Time is not on Ed Miliband’s side

by Dan Hodges

Were Ed Miliband ever to tear himself away from the poetry of his shadow minister for political and constitutional reform, an admittedly tough ask, he should try a little Kipling. The youngest ever recipient of the Nobel prize for literature knew a thing or two about the virtue of patient fortitude.

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting”.

To many around the Labour leader, those words could serve as a political mission statement. You have time, they argue. Definition is important. But early mistakes will prove more definitive than early successes. Tread carefully. No slip-ups. Trade time for political space.

Words of caution invariably fall upon keen ears when addressed to politicians. They are by nature risk-averse. Our senior statesmen occupy precarious positions; their office windows overlook an imposing drop. The decisions they take have consequences few of us will replicate in our own working lives.

But Ed Miliband is not instinctively comfortable with caution. His choice to run for Labour leader was as big a political risk as any politician has ever taken, for personal as well as political reasons. It has been widely acknowledged that his decision to block Nick Brown, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper from the jobs they coveted took courage. The rigid defence of his campaign pledge to retain the 50% tax rate is certainly not safety first politics; though a discussion of the strategic wisdom of embedding a desire for high taxation within Labour’s DNA can be left for another day.

Yet caution, his shadow cabinet appointments and a single policy rearguard action aside, is what we’ve had. “Ed Miliband need not rush change”, was yesterday’s Guardian headline to an article by Will Straw, fast becoming Ed Miliband’s most effective and articulate defender. That may be right, but I don’t recall “Vote for me because we must not rush change” being Ed’s rallying cry during the leadership campaign.

One of the paradoxes is that some of the leading advocates of this softly, softly approach are former Blairites who have crossed the sectarian divide to advise Ed on his early moves. “There are three golden rules for a new leader in his first hundred days”, one of them told me: “Don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up”. Yet Blair himself started as “Bambi” and within months was being branded “Stalin”. He later told Labour conference that he preferred Stalin, then claimed to be joking. He wasn’t.

Conversely, there are some close to Ed Miliband, possibly even Ed Miliband himself, who realise that they have been too slow out of the blocks. Andrew Rawnsley had an interesting line in his Observer column on Sunday,  “Those advising him to play it long tell the young leader that he needs to pace himself. One of his team says: “We have erred on the side of that advice.”

The slightly regretful tone of that comment is reinforced by the heavy positioning that has preceeded next Saturday’s speech to the policy forum. “I am talking about change as profound as the change New Labour brought”, Ed Miliband told the Guardian. “Watch this space”, one Labour insider told the World at One in response to speculation about significant reform of the union link.

All good stuff. Rad Ed is going to hit the accelerator. Take on board Harold Wilson’s observation that the Labour party is like a family on a Sunday outing: “If you drive fast enough then people are too sick or too exhilarated to do anything but admire the view. But the second you stop they get out and start bickering over which way we should be going”.

But is he? Ed Miliband faces a number of conflicting priorities. One is the need to demonstrate that the Labour movement is not simply going to hurl itself at the Tory-Lib Dem government, but is prepared to take a step back and begin constructing an alternative prospectus for power. Indeed, some argue that we  need to go much further, and embark on a fundamental reassessment  of the identity of the party as it enters the post New Labour era. That is a process that will, and should take time.

But another, more pressing,  problem is the need to address the growing concerns within the shadow cabinet about his own personal leadership style. Jackie Ashley’s Zen socialism is a lovely concept. Actually, it’s not. For someone facing criticism over their failure to define and assert their leadership to respond by announcing a two year policy review is a high risk strategy to say the least. There is a real danger that Ed Miliband will be out consulting when others want to see him leading.

Leadership is more than policy statements and consultative forums. The odd policy announcement from the leader, rather than his subordinates, wouldn’t do any harm. But leadership is about political posture and body language.

I’m sure Ed Balls’ appearance on Andrew Marr was designed to be helpful. But when he said people were “crying out for someone to take on this reckless coalition”, he must have known how that would be perceived. When he was invited by Marr to defend allegations that Labour was not adequately taking the fight to the opposition, and then name checked himself, John Healey and Alan Johnson, he would have been aware there was one high profile absentee. If the early Blair had been under attack, ministers would have been fighting to get to the microphone to defend his honour and prove their fealty. The failure of this shadow cabinet to do so ultimately reflects on their leader as much as it does on them.

A lot is riding on this Saturday. Perhaps too much. The trailed emphasis on the union link is in danger of pushing Ed Miliband towards a cul-de-sac. If he announces truly radical reform, he risks a serious and debilitating backlash from the unions and the left. If the speech underplays his hand, he risks accusations of indecisiveness at best, or at worst, of caving to the barons. It has now been several weeks since Labour’s leader last faced one of his biggest tests to date. He needs to hit one out of the park.

