroversial during Labour’s time in office is both disappointing and uninspiring. Firstly, it is easy to criticise decisions made when you weren’t in office, and particularly when you weren’t part of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet – I don’t remember any reports of Ed Miliband joining the anti-war marchers. More crucially, I think it misses the point of what Labour needs to do. Yes, the public want some contrition – but fundamentally they have already punished us for our failings at the ballot box. What they want to see now is an energised party with a realistic, attractive vision which stands in contrast to the Highway to Hell which the Coalition Government is hurtling us along.
I believe that David Miliband offers this direction, through a sensible approach which can unify the different wings of the party in fighting back as a political entity. As I have often moaned in the empty sanctity of this blog, Obama’s focus on change has become a curse on the world’s political environment, being attached to every utterance, even when they come from right wing conservatives who find the very concept of change anathema to their entire ideology. Interestingly (and my scepticism towards the change agenda is pretty rigid) he has taken some of the better aspects of Obama’s grassroots campaign in the concept of a Movement for Change (check out an interesting article on the Huffington Post about it). This approach is looking to redesign the engagement of activists with the communities, breaking free both of the distant, unresponsive party hierarchy and the unsustainable ‘paratrooper’ approach, where activists hit an area in the run up to an election and then vanish into the aether, leaving nothing behind them of note.
This offers the potential of a fundamental redistribution of power and energy from the structure to the people, a chance for communities to rally together and produce result s which matter to them. Cameron’s Big Society campaign often seems vague and ill defined, an excuse for cuts rather than a realistic empowerment of society. It takes the approach that the State is too big – really it is the flip side, that civic society is possibly too small, that is the crucial if we really want to change power in the UK. David Miliband’s Movement for Change targets the grassroots as a resource for energy, which should complement the State rather than replacing it. Rather than ideologically (and naively) presuming that harsh cuts will automatically be replaced by an unsupported upsurge in civic activity, it acknowledges that communities need support, training and encouragement to be able to find new ways of behaving and engaging. Local leaders can stimulate this behavioural shift, alongside creating a new generation of politicians who are rooted in the real world, rather than the artificial environs of the political sphere.
I think that David Miliband’s political approach is also what the Labour Party, and the country, needs. One of the reasons that the Conservative Party took so long to recover in the public’s perception as a realistic political entity was because their reaction to the 97 election was to race to the right. Under Hague and Howard they were out of touch with public opinion, and had David Davis won the last Conservative Leadership election they would have remained there. It is therefore vital that Labour doesn’t replicate their mistakes in falling over ourselves to retreat back to some perceived left-wing utopian, enjoying the fun of ideological purity in the safe environment of opposition, but removing our chance of returning to power.
The Labour Party is a very broad movement encompassing a wide range of perspectives (as any legitimate political party should be) and I know that there will be dedicated fellow members who fall more to the left than I do, and who would welcome a return to a more traditional left wing rather than centre-left approach. I respect their commitment and ideas (and believe the times when that vital part of the party was excluded from deliberations under previous leaders was wrong) but personally I believe that we need an approach which listens to the public, which is responsive to national priorities while moving forward a progressive agenda which is open to a broad coalition of supporters, within and without the Labour Party. The Coalition Government is following an aggressive ideological agenda in power, the economic challenges the country is facing an excuse for changing the country to fit their worldview. We cannot be a party of narrow ideology but one which can create a vibrant, inclusive country.
We need to be asking the questions about the failure of the banking system without merely using it as an excuse to indulge in rhetoric. We need to be reshaping the structures in place so that the market works for us rather than us being slaves to the market. We need to build on our international alliances, particularly with the US, rather than falling into anti-American sloganeering in response to a misguided view of what we think the public want. We need to be defending the vital role of the State in creating and sustaining our country, whilst also critically examining how it can work best and most efficiently for our citizens.
David Miliband is a politician of international standing, who was a successful Foreign Secretary and will be a welcome and respected leader of the country in future years. I believe that his vision is the best one to move the country and the party forward, and I strongly hope that he is successfully announced as the next leader of the Labour Party, on my birthday on the 25th September.