Vote for who you want to win, not who you think will win argues Simone Webb

It is a common assumption that the next Labour leader will be drawn from limited ranks: the Milibands. It is an assumption which is in itself flawed; the number of ‘undecideds’ means that the leadership race is still an unpredictable affair. It’s hard to deny that the odds aren’t brilliant for the other candidates and I don’t intend to argue the case here for my own first preference candidate: Ed Balls, by the way, but I do want to explain why the Milibands will be coming last on my ballot paper.

Let’s take the current favourite, David. When phone-canvassing for Ed Balls, I’ve heard a lot of people say that David Miliband looks like a leader, and is handsome, young and charismatic. Leaving aside the “handsome”, which is debatable, and the “young”; a dubious description for a man of forty-five, one is left with “looks like a leader” and “charismatic”.

The concept of looking like a leader leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Presumably a slender white man looks more like a leader than a black woman. Still, before I find myself arguing the case for Diane Abbott, I’d like to instead address the charisma argument for electing David Miliband. The electorate will tire of politicians who are superficially charismatic and electable. Nick Clegg, the very definition of young, charismatic and good looking, has brought his party down to 12% in the opinion polls. Tony Blair, who pretty much oozed charisma was not exactly popular with the public by the end.

That is the problem with David Miliband: he seems too much like a reincarnation of Blair. I shut my eyes when he is speaking and I genuinely can not tell the difference. He’s politiciany, he’s flashy and he’s hollow. There are those in the party who are still happy to describe themselves as Blairites, but I believe that to get re-elected, we need a leader who has no trace of Blair about him, and also one who presents something different from the David Cameron and his sidekick. David Miliband has safely secured my fifth preference.

His brother isn’t so bad. I get the feeling that Ed Miliband has a genuine commitment to the Labour party’s values, and I find him more likable and approachable than David. However, where I believe David Miliband to be overloaded with charisma, I find Ed Miliband is deficient. Perhaps David pinched his share of charisma when they were toddlers. I’m fully aware that mine is not an altogether common opinion. Many of his volunteers treat him like a celebrity. However, for all his talk about connecting with the party and listening to party members, my experience of Ed Miliband is of somebody who isn’t even very good at putting a good listening face on.

I met him for the first time after a youth leadership hustings in Stratford, and ambushed him with questions on electoral reform. He trotted out a few standard arguments against proportional representation, but countered my counterarguments with a blank “oh, I know”. A friend of mine asked him a question on mental health issues, which he answered with a clever riposte of “nice meeting you, anyway”. Perhaps that’s his idea of connection. Personally, I felt less charisma emanating from him than from Gordon Brown, and that’s saying something. His oratorical skills are adequate, but they were still somewhat wanting; I can’t envision him delivering a smart put-down to David Cameron.

A final problem I have with the Milibands is that they’re clearly expecting to lead, especially David. I believe there’s an infuriating complacency about both of them. People are so swayed by the idea that no other candidates but the Milibands have a chance or should have a chance, that there’s a danger that they will vote for them even though their heart is somewhere else. Someone on Twitter announced recently that they were planning on voting for David Miliband instead of Andy Burnham because only David Miliband had a chance of winning.

The myth created by the Milibands that they are the only candidates able to win is a self-fulfilling one: it guarantees that they’re the only candidates able to win. Don’t vote for a Miliband because you think they’ll win. Vote for who you really want to win.

Simone Webb is a Labour activist and blogs here.

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10 Responses to “Vote for who you want to win, not who you think will win argues Simone Webb”

  1. renu marley says:

    Well argue debate Simone!

  2. Alex Ross says:

    Ha, right. Tony Blair ‘oozed’ charisma but because after three election wins he became unpopular we should avoid judging people by charisma. Jeez.

  3. Simone Webb says:

    Well, obviously he won three elections, which is good. But the fact he is so unpopular now means I feel the public might be ill disposed for a replica. 72% of the electorate want us to move away from New Labour.

  4. Thomas says:

    Good argument generally, but I would question arguments from charisma from a Balls supporter. I heard him on radio 4 the other morning, and he’s just too easily wound up by journalists and opposing politicians. You could hear him becoming furious at the temerity of this woman for asking (admittedly quite stupid) questions. That was a real turn off for me, as someone sympathetic to what he was saying, god knows how floating voters would react. Even if Ed Miliband is boring and indifferent (and I don’t think he is), that would be a step up.

  5. Good post. The 13 years of Labour government should have taught us as a party that there is little point in power for it’s own sake and without principle. We now have the greatest level of inequality since the Second World War – what is the point of Labour if it’s not about greater inequality?

