We now face the very distressing reality: not a consensual coalition, but a typically right-wing, out-of-touch Tory government. The totally superfluous “emergency budget” provides a taste of the bitterness to expect in coming years.
This next stage will be very difficult for our communities. Our many newly elected councillors – of which I am one – can expect a baptism of fire: in the seven weeks since the General Election, Sheffield alone has lost over £120m investment, including the Forgemasters loan.
We owe it to our supporters – those who voted for us and those who now wish they had – to regroup quickly and develop a convincing alternative. To borrow a phrase, now is certainly not the time for a novice.
We all have to work together to combat this very real threat to working people. There is no evidence that the Lib Dems will soften the blows that will be dealt to our country – indeed, some of the most vicious coalition policies to date actually originated with the Lib Dems.
And it is because the stakes are so high that many approach the Labour leadership election with bated breath and trepidation. If we pick the wrong leader we may look back at 2010 as a high-water mark, rather than a low one; the beginning of the end of Labour, rather than a short interruption in a new, progressive century. Things can’t only get better – they could very easily get a lot worse.
The last Tory contest had the less than appetising choice of either David Cameron or David Davis. Labour’s talent pool runs a lot deeper and, unsurprisingly, there is agreement on many areas of policy. There are a number of candidates in our contest who would lead us well.
But to my mind, David Miliband is demonstrably the strongest candidate on offer and I am proud to endorse him. Three reasons stand out most strikingly:
First: style. I have no time for candidates who rubbish decisions which they were involved in making and which they defended just six weeks ago; collective responsibility has a longer shelf-life. Labour governments in particular have to hang together, or they will hang separately.
When David came to Sheffield on Friday, he avoided throwing us red meat and going for the easy applause lines, defending the former government’s record and his part in them. That’s a stronger, more confident and, frankly, a more trustworthy style.
Tony Benn said that politicians are either signposts (pointing consistently in the same direction) or weather-cocks (swinging in the wind). David’s has proven that he is a signpost, with a clear sense of direction and priorities.
Second: involvement. Calling his campaign a “movement for change” isn’t just a slogan. Despite some welcome recent recruitment, the Labour Party has to run just to stand still. Our membership is worryingly old. Across Britain, almost half of branches are no longer functioning; far too many CLPs struggle to get more than a dozen people to their meetings. We need radically to change how we organise ourselves. Most people leave Labour Party meetings less inspired and more frustrated than when they went in.
Our branches, CLPs and LGCs are lessons in how to dampen enthusiasm and stifle innovation, although there are some welcome exceptions, like Edgbaston.
As Robin Cook said, it is because we love the Labour party that we need to change it. David Miliband has shown that he understands these organisational and cultural challenges more than any other candidate. His ideas to reform the Labour supporters network, to establish an elected party chair and to recruit, train and support a thousand community activists are precisely the sort of new thinking we need to make being a Labour party member exciting.
Third, the premier league. Unfortunately, but by definition, leadership elections are introspective affairs. Probably never more so than when conducted shortly after a defeat. To win again, we must reach out beyond our own activist base and its close associates. We must reconnect with the four million voters we have lost since 1997. We now know where the key battlegrounds are going to be. David understands middle Britain more than any other candidate. Polling also suggests that they understand him more than any other candidate. He is in the “premier league”.
David’s style combines new ideas, a commitment to social justice and a steely determination. With this, we can not only pull voters away from the coalition, but ensure that people positively embrace the programme we will set out. It is easy to imagine David crossing the threshold of Downing Street and leading a revived Labour government, which is what we all want to see.
So David Miliband has shown that he has in spades the qualities necessary to lead the Labour party and the next Labour government. Very few would dispute that David Miliband is amongst the most talented politicians of his generation.
We desperately need to take the fight to the Tories and win the battle of ideas as part of winning the next general election. David Miliband is the right candidate to do this.
Jack Scott was elected Sheffield’s youngest councillor in May.