Roy Hattersley, Guardian 25/09/2010
At last the Labour party has a leader who is both capable of winning the next general election and actually believes in the principles of social democracy. Ed Miliband‘s greatest strength – more than either his undoubted intellect or obvious lucidity – is the courage of his conviction.
Labour lost the last election because, despite the Blair/Brown governments’ acknowledged achievements, they were intimidated into believing that victory depended on imitating their enemies – light touch regulation in the private sector and the internal market in public services, combined with a wanton disregard for personal liberty. Not surprisingly, its core vote felt abandoned and thousands of more prosperous families asked the question that sounds the knell of political hope: “But what does Labour stand for?” Ed Miliband knows what the answer should be. He will provide it with the confidence that comes from the certainty that a natural progressive majority in Britain is waiting to support a genuinely radical party with an unapologetically radical leader.
During the first week or two of his leadership he will be faced with the allegation – promoted by cynical Tory newspapers and garrulous Labour ancients – that he wants to take Labour back to the days of wholesale public ownership and subservience to the trade unions. He will not find it difficult to refute what the evidence confirms is obvious nonsense. Ed Miliband is a moderate – but a moderate with a clear personal philosophy. He wants to see a more equal society and he knows that equality and liberty – far from being enemies – go hand in hand. It is a gentle and joyous philosophy, and now its time has come.
By bringing fundamental principles up to date, Ed Miliband offers Labour a fresh start. No established political party can ever begin the long haul of a five-year parliament with a clean sheet. But, as Tony Blair so eloquently insisted when he first led the party, it is sometimes necessary to move on. New Labour was the idea of the nineties. Real Labour will prosper only when it puts “the middle way” – an overt compromise between right and wrong – behind it. I have never believed that David Miliband wanted to bring back Blairism from the grave, or that Ed Balls was the political reincarnation of Gordon Brown. But it became clear during the leadership campaign that Ed Miliband is more likely than either of them to steer a new course.
His willingness to examine new ideas has made Ed Miliband the candidate of dash and daring – qualities that Labour desperately needs. It took courage to stand – initially as an absolute outsider – and courage to hold firm to his convictions in face of an almost universally hostile press. He was more than steady under fire. He had decided that saying what he believed was the right way to win. It was. The same rule will apply during the general election.
A couple of months ago, my local Labour party met to decide which leadership candidate to nominate. Wise and world-weary members repeated a cliche about choosing between “heart and head” – a choice Labour has had to make too often in the past. In the end, we supported Ed Miliband in the certainty that he met both requirements.
None of Labour’s leadership contenders have faced a Tory prime minister at question time. I have. Success – perhaps even parliamentary survival – depends on possessing the confidence to enjoy it. Ed has already demonstrated that, in the modern idiom, he is comfortable in his own skin.
But it is vital to remember that the real political battle goes on in the country not in the Commons. Miliband was the leadership candidate most likely to swing the vote to Labour for the simple reason that, more than any of his rivals, he identified with the people whose support Labour needs. Not since Crosland, Healey and Jenkins were beaten by Jim Callaghan has a Labour leadership election been graced with such an array of clever candidates. But brilliance is sometimes a barrier to popular appeal. In Scotland this summer, a member of Gordon Brown’s cabinet (and supporter of another candidate) asked me if I was voting for Ed Miliband “because he looks and sounds like a human being”. I told him I had several other reasons for my choice, but that I would add his encomium to the list.
The Labour leadership election has gone on for far too long, inevitably holding back the essential exposure of the Tory government’s innate extremism and the (equally necessary) judicious explanation of the opposition’s alternative. Fortunately, the campaign has ended with little or no bitterness from either the candidates or the factions that make up Labour’s broad church. Ed Miliband must build on the desire for unity which the party will display when he speaks on Tuesday. I have no doubt that he will. I recall him reproving me when I disparaged one of his ultra-Blairite cabinet colleagues.
The doubters in the parliamentary party will quickly swear allegiance. The real job is convincing the country that Labour is worth voting for. Because he believes that his brand of social democracy is right for this time and right for this country, Ed Miliband is supremely fitted to that task. For a party leader, courage and conviction are indispensable attributes. Fortunately, Ed Miliband possesses both.
Roy Hattersley is a former deputy leader of the Labour Party.