  6. Robert says:

    Thats why i will vote Cameron again in five years time, may as well both Parties now follow the same dogma.

  7. Don’t vote for who you think will win, but do vote tactically. The order the ballots take will determine the media narrative. Thus many people will vote Abbott then Ed M, in the hope that he’ll win and the victory will be put down to the left, whilst I personally will vote Balls, then Ed Miliband, because I’d like Balls to win and don’t want him to come last, but realistically think the final two in the contest will be the Milibands.

    I’d also say that charisma alone isn’t enough. My acid test is whether I can imagine that candidate convincing a social housing tenant who hasn’t voted for decades to get down to the polling booth.

    I think Balls can do that. Probably Burnham, although he’d be most effective at doing it in the places where those votes are least crucial.

    Diane Abbott has never had to fight a difficult electoral campaign and her national campaign has been so flat I doubt she’d manage it. I think Ed Miliband might struggle in terms of personal connection, but would at least present a good enough policy offer to give us a chance.

    And I’m not sure David Miliband has realised that if we’re going to win back Stevenage, Harlow and everywhere else in the south he mentions, we’re going to have to increase base turnout just as much as we need to win back swing voters.

  8. Hans Rehtort says:

    I’m not trying to be clever saying this, rather I don’t want you to get your hopes up, but as someone who is canvassing opinion from Labour members for one of the candidates, I can tell you that the brothers are way, way out ahead of the other three. Even given the geographical limitations of the sampling I’ve been involved in thus far, there is no way I can envisage one of the ‘other three’ breaking through. What the picture is from union members I wouldn’t dream of guessing, of course. I suspect the PLP is predominantly for David (including one D. Skinner, I have it on good authority).

    As for the thrust of your thesis: I can’t remotely agree with you. I would love the new Labour leader to come in promising to abolish the monarchy and nationalise the banks and the public utilities, but I know it’s never going to happen. In a sense, it shouldn’t: if my leader followed what I truly ‘want,’ we would get shredded in 2015, and we’re in a dangerous position anyway. Politics has got to be centred around the art of the possible – only fools and folk who believe the world is full of rainbows believe otherwise.

    Given the monstrous policies and even more chilling philosophy/ideology of this government, the idea of impaling ourselves upon the sort of leader we on the left ‘want’ would not only be a self-destructive act but would let down the poor and the elderly, the groups I feel most sorry for talking on the phone to party members.

    As for the brothers being smug, particularly David: I’m not buying it remotely. David is the most opposite of stupid I’ve ever seen or heard in my life. I’m afraid your view is based on the fact that you think you’re getting TB II. I don’t blame you – I do it all the time myself, especially with the Tories. But I strongly doubht you’d be getting TB Mk II from what I’ve seen on the box and heard on the radio and heard on the phone.

    Furthermore – and this may make you feel worse, though it’s aimed at making you feel better – members who have seen the candidates up close are VERY impressed with them, DM very much included.

    best wishes,


  9. Simone Webb says:

    “I would question arguments from charisma from a Balls supporter.”
    Ah, well. I guess a lot of charisma is highly subjective: I’ve found Ed Balls to be fairly charismatic (incredibly charismatic in real life) but with a good solid backing for his charisma, with a brilliant vision and policies for the party. He may get wound up from time to time, but he’s also ~incredibly~ good at winding opposing politicians up.

    And Robert – really. *shudders* I’d firmly disagree that both parties follow the same dogma. In what way?

  10. Simone Webb says:

    Hans – thanks for your (well thought out) reply. I have seen both Ed and David Miliband up close many times, as it happens. I’ve been warming to the pair of them more recently (the article was written weeks ago, and only posted the other day), but I still believe that David Miliband is not what the party needs. Ed Miliband I’ve warmed to a lot more, to the extent that I won’t be too unhappy if he wins. However, the times I have met him face to face, I’ve been distinctly unimpressed with his idea of connecting with party members.

    Okay, we shouldn’t veer too LEFT LEFT LEFT, but I think it’s a mistake to have everyone struggling to get to this centre position. We need values and an ideology which define us as Labour.

    “As for the brothers being smug, particularly David: I’m not buying it remotely. David is the most opposite of stupid I’ve ever seen or heard in my life.” I definitely don’t think David is stupid! But I do get an air of complacency from him. A lot of the time, he seems to be behaving like somebody who is already leader, or certainly should be leader. Once again, though – this is probably a subjective feeling, and I don’t expect everyone to interpret that the same way I do.

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