Peter Hain on Ed Miliband’s X-factor

Labour is blessed in its choice for Leader by having dynamic fortyish main runners each with Cabinet experience – not a benefit either the Tories in 2010 or Labour in 1997 enjoyed.  Each could do a good job.

But doing a ‘good job’ is not enough.  From a 29 per cent base – lower than the Tories polled when they lost so badly in 1997 – it is not going to be easy to win next time.  And, for me, the candidate who has the winning X-factor is Ed Miliband.

His support is spread right across the Parliamentary party – male and female, black and white, all regions and nations, new and experienced, shadow cabinet and backbench, left, centre and right.

With an open, comfortable, media-friendly personality, he appeals to the public.  He offers both freshness and governmental gravitas; super-bright yet highly approachable.  People warm to him, and he talks like a real person, uncluttered by New Labour’s grating technocratic jargon and on-message guff.

He comes unencumbered by a label: neither ‘Blairite’ nor ‘Brownite’ caucuses have piled in behind him.  Indeed he has often been a bridge between the personalities who spent far too much time competing against each other in government.  That absence of the factional baggage so destructive throughout New Labour’s life is vital to the central task of reassessment and renewal.

So what are the problems of the past?  And what are Ed Miliband’s responses to them?

The party must move beyond New Labour, retaining the best of its components but jettisoning the worst.  There must be no going back to Old Labour’s anti-business stance, whilst accepting that New Labour had an almost deferential policy towards markets, obscene bonuses and commercial greed.

Although there must be no retreat from Tony Blair’s appeal to middle Britain, there must be an acceptance that this was too often at a cost of ignoring white working class concerns, especially over affordable housing and job security (which are the real reasons why immigration became the issue that dare not speak its name).

Although there must be a continued toughness on crime and rules enforcement, there often seemed too carefree an attitude to individual liberty, and too ready a reach for frustratingly complex bureaucratic regulation.

Ed Miliband has argued that to win back the millions of votes we lost whilst in power, Labour must learn from both its enormous successes in government and its failings, advocating a Labour agenda that is radical, empowering, internationalist and green, which mirrors Labour’s soul with a renewed confidence in our values of social justice, equality, freedom and democracy.

He has also been sceptical about the somewhat gung-ho buoyancy in the party after our defeat.  Although that is obviously far preferable to doom and gloom, the notion that Labour will automatically bounce back as the Con Dem coalition splinters is fanciful.  So too is the notion that simply having any young, energetic new Leader will make the voters love Labour again.  The reasons behind our defeat run much deeper than Gordon Brown’s self-confessed lack of common touch.

We have to assume that this five year Parliament will run its full course and that in the meantime the Tories and Lib Dems are bent on a programme of political restructuring to entrench a centre-right hegemony and make it very difficult for Labour to win.  That’s the all too transparent motive behind equalising constituency sizes, abandoning generations of Boundary Commission criteria about sparseness, deprivation and remoteness.  And it’s the motive behind both parties’ desire to restrict trade union funding for Labour.

Ed Miliband is very clear about all this. He is refreshingly honest about thorny questions such as Iraq, where he stated what we all know – including those, like me, who were in the Cabinet which took us to war and have not renounced our responsibility – that Iraq was a huge factor in destroying trust in Labour.

That is important, because the party needs a deep, serious and honest debate during this leadership contest to understand why we lost.  Just repeating the same old mantras and avoiding the really difficult questions will not equip us to win back those lost millions.

Ed Miliband is also popular with trade unionists and especially – I have noticed – with young people whose idealism and support we desperately need to attract again.  Crucially, he appeals to civil society groups which used in the past to be such an important part of Labour’s progressive periphery, but which became more alienated the longer we were in government.

For all these reasons I believe he is the best able of the leadership candidates to accomplish the long, hard task of rebuilding the party’s support.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain is MP for Neath; his new, popular biography “Mandela” is published by Octopus in September.

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8 Responses to “Peter Hain on Ed Miliband’s X-factor”

  1. Alan Ginsberg says:

    I find Ed Miliband waffles a lot. He was also behind the last manifesto which, in my view, lacked philosophical binding. I don’t want a compromise leader. I want one with real chutzpah and one that I know wants to be PM. I think Ed lacks that. Although he could prove me wrong in this contest. By all means, please do.