Yes, these are still early days. For every siren voice, there will be two offering sweet reason. But Ed Miliband would be wise not to dismiss the voices of discontent out of hand. Nor misread caution for security. In fact, he would do well to return to Kipling:

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son”.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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14 Responses to “Time is not on Ed Miliband’s side”

  1. Chris says:


    Is this yet another attempt on your part to defibrillate the blairite corpse into life? Whatever Ed says will you carp about it?

  2. Alan L says:

    A better poem for Ed is Roger McGough’s “Leader”:

    The Leader

    I wanna be the leader
    I wanna be the leader
    Can I be the leader?
    Can I? I can?
    Promise? Promise?
    Yippee I’m the leader
    I’m the leader

    OK what shall we do?

  3. Dan Hodges says:


    You’re right. Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

    I start off trying to write a balanced piece and then it just veers of into another hyperbolic rant against Ed and everything he stands for. Happened again today.

    Vicious, bitter condemnation of our new leader. Line after line of gushing praise for Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and the project.

    I’ll try to do better next time.


  4. Londoner says:

    Loving all the references to poetry on here.

    Dan, how about a little competition on the best poem that describes E Mili’s leadership so far. Am sure you’d be able to offer some decent prizes….:-)

  5. Syzygy says:

    Dear Dan

    The trouble is that your attempt at sarcasm in reply to Chris, is very similar to that which I hear underlying every one of your articles.

    Perhaps, you should re-read yourself and think about how it comes across to your audience… assuming of course that you were being sarcastic!

  6. Dan Hodges says:


    Genuinely sorry if you dislike my sarcasm. I prefer to think of it as my acerbic wit.

    I like to write what I think and then take my chances, rather than write what I think people would like, and then wait for the plaudits.

    And I was being sarcastic. Ish.


  7. Dan Hodges says:


    Loving the idea.

    I’m going to get Chris Bryant on the case.


  8. Chris says:


    “I start off trying to write a balanced piece”

    A balanced piece? Your headline is “Time is not on Ed Milibands side” – how f*cking balanced is that? With your gift for clairvoyance, when are the Ballsites are going to liquidate Ed?

  9. Dan Hodges says:


    I don’t write the headlines. Though I think it’s rather good.

    And try and tone the swearing old chap.

    Don’t want it sullying my lovely prose.


  10. Chris says:


    “I don’t write the headlines. Though I think it’s rather good.”

    Exactly, you may not have written the headline but that is the message of this unbalanced piece.

    “And try and tone the swearing old chap.”


    “Don’t f**k up, don’t f**k up, don’t f**k up.”

    “I like to write what I think and then take my chances”

    Yes, we know that from your brilliant and oh so accurate prediction of DMs resounding victory…

  11. deano453 says:

    @chris – i don’t get your point.

    are you saying that he shouldn’t write his opinion as a columnist? surely that is the point of a columnist. some you agree with, some you don’t. but just because it doesn’t fit with what you think doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be written – does it?

    in the last few days journo’s and pundits have been saying he should take his time (mcternan in the tele, sunder at next left etc) and others saying he needs to move on at a bit of a faster pace (, freedland in guardian, Marr on sunday etc)

    this debate is a good thing isn’t it?

    stop crying. write why he is wrong – don’t write why your upset. add to the debate don’t just kick and scream.


  12. Chris says:


    “i don’t get your point.”

    My point – Dan is a David Miliband housecarl who won’t give up on the blairite cadaver thus his comments should be read with this in mind.

    “are you saying that he shouldn’t write his opinion as a columnist? surely that is the point of a columnist. some you agree with, some you don’t. but just because it doesn’t fit with what you think doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be written – does it?”

    Well, obviously.

    “in the last few days journo’s and pundits have been saying he should take his time (mcternan in the tele, sunder at next left etc) and others saying he needs to move on at a bit of a faster pace (, freedland in guardian, Marr on sunday etc)”

    Yes, and this article is in a similar vein except there are hints at some Ballsite plotting in the background.

    “this debate is a good thing isn’t it?”

    Not when the aim isn’t to foster debate but to undermine. It doesn’t do Labour any good to try and drown Ed’s leadership at birth.

    “stop crying.”

    Who’s crying?

    “write why he is wrong – don’t write why your upset. add to the debate don’t just kick and scream.””

    FFS this isn’t a debating society, this is the internet!

  13. Dan Hodges says:



    Had to look it up. Great word.

    I’m going to try to use it in my next piece.


  14. Mike Homfray says:

    Just can’t see the point of all the negativity. David Miliband is finished: he will open supermarkets in South Shields for a couple of years then go off to some lucrative foreign job. Ed Miliband is the party leader and will remain so. New Labour is a busted flush and we need to move forward not constantly look back, and that will mean many of the Bliarite mistakes will have to be permanently confined to history, as they were proved , eventually, not to be the answers they promised

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