Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why Ed Miliband Should Be the Next Labour Leader

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Why Ed Miliband Should Be the Next Labour Leader

Article excerpt

The Labour leadership contest began in earnest with the New Statesman debate at Church House in Westminster on 9 June. In retrospect, all the themes of this summer-long contest were apparent that evening: the rivalry between the Miliband brothers, the pugnacity of Ed Balls, the boldness of Diane Abbott and the positioning of the underrated Andy Burnham as the voice of working-class aspiration. But it was the clashes between the Milibands--as Ed attempted to define himself against David and the New Labour establishment--that were the most fascinating and offered a clear sense of the direction of travel.

Many of our readers despair of Labour and will never forgive the authoritarian tendencies of Tony Blair, or how he allowed the party to be drawn into a fatal and militaristic alliance with the neoconservatives of the Bush administration. Nor will they forgive the neoliberal market dogmatism that resulted in the British economy becoming so unbalanced and so over-reliant on reckless financiers.

We empathise with them. In our first issue, of 12 April 1913, we outlined our founding mission as being the creation of a state in which "health, comfort, culture and personal freedom are the rules instead of the exception". The New Statesman would be "an independent journal in the fullest sense of the word". That remains as true today as it was then. Above all, we remain beholden to no one political party--including the Labour Party.

Indeed, there are many aspects of the coalition government's programme of which we approve, notably its commitment to constitutional reform and enhanced civil liberties, and the willingness of the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to make poverty and dispossession a defining issue of our political discourse. Yet we still believe that Labour is the party that offers the best hope of achieving the progressive transformation of British society that we seek, perhaps one day in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

However, we do not agree with the caricature that the leadership contest has done little more than dramatise the dilemmas of a directionless party speaking only to itself. It takes time to recover from the trauma of defeat after 13 years in office. It takes time to understand how the party that preached "prudence with purpose" left government with the largest Budget deficit in our peacetime history. First, there is shock, and then the reckoning begins. In many ways, because Labour knew it could not win with Gordon Brown as prime minister, the party was collectively mourning its defeat long before the general election was called. This has been liberating: a period of mourning can be that much longer if a death is unexpected. But New Labour's obituary has been happily written during this campaign as all five candidates--the Milibands in particular--elaborate on their vision of a transformed party.

Now, slowly, we are witnessing the first signs of renewal. There has been a preparedness to admit mistakes and ask painful questions about why so many of its natural supporters ended up feeling so betrayed by or isolated from Labour.

So far, of all the candidates, it is Ed Miliband who has been most prepared to challenge New Labour orthodoxies, to use a different kind of language. He advocates a Labour agenda that is confident, forceful and empowering, committed to greater freedom, social justice and, above all else, reducing inequality.

The primary task of the next Labour leader has to be to develop a political economy that addresses the fundamental inequalities and inequities that have blighted British society for so long--and which will only worsen as the Con-Lib coalition's doctrinaire spending cuts begin to bite. To talk of tackling social mobility, as coalition ministers do, without addressing the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, is disingenuous. The fight for a more equal society has to become a priority again and Ed Miliband understands this (see his column on page 21). …

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