  2. Ronald MacDonald says:

    I actually think Ed Miliband comes across as the one candidate that does have the chutzpah and hunger to take on a ruthles and effective opportunist like Cameron. But thankfully with the longer campaign we will get a better chance to see all the candidates in action, not only talking to each other in “Labour language” but taking on the Tories in their day jobs as shadow ministers – and we should judge them more than anything on how they perform in this. The current generation of Labour politicos obsesses about “strategy” but the reality is oppositions don’t make the news or set the long-term agenda; governments do. The job of the opposition is to nimbly oppose and use their limited media windows to attack the government in a way that resonate. Yes, they should try and fit their attacks within a broader narrative but – especially for the first few years – the priority will just to strike some blows. There is ample scope for mischief making with this coalition. We don’t need a philosopher king; we need someone that can spot the changing opportunities to pick and win fights and campaigns and demoralise the other side. Balls and Miliband junior look like the ones that can do this but it’s obvious Balls is just not a smooth enough performer and would bomb with the public.

  3. eric joyce says:

    It’s inspiring to see dead Alan Ginsberg comment here; and to read Ronald MacDonald’s untypical foray into political philosophy. So I’ll venture this… While I’m supporting Ed Balls, I think Peter’s is the most cogent argument in support of a candidate I’ve seen yet. Still, I’m unconvinced by Ed Miliband’s position on Iraq – the ‘weapons inspectors’ argument lacks serious credibility and looks like a fairly transparent attempt to simply take advantage of not having been in parliament at the time. I’m equally unconvinced by Ed’s retrospective position on the third runway. Both arguments, each on important issues, convey to me a sense of a wispy perspective; or at least a reluctance to come clean with, for example, a coherent analysis on the wider failings of UK foreign policy (which lies at the root of Iraq, Afghanistan, our position on Trident and so on). I see no evidence of new thinking here. I certainly don’t deny that Ed M may have many good ideas, but for now he seems to be keeping quiet about them. I’ve also noticed that people tend to make assumptions about Ed Balls which don’t stand up to scrutiny. Ed B’s media appearances during this campaign to date have been friendly, direct and he’s been very articulate in them. Moreover, Ed B seems to me to stand out from the two Milibands insofar as he is able to point to Labour successes which extend largely from his personal efforts (much of the tax credit work, BSF, etc). The long campaign will indeed let us all see a bit of what each candidate is made of, but it’ll be important to give them all fair crack of the whip rather than making Brownite/Blairite/Sort Of Neither assumptions, which actually Peter does.

  4. Tom Williams says:

    Eric Joyce: even though I’m supporting Ed Miliband, I think I should point out that David Miliband was responsible for BSF for the first few years.

  5. james says:

    I’m disappointed by Peter’s tiresome reference to “Old Labour’s anti-business stance” because traditionally, Labour has been for a particular kind of business – namely, co-operative and mutual enterprise. It is perfectly reasonable for a party of Labour to be opposed to the kind of business which exploits labour, and supportive of the kind of business which allows democratic participation.

  6. Claire Spencer says:

    Why is Ed Miliband’s position on Iraq less convincing than Ed Balls’, who also said that Iraq? Or indeed that of David Miliband, who has said that he wouldn’t have agreed with the war had he known then that there were no WMD? Of course, hindsight is always 20:20 – but Iraq was handled terribly, and people still expect Labour to defend, and indeed, make amends for our part in it. The defence that people’s lives in Iraq are better now just doesn’t wash when Iraqi people can’t get a job, or when they don’t feel safe enough to go to the market, or when they’re living with the horrific, long-term side-effects of nuclear and dioxin contamination – and people are sick of hearing it. If we are to move forward from Iraq, we need someone to say that these were mistakes (and why these mistakes were made) – or alternatively, whether all of the above had to happen in order to remove Saddam Hussein. I can see reasons for being on both sides of the fence. Who know – you may be right, they may be making some easy political capital here (although I don’t think so) – but if Ed Miliband is, then so are Ed Balls and David Miliband.

    And re: Labour successes, both Milibands can lay some claim to the Climate Change Act, and more so Ed Miliband with regards to the subsequent policies rolled out under the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The fullness of time will show just how important these moves were.

  7. Ronald MacDonald says:

    Realistically none of the candidates were in positions to influence the decision taken to go to war in Iraq or as to how it was conducted. If they had “opposed” it at the time they arguably should have resigned (though some would say that would be an act of vanity for someone who was just a special adviser in an unrelated department) but probably like alot of people in the party they had mixed feelings about it – hoping the right decisions were being made without being really sure of it. Most of us who felt that way then now acknowledge it was a mistake and I think there’d be something wrong if the candidates couldn’t too.

  8. I don’t think any of the candidates for the leaders job of the labour party will do, Why? they all knew what brown was doing was bad for our country BUT did any of them have the balls (excuse the pun) to challenge him no they not only kept quite but they AGREED with him, my definition of a leader is a person who stands up for what he/she believes in and fights to the end, none of these people match that description

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